N.H. sees demand for hunting licenses falling since 2002

The number of New Hampshire hunting licenses sold to people from outside the state has fallen about 20 percent over the last decade, according to figures from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.

In 2002, 12,469 non-residents purchased a paid hunting license in New Hampshire, but in 2011, according to preliminary figures from the department, only about 9,900 paid, out-of-state hunting licenses were issued, which is about a 20 percent decrease from almost a decade prior.

It's not just out-of-state hunting that has seen a decrease, either. Hunting among New Hampshire residents is also down over the period, from 55,117 paid licenses in 2002 to a preliminary total of 46,506 in 2011 — a 15 percent decline.

"It is down a bit," said Jane Vachon, public information officer for the department, who compiled the figures

.Hunting has a significant economic impact in New Hampshire, and fewer hunters coming from out of state means less money that goes to the department in licensing fees and less money for businesses in the state that benefit from hunting trip-related expenditures.

According to a 2006 report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state's hunting industry generates $74 million annually — $15 million of which comes from non-resident hunters. Non-resident hunters tend to spend significantly more per day than their resident counterparts, it also found — $46 per day compared to $17 per day for residents.

"We do depend on the out-of-staters quite a bit," said Dennis Whitcher, a Gilford-based licensed guide and vice president of the New Hampshire Guides Association. But, he added, the drop in out-of-state hunters doesn't seem to have registered as a major concern for many of the guides in the association.

"I think the biggest impact is on Fish and Game," he said, because "they do a lot of management based on license sales."

According to department figures, the hunting licenses, tags and permits purchased by out-of-state residents in 2006 brought in $1.503 million, up from $1.43 million in 2005. But that figure dropped each subsequent year, to $1.43 million in 2007, $1.41 million in 2008 and $1.39 million in 2009.The Portland Press Herald recently reported that many guides in Maine attributed the sharp decline in out-of-state hunters to the Pine Tree State to a dwindling deer population in northern Maine. But that doesn't seem to be the case in New Hampshire, where the deer, moose and bear populations are doing well, said Whitcher.

The number of deer kills dipped to recent low of 9,759 in 2010, but rebounded 14 percent last year to 11,109, according to Kent Gustafson, the deer biologist at Fish and Game. In his most recent deer hunt outlook, he predicted that 2012 should be the best year since 2007, when hunters took 13,339 deer.

The decline in out-of-state residents hunting in New Hampshire is "probably not a case of the actual resources, but access is difficult now, more land is posted," said Whitcher.

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