Firearm deer season opens up this Thursday, but population shifts and the aging out of the baby boomer generation means declining hunter numbers in the Mitten State, which isn't good for fans of the great Michigan outdoors.

A report in the Detroit Free Press this week showed that hunting license numbers have been on a steady decline for the past twenty years, which does not bode well for the Michigan animal conservation efforts among other things.

The state high of 785,000 hunting licenses occurred 20 years ago in 1998, according to the report. That has steadily declined to 621,000 licenses last year, a drop of 21 percent.

That matters whether you love, loathe or are indifferent to hunting and fishing. License fees and surcharges on hunting and fishing gear purchases fund most of the wildlife management and habitat preservation and restoration work done by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. And hunting contributes $2.3 billion annually to Michigan's economy and supports more than 34,000 jobs, according to the DNR.

"People who hunt and fish in this state have really paid for conservation in this state, over a very long time," DNR Director Keith Creagh said.

 A shift appears to be happening in how young people enjoy the outdoors in Michigan, with many opting to hike, kayak and paddleboard in state recreation areas rather than hunt.

The state has attempted to win back young hunters by eliminating the minimum age rule for hunting and offering reduced licensing fees.

Long time state hunter Kevin Donley told the Free Press he has introduced his three kids to hunting, but has to battle with video games and other distractions to get their attention. But he raises a good selling point when trying to win over younger hunters:

"The young kids don't know where their food comes from, but as they get older, and more conscious about it, knowing that their (hunting-harvested) food doesn't have chemicals, preservatives, can have a real appeal. The whole farm-to-table translates well to field-to-table as well."

The numbers on the economic impact of hunting and fishing to the Michigan economy are staggering. The big question for the future of the Michigan outdoor recreation is how to replace those dollars from other recreational sources.

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