According to the agency’s annual survey of small-game hunters, the number of duck and goose hunters dropped, as did the number of pheasant hunters. Grouse hunter numbers were up about 4 percent but remain much lower than in past decades.
“It’s something we take very seriously,” Dave Olfelt, DNR regional wildlife manager at Grand Rapids, said of the decline. “It’s a challenge that people in our line of work are facing all over the country.”
The majority of the DNR’s Division of Fish and Wildlife revenue comes from license dollars.
The DNR’s survey revealed that the state had 67,301 duck hunters in 2016, far fewer than the 76,200 in 2015, which led to a decline in the duck harvest from 663,811 in 2015 to 606,458.
The Canada goose harvest edged up slightly to an estimated 204,825 despite the decline in hunters from 45,938 in 2015 to 40,950 in 2016.
An estimated 59,965 pheasant hunters went afield in 2016, down slightly from 2015. Nearly 120,000 pheasant hunters went afield in 2006 and 2007 when the pheasant population was much higher.
The estimated ring-necked pheasant harvest declined from 243,176 roosters in 2015 to 196,141 last fall. A wet fall and standing corn throughout much of the pheasant range likely contributed to some of the reduced harvest, DNR wildlife officials said.
The number of grouse hunters last fall was 82,348, an increase of 4 percent from 2015, according to the survey. The ruffed grouse harvest increased 15 percent from 267,997 grouse in 2015 to 308,955 in 2016.
The decline in small-game hunter numbers is a continuing trend, said Paul Telander, DNR wildlife section leader in St. Paul.
“There are probably various reasons for that,” Telander said. “There’s a lot of other interests that can divert people away from hunting — kids are involved in lots of activities. That’s why a lot fall out. The trick is getting them back in.”
Reasons for decline
Several factors may be contributing to the steady decline in duck hunter numbers, said Duluth’s Michael…