In 2020, outdoor recreation saw a big surge. Fishing license sales grew by 13% overall compared to 2019 and hunting participation was up 5%. Check out the license sales dashboard, created by Southwick Associations on behalf of state fish and wildlife agencies and other industry and conservation organizations, to explore the data yourself.

Heading into 2021, we expected that many 2020 hunters and anglers would not return. The 2020 surge was driven by people who had time to accompany others or invest in a new pastime due to the pandemic. As things began to return to normal in 2021, there was less time to divide between activities. Indeed, the total number of fishing licenses sold declined 6% and the total number of hunting licenses sold declined 1% compared to 2020. Here are some additional initial insights for 2021:

  • Total licenses sold compared to 2020:
    • Fishing licenses declined by 6% in 2021, including a 11% decrease for women and a 4% decrease for men.
    • Hunting licenses decreased by only 1% in 2021 compared to 2020, including a 3% decrease for women and a 1% decrease for men.
  • New recruits compared to 2020:
    • There was a 17% decrease in first-time anglers in 2021, especially among women (-23%) and 18-24 year olds (-25%).
    • The number of first-time hunters saw a 9% decrease, also largely among women (-14%) and 18-24 year olds (-14%).
  • Churn rates (annual turnover) compared to 2020:
    • Roughly 46.8% of 2020 fishing license buyers did not renew in 2021. However, nonresident license holders were more likely to renew than in 2020.
    • Hunting licenses saw a 27.3% churn rate. Similar to anglers, nonresidents and 55-64 year olds had a lower churn rate compared to 2020.
  • 2021 vs. 2019:
    • For many, 2019 has become the new baseline for measuring trends because it was the last “normal” year prior to the pandemic.
    • While licenses sales decreased in 2021 compared to 2020, both hunting (3%) and fishing (6%) license sales were higher in 2021 compared to 2019.
    • The number of first-time anglers was 8% greater in 2021 than 2019, meaning we continue to create new anglers at rates faster than we did prior to the pandemic. Likewise, the number of first-time hunters was 9% greater in 2021 than 2019.

Consider these beginning sportsmen and sportswomen in your work! Share these trends with your front-line personnel and help them understand that we have many new sportsmen and sportswomen who may need help with beginner techniques. Newer and more in-depth data will become available on our data dashboards by the end of this year. The dashboards are currently updated every six months but will soon be updated daily. Together, we can ensure that these hunters and anglers return.