Hunters on the wane in Georgia, rest of U.S.

Deer, dove and other Georgia game can relax a little.

Over the past two decades, the number of people buying hunting licenses in the state has declined.

It's part of a national trend, according to a report this week by the Associated Press. The number of hunters is dwindling as housing tracts replace forests, aging hunters hang up their guns and kids plop down in front of Facebook rather than venture outside, the report said.

In Georgia, there are 302,190 paid hunting license holders this year, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National License Certification Report. That's nearly 60,00 fewer paying hunters than in 1990, when there were 361,984 of them.

That 17 percent decline in Georgia resulted from a variety of causes, said Michael Spencer, the supervisor of the licensing unit within the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division.

Some of it is an artificial drop resulting from a change in the way the federal government counted paid hunting licenses, he said. Some is the result of the Baby Boom generation reaching retirement age; in Georgia, hunting licenses are free for those 65 and older. And some of it is the byproduct of changing lifestyles, with busier people confronted by more development and traffic that have made hunting areas harder to get to. Finally, kids these days just have other things to occupy them.

"I think that young people have a lot more opportunities for recreation," Spencer told the AJC. "Kids in general just don't get outdoors as much."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates 33 states saw declines in hunting license sales over the last two decades, the AP reported. The sharpest drop was in Massachusetts, which has seen a 50 percent falloff in hunting license sales during that time.

The falloff could have far-reaching consequences, hunting enthusiasts say. Fewer hunters means less revenue for a multibillion-dollar industry and government conservation efforts. It also signals what could be the beginning of the decline of an American tradition.

"As paradoxical as it may seem, if hunting were to disappear, a large amount of the funding that goes to restore all sorts of wildlife habitat, game and nongame species alike, would disappear," Steve Sanetti, National Shooting Sports Foundation president, told the AP.

The change in Georgia is more dramatic when set against the growing population. Hunting is simply less popular today than it was two decades ago, Spencer said.

In 1987, when there were about 6 million Georgians, nearly 12 percent of them bought a hunting license, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Two decades later, in 2008, there were nearly 10 million people living in Georgia. Less than 6 percent of them bought a hunting license.

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