An analysis of 25 years of a Mississippi hunters survey reveals both a decline in the number of licensed hunters and a noticeable shift in species sought.
Mississippi licensed big game hunters have decreased from 211,063 in 1980 to 180,765 in 2005, or 14 percent. Small game hunters have decreased from 255,932 to 185,478, or 27 percent during the same period.
Conducted since 1980, the study is the state's primary means of collecting information on the number of individuals who hunt for various game species, how much time they spend in the field and how many animals they harvest. Some 10,000 resident and non-resident hunters receive the survey.
"In the early 1980s, hunters were opportunistic and hunted a variety of game including quail, squirrel, rabbit, and deer," said wildlife and fisheries assistant professor Kevin Hunt. "Currently, not as many people are hunting small game and upland birds."
Hunt directs MSU's Human Dimensions and Conservation Law Enforcement Laboratory, an interdisciplinary team in the Forest and Wildlife Research Center focusing on the social and economic aspects of wildlife-related recreation in Mississippi and elsewhere.
Hunt said the 2006 survey indicated some of the decreased interest in hunting is due to changing land-use practices that affect availability. He also cited modern demands on leisure time and rising fuel and equipment costs as factors forcing some hunters to curtail their outdoor activities and specialize in only one or two species.
"When given the choice, about 80 percent of Mississippi hunters choose the white-tailed deer over all other species," he observed.
Because of hunters' continuing preference for the deer, university researchers traditionally devote considerable attention to Mississippi deer hunting. Recent studies conducted by the laboratory include hunters' opinions toward deer management on state wildlife management areas; deer management assistance program cooperators' attitudes toward program components; and economic impacts of white-tailed hunting on the state economy.
"The economic impacts of white-tailed deer hunting in 2006 dollars indicated total sales impact of $978 million, supporting some 33,000 jobs based on expenditure profiles from the 2001-02 hunter survey," said forestry professor Steve Grado.
An economist in the human dimensions lab, Grado said resident hunters spend an average of approximately $50 per day for deer-related trip expenditures and slightly more than $100 for equipment and other long-term expenditures. Non-resident hunters spend $90 per day and slightly less than $140 for long-term expenditures while in Mississippi.
The survey also captured demographic information, including a Mississippi hunter population that is 94 percent white male, has a median annual household income of $50,000, has been hunting an average of 29 years, and hunted an average of 28 days in the 2004-05 season.
Also, about 60 percent consider hunting to be their most important outdoor recreational activity, while 20 percent belong to some type of hunting/conservation organization. More than 65 percent indicated a household with an all-terrain vehicle used for hunting.
If state and private landowners are to capitalize on the economic benefits of deer and other types of hunting, efforts must be increased to determine exactly how hunters' preferences and attitudes toward land and wildlife management are changing, the MSU scientists said. How technology is altering the experience is another critical factor to be gauged, they added.
"As we gain a better grasp of the dynamic nature of the hunting population, we will be able to provide hunting and other recreation providers with the information they need to succeed in both public and private wildlife-related ventures," Hunt said.
Other ongoing lab projects include a social and economic analysis of waterfowl hunting in Mississippi; an evaluation of the wildlife division information and education program within the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks; and a social and economic analysis of the recreational boat fisheries at Mississippi's Flood Control Reservoirs.