The nationwide increase in hunting-license sales during the pandemic has been widely reported, and both the R3 community and state agencies have been hoping that the surge might lead to permanent increases in hunter numbers. The latest sales data from Michigan, however, is not exactly encouraging. Though it’s not all bad news either.

In 2021, Michigan’s deer-license sales fell by 4 percent, after booming during the pandemic. The covid deer season of 2020, by comparison, saw a 5 percent increase in the state’s licenses sales, as people had more time to get outdoors. Now, as life returns to a new normal, hunting participation is sliding back down in the Wolverine State.

“Realistically speaking, it was a blip,” Tom Baird, chair of Michigan’s Natural Resources Council told Bridge Michigan News. “The decline in participation has been an ongoing trend for a number of years now. As people age out of hunting and fishing, they aren’t being replaced in the same numbers by younger people.”

While hunter numbers in Michigan show a long-term decline, deer numbers keep growing. Michigan’s deer herd increased from 1.7 million 10 years ago to around 2 million today, with most of the increase seen in the more populated southern half of the state.  

“Were going to have to start asking fewer hunters to take the same amount if not more deer because your deer population is going to trend upwards toward its carrying capacity,” Chad Stewart, the DNR’s deer, elk and moose management specialist told Bridge Michigan. 

Despite the disappointing drop in numbers, the pandemic does seem to have encouraged a few more people to take up the sport or to start hunting again—and stick with it, at least through last season. The 2021 Michigan deer license sales figures were higher than they were during the last pre-pandemic season of 2019. That slight increase seems to fit into a nationwide trend. According to the Council to Advance the Hunting and Shooting Sports, hunting license sales overall were higher in 2021 than they were in 2019, although they were also down from 2020. That increase represents a sliver of silver lining that the R3 community needs to build on in order to reverse the decline in hunter participation in Michigan and across the United States.