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After years of decline, hunting licenses spike

News Photo by Julie Riddle Accompanied by Irish field setter Gus, longtime hunter Kristen Bartz holds her rifle outside her Alpena County home.

ALPENA — First-time hunters getting ready for deer season have been buying hunting licences in droves, sending the number of new hunters skyrocketing this year, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources reported.

License sales to women and young people are booming, too, the DNR reports.

The jump in sales comes after years of decreasing hunter numbers. Some say the spike is both a needed change and an understandable reaction to the nation’s current health crisis.

If ever license sale numbers are going to increase, this is the year for it, said Kristen Bartz, an Alpena resident who is one of the more than 440,000 hunters who have purchased licenses this season.

Some people may be taking up hunting as an alternate food source in uncertain times. Others, Bartz surmised, may be looking for a respite from the stresses of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Slow down,” Bartz advised. “Take some time. Find out who you are.”

After years of declining numbers of deer hunters in Michigan woods, hunting license sales have taken off since March — when the coronavirus hit the state — with a 95% increase in new hunters signing up for their first shot at a deer this hunting season, according to the DNR.

Of those who have purchased a hunting license already this year, 15% are first-time hunters — nearly twice as many new hunters as purchased a license by the same time last year.

License sales to young hunters aged 17 to 24 increased by about 20% over last year’s sales, and the number of female hunters applying for licenses increased by 25% since 2019.

The increase in license sales this summer over last year is a jump not seen in 20 years, according to the DNR.

Falling licenses sales — a national trend in recent decades — meant fewer hunters to help manage the state’s deer population and less money generated from fees, hunting equipment sales, and other hunter activities to fund conservation projects and support communities’ economies.

More than 475,000 firearm deer hunting licenses were purchased last year. The DNR expects more sales with the approach of the firearm season, which begins Nov. 15 and annually attracts high hunter participation in northern Michigan.

Bartz has been hunting since she sat in a blind with her dad as a 5-year-old. Now, her own kids hunt, carrying on the family tradition.

Drawn by the quiet of the woods and the peace of a tree blind — even though she’s afraid of heights — Bartz also relishes the feeling of her heart hammering in her chest with anticipation as a buck emerges from the trees.

“It’s just so exciting,” she said.

More than that, hunting is family, and board games and junk food at hunting camp, and using up vacation days to sit quietly in the woods, surrounded by rustlings and owl hoots and memories.

She looks daily at the delicate mounted head of a buck hanging on her living room wall, visions of her father and grandfather mingling with thoughts of her kids and their future and the woods and one magical fall day when a bullet flew 400 feet and brought down her quarry.

“All of the memories, all of the animals, the tradition,” Bartz said. “It’s a big part of me.”

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