The pandemic this year has helped reverse a long trend of dwindling interest in hunting as the number of people taking New York state’s mandatory hunting licensing test and license payments nearly tripled, according to an analysis by the Rockefeller Institute of Government.

“We’ve had about three decades-plus decline, not just in New York, but in the United States as a whole, in hunting,” said Laura Rabinow, deputy director of research for the Rockefeller Institute.

Rabinow’s study, “Into the (New York State) Woods: Hunting in a Pandemic,” dives into the impact COVID-19 has had on hunting and the license fees it generates to pay for wildlife management and conservation programs.

“To see a reversal, even if nascent, is really surprising and interesting. The next question is, “Is this a result of the pandemic and people shifting toward more outdoor activities in general, hunting being one of them?” Rabinow asked.

The explanation is simple according to long-time hunters and safety instructors.

“Hunting is the one thing that’s naturally socially distanced,” said Adam South, president of the Bailey Mountain Fish and Gun Club in Snyder’s Lake.

“They’re getting out in the outdoors. They’re not around other people,” said Frank Traver, who ran the in-person hunter safety courses for the Brunswick Sportsman’s Club.

Local hunting stores are seeing more people coming in for licenses and to buy supplies from archery supplies to rifles to equip themselves for venturing out into the woods in pursuit of game.

“It’s got to be triple. New hunters and people wanting to do archery,” said Mick McGuinness, owner of Brown’s Archery Shop at 503 Nott St. in Schenectady.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation created a complete online hunter education program in response to pandemic restrictions shutting down in-person instruction. As of Oct. 29, about 56,603 people completed the online course compared to the average of 20,000 that do so in an ordinary year, according to Rabinow’s review of the data.

Backing up the jump in people completing the required hunting course was a soaring number of hunting license sales. Rabinow points out that DEC sold $922,444 in licenses on Aug. 10, the first day of sales this year, compared to 2019 first day revenues of $347,103.

“With New Yorkers looking for more ways to enjoy the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing tremendous interest in outdoor recreation and in the sports of fishing, hunting, and trapping, including record sales of big game hunting and trapping licenses,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said about the changes in a September statement. “DEC’s efforts to make sure hunters and anglers are able to purchase fishing, hunting, and trapping licenses and take hunter safety courses from the comfort of their homes, are making the outdoors even more accessible and we will continue to offer our new online courses as we transition back to offering in-person courses.”

The online hunter safety courses are easier for people to take than having to go in-person, South said. In addition to saving time, the staying at home due to the coronavirus pandemic gave people a chance to consider new endeavors, he said.

“A lot of it has to do with people dealing with COVID. People had more time to explore their options,” South said.

In a demographic shift, Rabinow said women appeared to have accounted for 35 percent of the training and licenses compared to the national average of about 10 percent. As more data becomes available, Rabinow said it may show that the state’s hunting community may be moving from a mostly white male base to becoming more diverse.

DEC’s new online system will eventually provide a better demographic picture of who’s interested in hunting, Rabinow said.

“We will be getting more information about race and ethnicity in terms of participation moving forward. We don’t have that now, but that’s one of the new things they’re building into the system,” Rabinow said.

Brown’s Archery and Frank’s Gun and Tackle Shop, 3831 Route 30, Amsterdam, each said their license sales reflected what the Rockefeller Institute saw in the data.

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