Public Approval for Hunting and Recreational Shooting Continues to Decline in the U.S.

A survey released Wednesday indicates three-quarters of Americans support both activities
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A hunter in blaze orange looks at a dead deer from a distance
Americans say deer are the most acceptable species to hunt, with 76 percent approving of deer hunting. Photo by Natalie Krebs

A new survey of national attitudes toward hunting and recreational shooting released today shows a decline in public support for both activities, continuing a downward trend first registered in 2022.

The report, conducted in collaboration with the Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports and the natural-resources survey firm Responsive Management, indicates that the slippage in public support for hunting and shooting registered in the 2023 survey is continuing, although there are some important variations from the previous survey.

“Public support is not the lowest on record, but it is significantly below the 81 percent approval we saw in 2021 and appears to be trending down,” says Swanny Evans, director of research and partnerships for CAHSS. “This report highlights the importance of understanding public opinion nuances to improve communication and engagement strategies within the outdoor industry.”

The survey found that public support for both legal hunting and shooting is at 76 percent, a drop of five percentage points from 2021 and one percent from last year. Support for legal recreational shooting also dropped a single point from last year; this year 76 percent of Americans indicated that they strongly or moderately approve of sport shooting.

While the single-year decline is worrisome for promoters of hunting and recreational shooting, the decline from 2023 to 2024 isn’t statistically significant. The five percent drop from the high-water mark in 2021 is significant, however, and represents the loss of support of about 12.5 million Americans. This year’s results indicate the lowest public support for hunting since 2011.

The public-attitude survey is normally conducted and published every 3 to 5 years, but last year’s results, which showed a surprising decline in support for hunting and shooting after years of steady increase, prompted sponsors to conduct the 2024 survey to determine if the 2023 results were accurate.

A hunter butchers a deer hanging from a gambrel.
A first-time deer hunter removes a backstrap from a Missouri doe. Hunting deer for meat receives more public support than any other type of hunting.

Photo by Natalie Krebs

They appear to be, says Evans, and the findings are so significant for planning public engagement strategies that CAHSS and Responsive Management are expected to conduct the survey annually for at least the next five years in order to better understand where and why support for traditional activities may be softening. The 2024 survey is funded by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

The report, titled “Americans’ Attitudes Toward Hunting and Sport Shooting 2024,” available from the CAHHS website, reveals some surprising nuances in public support for the activities. Importantly, an overwhelming majority of Americans say they approve of legal hunting and shooting. The study found that 76 percent of respondents approve of both activities. Further, large majorities of Americans agree that it is okay if other people hunt and recreationally shoot firearms in accordance with laws and regulations. The survey found that 87 percent of Americans agree that it is okay for others to hunt, and 85 percent of Americans agree that it is okay for others to recreationally shoot.

But the survey found softening support for recreational shooting. A third of respondents have reservations about the shooting sports, saying that the activity is either “inappropriate now” or “a little inappropriate now.”

The study’s sample size varies, but each percentage point represents approximately 2.5 million Americans aged 18 and older. The study is designed to receive statistically valid input from all regions of the country and all demographic variations of Americans to ensure a representative sample of the population. Unlike previous versions of the survey, the 2024 iteration did not ask questions about support for recreational fishing or trapping.

Key findings of the 2024 survey include:

  • Rates of public approval of legal hunting and legal recreational shooting are similar: 76 percent of Americans approve of each while 12 percent of Americans disapprove of hunting and 13 percent disapprove of recreational shooting.
  • Approval of legal hunting is markedly higher among rural residents, males, and residents of the Midwest than among U.S. residents overall. Approval of recreational firearms shooting is highest among rural residents, males, and residents of small cities and towns, and residents of the Mountain West region.
  • While the 2023 survey found softening support for hunting for food, support for that particular motivation is high. Around 84 percent of respondents this year approve of hunting for meat and 83 support hunting for obtaining locally sourced food. Conservation-related motivations also receive strong support, while trophy hunting is the motivation with the least approval, at only 29 percent support.
  • On the recreational shooting side, shooting in order to learn self-defense skills received the highest approval at 77 percent, while approval for shooting in order to compete received 74 percent approval. Shooting for the challenge received 64 percent approval, one of the lowest-supported motivations.

Evans says the survey results aren’t alarming, but they do confirm what appears to be a statistically measurable downward trend in support for hunting and shooting. But Evans says the survey indicates some bright spots, including robust and growing support for hunting for food.

A green, yellow, and red opinion chart about public attitudes toward hunting.
One of the charts from the survey, which shows hunting for food is the most acceptable reason to hunt, according to survey respondents.

“That particular motivation remains high, despite the hiccup last year when it went down,” says Evans, who suggests that Americans’ growing food insecurity and concerns over the price of food may contribute to their support of hunting to acquire food. He adds that discussing food-related motivations for hunting may be a winning strategy to build public support for the activity.

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The survey authors note that public perceptions of guns and shooting may be influencing support for hunting.

“Recently in data collection on these topics, comments from respondents have suggested that some Americans with negative views of shooting do not see a clear distinction between shooting and hunting in general,” write the authors. “Although a majority of Americans have indicated that they support both of these activities, with hunting approval often being higher than that of sport shooting, trends in opinion data suggest that, in response to events that involve firearms, there is a growing tendency among some Americans to conflate hunting with shooting, shooting with guns, and their negative attitudes on guns to negative attitudes toward hunting. It is not a large segment, but enough to account for an overall decrease in support for hunting.”