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September 14, 2015

New Facts to Help Us Retain Our Hunting Customers

Editor’s Note: Over the next several months, NSSF will present a series of articles to help manufacturers, retailers, wildlife management agencies, tourism departments and others in the hunting community better understand their hunting customers. We’ll share findings of a study commissioned by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, with funding from a Multi-State Conservation Grant, and conducted by Southwick Associates. Topics covered will include hunters’ commitment to participation, churn rates and turnover of new and existing hunters, and hunters’ lifestyles and motivations for hunting. By providing a clearer understanding of hunters, we believe the hunting community can do even better in recruiting and retaining customers, boosting sales revenue and increasing conservation funding through license sales and excise taxes.


Series Article #1: New Facts to Help Us Retain Our Hunting Customers

Knowing your prospective customer is key to recruiting, retaining and reactivating

By Glenn Sapir

If hunters are an important part of your business, then you need to understand as much as possible about who makes up that market segment. So we can know more about hunters, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, with funding from a Multistate Conservation Grant from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, contracted research expert Southwick Associates to conduct a study.  The findings might surprise you.

Going back to 2004, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service license sales data indicates there were 15 million licensed hunters.  Since then, the population of licensed hunters has remained fairly stable, with small fluctuations. The net result is that by 2013 approximately 2 percent fewer people made up the ranks of licensed hunters. Missing from this measure, however, is the year-to-year dynamic activity within the total pool of hunters, and this is where some of those surprises lie.

Efforts by state fish and wildlife agencies to expand participation in hunting have evolved into a strategy known as R3 – recruitment, retention and reactivation. Twelve states (Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Utah, and Wisconsin) participated in the study by sharing 10 years’ worth of data to present both a regional and national picture of hunting participation.

Key Take Aways
  • Though only one out of five hunters will not renew their license the next year, the problem magnifies over time:
    • The typical hunter bought a license in 2.8 of the last 5 years.
    • Only 13% of hunters bought a license in each of the last 10 years.
  • Women (36 percent) are more likely to lapse after purchasing a hunting license than men (36% vs. 24% respectively).
  • Younger hunters are less likely to renew their license, as are suburban and urban hunters.
  • With most hunters not purchasing a license every year, the challenge is to retain and reactivate previous license holders.

Each year, people of all ages enter the ranks of the hunting population, and people of all ages leave the sport.  Although the majority of hunters renew their license, in any given year 22% of resident hunters do not renew and lapse. Even among hunters who renew one year, there is no guarantee they will become frequent hunters who purchase a license year after year.  Surprise Number 1: Results show that the typical hunter buys a license 4.2 out of every 10 years over his or her hunting lifetime. In other words, the hunter who bought a license this year is not likely to buy one next year.

In fact, almost one-third of the hunters purchased a license only once in the 10-year period. At the other end of the spectrum, the perennial or avid hunter, whom you may have envisioned as typical, made up only 13 percent of those buying hunting licenses during that span. In between was the majority—55 percent—who purchased a license for more than one year but also lapsed for a period of time between license purchases.

If your impression is that you are “selling” to the same hunter year after year, then you are overlooking the opportunity to retain and sell to new and lapsed hunters. The perennial hunter you may see in the mirror is not the typical hunter.

Take note that the hunters in the study ranged in age from 18 to 65. In many states, youth and senior citizens are eligible for a special category of license that is not consistent with most hunters’ licensing options. Programs like Families Afield, which has expanded the opportunity for young people to hunt in more than 30 states, has helped inject new blood–over one million–into the sport, but their participation might not be reflected in the study group. For some aspects of the study, researchers were best able to synchronize the more recent five-year data, that is, from 2009 to 2013, to come up with meaningful results.

Here are some findings on the hunting license holder churn rate, that is, “who is buying, who is not”:

  • Hunters purchased a license an average of 2.8 years out of five.
  • 32 percent bought a license only once in the five-year period.
  • 23 percent, the avid hunters, purchased a license every year.
  • Every year approximately 25 percent of hunters do not renew their license.
  • As the age of the hunter increases, the churn rate decreases. The rate is highest among 18- to 24-year-olds (33 to 34 percent), and then they do fall slightly to 28 to 30 percent for 25- to 34-year olds. Licensed hunters in the 55 to 64 category have the lowest churn rate of all studied groups—22 percent.

The rate of purchase depicts the change in the customer base. However, you must also consider the hunters themselves when analyzing license sales. Here are some findings to consider of a hunter’s lifestyle:

  • Consider a hunter’s age. Hunting competes for a young hunter’s time with family, school, work and other leisure pursuits. A slight downward pattern of hunting participation among Gen X (born 1965 to 1980) and Gen Y (born in the 1980s and early ‘90s) as compared to the population numbers for those groups demonstrates the continuing need to recruit, retain and reactivate members of these age classes for the long-term prosperity of the sport.
  • Most hunters are male, although female participation has grown considerably in recent years. Women, however, are more likely to lapse after purchasing a hunting license, to the tune of about 36-plus percent to men’s 24-plus percent rate.
  Annual churn rate
Year Male Female
2009 24% 35%
2010 24% 37%
2011 24% 37%
2012 24% 36%
2013 25% 37%


  • About half of hunters reside in “rural” neighborhoods, defined by country living, farms and single family homes. A quarter lives in the suburbs, and another quarter lives in an urban setting. While only 25-plus percent in rural settings allowed their licenses to lapse, about 28 percent of suburbanites and almost 34 percent of city dwellers lapsed, suggesting a need for increased nearby access to hunting opportunities.

The challenge is not only to recruit new hunters but to recognize that the large majority of hunters do not purchase a license every year. Efforts to retain and reactivate those previous license holders are critical to the long-term prosperity of the sport.  Emphasizing retention of women hunters, encouraging younger hunters to hunt more often, and increasing access to convenient hunting opportunities for the urban hunters are just some examples of strategies that the hunting community could attempt to boost participation. If we can get current hunters to renew and continue to hunt, revenues from licenses, products and taxes earmarked for conservation will also grow. If your efforts can increase hunter participation by only one additional year out of five, the hunting community would see a significant difference.

To view this study, click here.

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Tags: business marketing R3 Reactivation Recruitment research Retention

Categories: R3