By ANATH HARTMANN
WASHINGTON (Dec. 17,2008)—Maryland is beating the bushes for young hunters as it's seen a rise in sales of cheaper senior hunting licenses and fluctuations in permits sold to younger sportsmen and sportswomen.
Senior hunting licenses, which Maryland sells to those ages 65 and older for $5 per season, is the only licensing category that saw a consistent increase in annual sales since 2003, according to data reviewed by Capital News Service.
At the same time, disbursement of permits to younger hunters has waned—and those permits cost more. Regular resident hunting licenses, which are for hunters ages 16 through 64 and cost $24.50 per year, have declined 11.4 percent, and junior resident hunting licenses, which are for hunters under age 16 and cost $10.50 each, have seen an 8.8 percent drop.
So far this year, regular resident, junior and senior hunting licenses combined have raised $2,077,310 for the state. The junior category, however, has brought in only about 1.5 percent of that, $29,670.
While this pattern has yet to cost the state any revenue loss, it has become enough of a concern that Natural Resources is doing what it can to lure recruits to the sport.
"All the studies that have been done nationally show that the younger you can get a child involved in it, they're more likely to stick with it, as opposed to someone in their later years," said Bob Beyer, associate director of Natural Resource's Wildlife and Heritage Service. "I predict the state (will lose money) unless we do a good job of recruitment and retention of the younger generations."
To that end, spring turkey-hunting season has opened since 2005 with a Junior Turkey Hunt Day for hunters age 16 and under holding valid junior hunting permits and accompanied by licensed adults. In November, the state increased the number of deer that junior hunters were allowed to bag annually by separating Junior Deer Hunt Day limits from general deer season limits.
Just this year, the state introduced a commemorative certificate, which hunters 16 and under can order online once they bag a deer or turkey and have the kill certified by an agent. Maryland has no minimum hunting age, but to obtain a license all applicants must pass a written exam, a firearm competency test and a hunter education course.
Baby boomers, those born between approximately 1944 and 1964, compose the largest generation in history. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2050 people age 65 and over will compose more than 20 percent of the U.S. population.
But Upper Marlboro resident Glenna Moyers said she doesn't think the state needs to give young hunters much additional incentive besides the sport itself. Her grandson, Bradley Moyers Jr., 16, has been interested in hunting "since he's been old enough to walk."
"He gets buck fever about a month ahead of (deer) season," Moyers said of her grandson, who hunts regularly after school during the seasons. "I think he's killed three bucks already this year. His father and his grandfather all hunted; they've all been raised up to do it. They just love the sport and the deer meat. I don't think the sport is in danger of going away for young people anytime soon."
Her grandson concurred. "It's just a thrill," Bradley Moyers Jr. said. "The going out and shooting and seeing animals is an adrenaline rush."
Wendy Donahoo, president of the Maryland Sportsmen's Association, said the increasing number of seniors involved in hunting may actually help the state bring in more young hunters.
"I'm seeing more kids coming with their parents or grandparents for the safety education class we offer," Donahoo said. "It's the grandparents taking on the role where the parents are too busy. The seniors I talk to get a lot of joy out of taking their grandchildren out to shoot, teaching them safety, teaching them the right way to do things."
Terry Barth, who teaches hunter safety courses in Howard County, said he sees increasing numbers of young people at each of the seasonal classes he teaches. He said he has had to turn away more teens over the years because the courses fill to their 60-person capacity more quickly each time.
"Our class used to be older people, but the past couple years it's been more and more young kids," said Barth, who has been a certified hunter safety instructor since the mid-1990s. "With the number of people we have coming in, in my opinion it doesn't look like the sport among young people is dwindling any. There's still a lot of kids out there interested in hunting."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.