Virus Outbreak Hunting Surge

Zane Goucher and his daughter, Annabelle, pose for a selfie while bow hunting for deer near Dansville, Mich. Goucher said he hadn’t gone hunting in 22 years but took up the sport again because the coronavirus pandemic provided incentive to spend more time outdoors with his children.

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Hunting was a big part of Zane Goucher’s youth, when he pursued whitetail deer and ruffed grouse in the Maine woods with his father. He eventually drifted away from the sport but has returned after a 22-year absence, inspired by the coronavirus pandemic.

Many Americans appear to be doing likewise, as sales of hunting and fishing licenses are spiking in much of the U.S. Weary of being cooped up at home — and of masking and social distancing when they go elsewhere — they’re taking refuge in outdoor sports that offer safety and solitude.

The trend has abruptly reversed a decline in hunting’s popularity that once appeared permanent and provided a potential new source of food for families and food banks pressed by the pandemic.

“I’d been meaning to get back into it and just never did,” said Goucher, now a resident of Grand Ledge, Michigan, who headed into the field Sunday with 12-year-old daughter, Annabelle, as the state’s firearm deer hunting season opened. Lifestyle changes forced by the pandemic, especially online schooling for his four children, “gave me that boost to make it happen.”

“They were getting a lot more screen time than normal, so this was a way to get them outside,” he said. For his part, “it’s a reawakening, kinda gets me back to my roots.”

More than 545,000 hunters in Michigan had bought licenses through Nov. 11, nearly 10% more than at the same point in 2019, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. Significantly, the number getting licenses for the first time in at least five years — if ever — has jumped 80%, to nearly 84,500.

In neighboring Wisconsin, archery license sales have risen 12% and gun license sales 9.5%. Maine reports a state record for deer hunting permits, and Vermont and Nevada have had double-digit hunting increases.

The trend appears to be nationwide, although many states won’t have final numbers until the end of the year, said Nick Buggia of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, which supports outdoor sports caucuses in Congress and state legislatures.

The pandemic almost certainly is a leading factor, Buggia said. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had reported a decline in hunting since the early 1980s. Michigan had lost about 300,000 deer hunters in the previous 20 years, state wildlife biologist Chad Stewart said.

Young people especially have shown less interest as more of their time goes to extracurricular school activities and computer games, officials say.

But with the virus outbreak, “kids aren’t having sports practices or music lessons, and people working at home have more free time, so it’s been an opportunity for families to reconnect with the outdoors,” Buggia said.

Hunting is ideal for avoiding the virus because participants are outside and usually a good distance apart, said Louis Porter, Vermont’s fish and wildlife commissioner.

“All of the things that hunting offers to people and the varied reasons people hunt all fit in with the pandemic,” he said.

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