Why Hunters Hunt: Majority Say It's For The Meat

April 3, 2014

A national and state-level research study conducted by Responsive Management has revealed that obtaining meat is an increasingly important motivation among American hunters to go afield. "While there are several reasons for this growth in the segment of hunters who engage in hunting for utilitarian reasons, several of Responsive Management's new studies make clear that the trend is widespread and unmistakable," explains Mark Damian Duda, executive director of Responsive Management, who managed the research studies.

In a 2013 nationwide scientific telephone survey measuring hunting participation among Americans ages 18 years old and older, a question asked hunters about their single most important reason for hunting in the year prior to the survey. Respondents were asked to choose from a list of potential reasons, including being with family and friends, being close to nature, for the sport/recreation, for the meat, or for a trophy. In response, more than a third of hunters (35 percent) chose "for the meat" as the most important reason for their recent hunting participation. However, what is most noteworthy is the substantial increase in the percentage of hunters giving this answer since the last time the question was asked — in a similar nationwide survey conducted in 2006, just 22 percent of American adult hunters named "for the meat" as their most important reason for going hunting. While the percentages of hunters naming one of the other reasons either remained stable or declined between 2006 and 2013, those who named the meat as the most important reason for their hunting participation increased by 13 percentage points. 

Other recent Responsive Management research confirms the overriding importance of meat as a primary motivator for American hunters today. With the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation indicating a 9 percent increase in national hunting participation between 2006-2011, Responsive Management initiated and coordinated a study with the American Sportfishing Association, Southwick Associates, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to better understand the factors correlated with the increase in hunting participation and determine how these factors may have contributed to the uptick in participation. One of the key components of the study was a Responsive Management telephone survey of hunters in seven of the top states that experienced an increase in resident hunting participation between 2006 and 2011, according to the National Survey. These states were Alabama, Alaska, Indiana, Idaho, Mississippi, New York, and South Dakota.

Results from this survey highlight the degree to which hunters today are focusing on meat as a primary reason for their participation. When hunters were read a list of factors that potentially influenced them to go hunting, the top factor rated as a major or minor influence was interest in hunting as a source of local, natural, or "green" food, with 68 percent of hunters saying this was an influence.

Additionally, in an open-ended question (where no answer set was read, but respondents could simply name anything that came to mind), 56 percent of hunters across the seven states that the National Survey reported as having among the largest increases in hunter numbers said that they hunted for food or meat.

The growing importance of meat as hunters' foremost reason for hunting has been observed on the state level as well. One of the most dramatic examples can be seen in Georgia, where Responsive Management recently completed a trend survey of deer hunters as part of an overall project examining opinions on deer management and deer hunting regulations. A similar version of the survey was last conducted in Georgia in 2004. In response to the question asking respondents about their single most important reason for hunting deer in the state in the two years prior to the survey, 51 percent of Georgia deer hunters named the meat, a remarkable increase of 25 percentage points over the 26 percent of respondents who gave the same answer in 2004. As with the survey discussed earlier, all other reasons in the list either remained stable or declined, just as the percentage of hunters naming meat as their primary motivation virtually doubled.

Several factors appear to have contributed to this pronounced motivational shift in favor of meat among American hunters. Perhaps the single most important factor is the global recession that began at the end of 2008 and, by some estimations, continues to affect the economy of the United States to this day. As households throughout the country started to feel the effects of significant financial pressures several years ago (including frozen or reduced salaries and/or prolonged unemployment), more Americans likely turned to hunting as a way of obtaining relatively inexpensive venison and other meat to put food on the family table. A 2010 USA Today article described hunting as "recession-proof" and "a bulletproof industry" during the recession. The article also included comments from several fish and wildlife agency directors; a spokesman for the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks (the agency in one of the states that saw a notable increase in hunting participation between 2006 and 2011) noted that “hunting helps on the grocery bills" and "allows [hunters] to put meat in the freezer”. It is also important to note that nearly half of the hunters surveyed in the seven states that had increased hunting participation between 2006 and 2011 (48 percent) said that hunting to save money in a bad or declining state economy was either a major or minor reason for their decision to go hunting during that time period.

Another factor contributing to an emphasis on hunting for utilitarian reasons appears to be the natural, "green," or locavore food movement. This movement has been gaining adherents over the past few years, and hunting is certainly a key source of such foods. A 2009 New York Times article discusses "Deer Hunting for Locavores," an instructional class offered in Charlottesville, Va., to novice hunters interested in learning how to hunt for their own deer meat. In addition to Charlottesville, locavore hunting activity exists across the United States in a growing number of areas. The locavore hunter movement even includes Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, who stated in a Field & Stream blog entry his intention to start hunting for his own meat. Such growing interest seems to be helping to reinforce the motivation of hunting for the meat.

A final factor that provides insight into the recent emphasis on hunting for meat relates to the gender of hunters and draws on additional findings from two of the studies mentioned earlier. The aforementioned 2013 study to explore recent increases in hunting and fishing participation between 2006 and 2011 categorized all hunters in the seven-state survey as either established hunters (those who first hunted in 2006 or earlier and did not take a break that included 2006) or new/returning hunters (those who first hunted in 2007 or later as well as those who first hunted prior to 2006 but who took a break from hunting that included 2006). It is this latter group that may have contributed to the difference in hunter numbers between 2006 and 2011. By cross-tabulating these groups by demographic questions, the analysis revealed a small but notable difference in the gender breakdown of the two groups: among established hunters, 9 percent are female; among new/returning hunters, 14 percent are female.

Furthermore, a cross-tabulation by gender of the data from the previously discussed 2013 nationwide study of hunting participation among adult Americans reveals that female hunters appear to be substantially more likely to choose "for the meat" as their most important reason for hunting in the year prior to the survey: 55 percent of female hunters chose "for the meat," compared to just 27 percent of male hunters.

Editor’s Note: Responsive Management is an internationally-recognized public opinion and attitude survey research firm specializing in natural resource and outdoor recreation issues. Our mission is to help natural resource and outdoor recreation agencies and organizations better understand and work with their constituents, customers, and the public.