Menus Subscribe Search

Guns, Game, and Control: Who Are America’s Hunters?

• December 21, 2012 • 3:13 PM

Since the Newtown massacre I have heard repeatedly that one necessary act for advancing gun control is to get “hunters” (or at least rural types) on board. That line of thought has been boosted by “pro-gun” Sen. Joe Manchin, a reliable NRA lieutenant who’s now uttering heresies like:

“I don’t know anyone in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle. I don’t know anyone that needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting. I mean, these are things that need to be talked about.”

(Need and want are different animals, of course. Fast-firing rifles with big magazines—your “assault rifle,” my “modern sporting rifle” — are a growth market for gunmakers.)

How many hunters are there in the United States that they could swing the pendulum? The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service answered that question yesterday with the release of its 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, which reports there were 13.7 million last year, a recent record. With the Census Bureau saying there were 312 million Americans last year, that means a little over 4 percent of the population hunted, or 6 percent if you exclude minors. (Way less than say, Europe, outside of Finland or Ireland.) According to FWS:

The across-the-board increases in 2011 hunting participation, day, and expenditure estimates run counter to the downward trends documented in the preceding three FHWAR National Surveys. From 1991 to 2006, hunting participation had dropped 11 percent and the number of hunting days had not significantly changed. The 9 percent participant and 28 percent day increases puts the 2011 hunting status on par with that of 1991 hunting, the high point of hunting in the last twenty years.

Allow me to cavil for you: not everyone hunts with guns, the figures come from Census polling and excludes those under 16, not everyone who considers themselves a hunter may have been able to hunt, etc. But the number remains a figure with some provenance, and the survey itself dates back to 1955, so it’s hard to suss out any pro- or anti-Second Amendment intent in taking it.

And, of course, hunters and their $34 billion industry shouldn’t be taken as an automatic proxy for gun enthusiasts of all stripes. Fights over large magazines, concealed carry, and even the arguments over self-defense aren’t hunting issues, regardless of where a guy toting a .30-06 falls on any of those controversies. That the NRA (four million members and growing) has evolved away from its marksmanship-and-hunting focus to a more omnibus gun-rights stance might reflect its membership’s wishes (or at least it’s well-heeled sponsors’ wishes).

But rather than fire down that rabbit hole, let’s just see who America’s hunters are. White men, mostly. Our survey says … 12.2 million men hunted last year, compared to 1.5 million women. And older. The percentage of population that hunts increases with advancing years until age 65 and older, when it trails off. I’d be willing to bet that many of those older former-hunters still picture themselves in the field, even if infirmity keeps them housebound. And 94 percent of U.S. hunters are white.

As you might guess based on culture and convenience, the more rural your home the more likely you are to hunt. Big city dwellers hunt at half the national average; people living outside “metropolitan statistical areas” are three time more likely to hunt. So it shouldn’t surprise that hunting is more popular in flyover country than it is on the coasts, with the east south central region (Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama) and just under double the national average, followed by the region comprising the states of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota.

Household income? Americans are more likely to hunt as their income rises, up to the six-figure mark, where it starts to decline. The lowest rates are among those making less than $20,000 a year, a demographic it seems would have the most interest in supplementing its protein.

Sixty-two percent of hunters were either high school grads or had some college (1 to 3 years). As the survey says, participation rates “varied little among people with different levels of educational attainment,” although it does trail off among those with five or more years of college under their non-Sam Browne belt.

Let me close with what they hunt. Big game—deer, turkeys, elk and bear, mostly—is by far the most popular target, followed by small game, i.e. squirrels, rabbits and pheasants, and then migratory birds such as ducks. That last category, the migratory birds, drew 2.6 million hunters in 2011, about a quarter of number of those seeking big game. None of those animals shoot back and few seem canny enough to require approaching them with a concealed Glock.

My own unheralded hunting career was in pursuit of small game, squirrels that routinely weakened the canal banks at a high school buddy’s family farm. My trusty .22 saw some action plinking at those varmints, and I believe I did kill some of them—reliable accounts report they died laughing.

Michael Todd
Most of Michael Todd's career has been spent in newspaper journalism, ranging from papers in the Marshall Islands to tiny California farming communities. Before joining the publishing arm of the Miller-McCune Center, he was managing editor of the national magazine Hispanic Business.

More From Michael Todd

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

August 28 • 4:00 PM

Some Natural-Looking Zoo Exhibits May Be Even Worse Than the Old Concrete Ones

They’re often designed for you, the paying visitor, and not the animals who have to inhabit them.


August 28 • 2:00 PM

What I Learned From Debating Science With Trolls

“Don’t feed the trolls” is sound advice, but occasionally ignoring it can lead to rewards.


August 28 • 12:00 PM

The Ice Bucket Challenge’s Meme Money

The ALS Association has raised nearly $100 million over the past month, 50 times what it raised in the same period last year. How will that money be spent, and how can non-profit executives make a windfall last?


August 28 • 11:56 AM

Outlawing Water Conflict: California Legislators Confront Risky Groundwater Loophole

California, where ambitious agriculture sucks up 80 percent of the state’s developed water, is no stranger to water wrangles. Now one of the worst droughts in state history is pushing legislators to reckon with its unwieldy water laws, especially one major oversight: California has been the only Western state without groundwater regulation—but now that looks set to change.


August 28 • 11:38 AM

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.


August 28 • 10:00 AM

The Five Words You Never Want to Hear From Your Doctor

“Sometimes people just get pains.”


August 28 • 8:00 AM

Why I’m Not Sharing My Coke

Andy Warhol, algorithms, and a bunch of popular names printed on soda cans.


August 28 • 6:00 AM

Can Outdoor Art Revitalize Outdoor Advertising?

That art you’ve been seeing at bus stations and billboards—it’s serving a purpose beyond just promoting local museums.


August 28 • 4:00 AM

Linguistic Analysis Reveals Research Fraud

An examination of papers by the discredited Diederik Stapel finds linguistic differences between his legitimate and fraudulent studies.


August 28 • 2:00 AM

Poverty and Geography: The Myth of Racial Segregation

Migration, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality (not to mention class), can be a poverty-buster.


August 27 • 4:00 PM

The ‘Non-Lethal’ Flash-Bang Grenades Used in Ferguson Can Actually Be Quite Lethal

A journalist says he was singed by a flash-bang fired by St. Louis County police trying to disperse a crowd, raising questions about how to use these military-style devices safely and appropriately.


August 27 • 2:00 PM

Do Better Looking People Have Better Personalities Too?

An experiment on users of the dating site OKCupid found that members judge both looks and personality by looks alone.


August 27 • 12:00 PM

Love Can Make You Stronger

A new study links oxytocin, the hormone most commonly associated with social bonding, and the one that your body produces during an orgasm, with muscle regeneration.


August 27 • 11:05 AM

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”


August 27 • 9:47 AM

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.


August 27 • 8:00 AM

A Skeptic Meets a Psychic: When You Can See Into the Future, How Do You Handle Uncertainty?

For all the crystal balls and beaded doorways, some psychics provide a useful, non-paranormal service. The best ones—they give good advice.


August 27 • 6:00 AM

Speaking Eyebrow: Your Face Is Saying More Than You Think

Our involuntary gestures take on different “accents” depending on our cultural background.


August 27 • 4:00 AM

The Politics of Anti-NIMBYism and Addressing Housing Affordability

Respected expert economists like Paul Krugman and Edward Glaeser are confusing readers with their poor grasp of demography.


August 26 • 4:00 PM

Marching in Sync May Increase Aggression

Another danger of militarizing the police: Marching in lock step doesn’t just intimidate opponents. It impacts the mindset of the marchers.


August 26 • 3:03 PM

The Best Reporting on the Federal Push to Militarize Local Police With Riot Gear, Armored Vehicles, and Assault Rifles

A few facts you might have missed about the flow of military equipment and tactics to local law enforcement.


August 26 • 2:00 PM

How the Other 23 Percent Live

Almost one-fourth of all children in the United States are now living in poverty, an increase of three million kids since 2005.


August 26 • 12:00 PM

Why Sports Need Randomness

Noah Davis talks to David Sally, one of the authors of The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong, about how uncertainty affects and enhances the games we watch.


August 26 • 10:00 AM

Honor: The Cause of—and Solution to—All of Society’s Problems

Recent research on honor culture, associated with the American South and characterized by the need to retaliate against any perceived improper conduct, goes way beyond conventional situations involving disputes and aggression.



August 26 • 8:00 AM

The Transformative Effects of Bearing Witness

How witnessing inmate executions affects those who watch, and how having an audience present can also affect capital punishment process and policy.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.

Being a Couch Potato: Not So Bad After All?

For those who feel guilty about watching TV, a new study provides redemption.

How Gay Men Feel About Aging

Coming to terms with growing old can be difficult in the gay community. But middle-aged men are inventing new strategies to cope.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014 fast-food-big-one

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.