The hunting season is always something to look forward to. This year though, a cloud of uncertainty hangs due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The pandemic brought world economies to a grinding halt and decimated the travel industry.
Unfortunately, annual hunting seasons-- in particular, the turkey hunting season-- have not been spared. Turkey season in the Eastern U.S. begins earlier than in other parts of the country, starting in May for some states. So how has the pandemic impacted hunting seasons?
Increased Online Gear Purchases
With the worldwide call for social distancing, online purchases have gone through the roof. More and more consumers are turning to e-commerce stores to satisfy their purchase needs while practicing social distancing. Hunters are no different. According to Zentail, purchases of outdoor products, camping, and gun accessories have steadily risen since the start of 2020. Items such as guns and optics top the list of the most purchased products online. Needless to say, consumers will likely continue this trend moving into the fall season.
Boom in Resident Hunting Licenses
Many wildlife agencies, including the Pennsylvania Game Commission, indicated there were no plans to shut down hunting seasons; however, stay-at-home measures that coincided with the start of the season did have an impact. Coming as a bit of a surprise, some Eastern states saw a boom of outdoorsmen and women heading into the fields – likely, seizing on the opportunity to get out of the house. The hunting season presents an opportunity for many who have been cooped up in homes to leave and enjoy the fresh air.
Alabama saw a significant increase in the number of hunters who frequented the state's wildlife management areas -- both on weekends and weekdays. In Tennessee, 7,000 hunters showed up for turkey season, up from last year’s 3,000. In 2020, the state’s “Tag Before You Drag” became mandatory, with the recording system tracking a 28 percent increase in the number of turkey harvests. It’s worth noting that states are also implementing new measures for harvest reporting, with some moving to an online reporting system to encourage social distancing.
More hunters in the field translate to more support for the sport; alternatively, this increase could also mean reduce game options for the 2021 hunting season. Some researchers opined that hunters should expect fewer birds next year.
Reduced Number of Non-Resident Hunters
Out west, however, it was a different story. Hunting seasons here are mostly dominated by out-of-state hunters. Texas, for example, saw a dip in its non-resident's license sales, with a 65 percent decrease in purchased licenses from 2019 to 2020. Ohio and Idaho both effectively canceled non-resident hunting this year, suspending the sale of non-resident licenses.
Currently, there is no national restriction on movement within the country, though individual states have imposed and continue to impose stay-at-home measures. This downward trend in non-resident hunters will likely continue as travel is discouraged.
Changing Season Dates and Closures
As COVID-19 numbers fluctuate, the possibility of parks and wildlife management area closures, as well as suspensions and even cancellations of hunting seasons, are ever-present. Some states, like Washington, completely canceled full seasons while others, like South Carolina, have put them on hold.
As the number of COVID-19 patients increases, more restrictions are likely to follow, with some agencies revisiting previous measures. This may lead to a reduction in the number of parks and areas open for hunting. If nothing else, hunters will need to stay on top of changing policies and be in regular communication with state and local wildlife agencies.
The 2020 hunting season will undoubtedly be a different one, and hunters will need to adapt.