Not That Old

There’s been much soul-searching, gnashing of teeth and activism via youth recruitment over the past decade related to the aging population of waterfowl hunters in the U.S. It’s hard to place an exact number on the “average age” of U.S. hunters, but most authorities place it at about 50. It continues to climb.

But we should take heart. We’re not alone, and an average age of 50 may not be as bad as it sounds. Turns out America itself is graying. Median age, the average age of all 322 million of us, has been going up too. It now rests just a tick under 40 years.

As a writer in the New York Times recently quipped, if you’re a millennial who is 38, seeing the median age at 40 probably makes you feel really good about yourself. The truth is, 40 is an incredibly old median age for any country.

A climbing median age doesn’t just happen overnight, just as declining number of young hunters don’t disappear in one fell swoop. Statisticians point out that the climb in our nation’s median age has been noteworthy going back to 1980 when the median age was 30. By 2000 it was 35.

Many of us feel threatened, or we see hunting itself threatened by this graying in our ranks—and we should. It challenges our industry, the waterfowl-hunting industry and its related business models.

These businesses include not only big corporately owned types, but the small businesses that make many of the products you see in this issue. It includes the magazine you are reading right now, one of the few in the outdoor industry that is not corporately held. It also threatens the huge conservation dollars that hunters generate through taxes, licenses and outright donations.

Of course, it’s not all about us. An aging population threatens everything from the country’s work force to the greater economy.

What drives this median age? Quite simply, birth rates. We’re not having enough kids, which also fits with the waterfowl hunting recruitment model we see and lament.

But take heart. If you’re 40 or older, which I am safely assuming the majority of those reading this column actually are, don’t you now feel a bit better about yourself? If the average age of hunters is 50 and the median for the entire country is 40, well heck, we’re in the ballpark. Maybe the average age we tap out at just went up too. Just keep hunting!

Photo: Our friend and fellow waterfowler Boris Popov.