COVID-19 introduces many new sportsmen to Michigan’s great outdoor opportunities


The only place we knew we were safe was outside, a spitting distance from others. COVID-19 has changed our way of life forever.

Our Governor ordered us to stay home and not to gather. Schools, outdoor trade shows, restaurants, movie theatres, bowling centers, banquet halls, funeral homes and retail stores were all ordered to close. We feared hospitals filled to the rooftops with the sick and thousands would die during this pandemic. More questions than answers.

Being outside was encouraged. And we took advantage of that every chance we got. Golf, tennis, birdwatching, bike riding and hiking became leisure activities of choice.

There were a couple other outdoor activities that also saw a resurgence; hunting and fishing.

For sometime now it was thought the gun and reel sports were destined for collapse. License sales declined year in and year out. Many organizations were trying to keep our woods and waters filled with hunters and fishermen, still the decline continued.

Michigan conservation groups and projects needed the money to take care of our beautiful parks, forests, our fishery, waterfowl, small game and big game. Our rivers and lakes and shorelines depend on the sportsmen’s dollars, for conservation of course.

Surprisingly, because of COVID-19, those declining numbers had a rebound unlike anything we had ever seen. Sales of all types of fishing licenses increased a whopping 42%, nearly 200,000 more than 2019.

Sales of youth and new fishing licenses and first time hunting licenses increased dramatically. Sales of wild turkey licenses soared, as did small-game hunting. Deer hunting licenses saw a double-digit increase in sales, more than has been sold in 20 years.

COVID has been an opportunity for the Jorgensen team of father, Keil, sons, Zadyn and Ryker, to enjoy for the first time a preserve pheasant hunt. Of course, with the help of their friends Tiffany and Cedar, who did much of the work.

COVID created a re-introduction to Michigan’s many outdoor opportunities. Boats, firearms, ammunition, kayaks and anything outdoors sold like hotcakes.

In October of 2020 Selina Herberger wrote in an article published in Detroit-based Daily Business:

“Since COVID-19 first sent people into quarantine in March, Michigan has seen a 95 percent increase in new hunters, according to the Michigan Wildlife Council.

“We have seen a record increase in license sales that we haven’t seen in 20 years,” says Shannon Lott, deputy director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “This is definitely the year that everyone wants to get outside.”

She says the drastic increase in hunting license sales is expected to continue into firearm deer season as the increased demand for socially distanced recreation is also expected to continue. More than 475,000 firearm deer hunting licenses were purchased last year. (This article was published in mid-October, in total over 600,000 deer licenses were sold in 2020.) The season marks the state’s largest hunting participation each year.

The DNR reports 440,780 people, 64,333 being first-time hunters, had purchased a hunting license through mid-October; 31,000 more new applicants than at the same point last year. Additionally, the number of female hunters has increased by nearly 25 percent, from 35,619 to 44,425, and the number of hunters ages 10-16 has seen a 144 percent increase, from 9,284 to 22,624.

“This is great news for Michigan since hunting participation here and nationally had been declining in recent years,” says Nick Buggia, chair of the Michigan Wildlife Council “The more people who enjoy Michigan’s great outdoors, the better it is for our entire state.”

License sales typically generate about $61 million annually for wildlife and natural resources conservation projects in Michigan, with another $32 million coming from the federal levy on hunting and fishing equipment sales. Law dedicates the money be directed entirely to wildlife management and conservation.

The increase in hunters is also good for many reasons, according to the DNR. One is that the DNR relies on hunters to manage the state’s deer population. However, prior to COVID-19, the hunting license sales in both Michigan and the U.S. were declining rapidly due to baby boomers cutting back on hunting and young families having less free time to pursue the sport.

“Additional hunters would be a much-welcomed change to better assist with management of our herd,” says Chad Stewart, deer specialist for the DNR.

Of course people have more time on their hands and with a lock down people are looking to escape from stay-at-home restrictions. Fishing and hunting is a logical entertainment outlet here in Michigan.

Youths also look to outdoor activities because many youth sports and school have been shut down from time to time over the past year.

Herberger’s article continued;

In addition to hunting and fishing, many Michiganders pursued other outdoor activities including camping, hiking, bird-watching, and kayaking. If such interests continue in the future, Michigan’s conservation efforts and economy can expect to see an increase in revenue for both wildlife management and conservation activities.

A recent study by the Michigan United Conservation Clubs showed that hunting and fishing support nearly 171,000 jobs annually and add $11.2 billion to the Michigan economy, with the greatest impact in southeast Michigan.

Let’s hope and pray this horrible pandemic is over soon and we can return to some form of normalcy.

Let’s also hope we are able to retain some of the thousands we introduced or re-introduced to our grand Michigan traditions of hunting and fishing!

Perhaps there is a shining light in the darkest of clouds.