Pandemic fuels interest in hunting and fishing

by Jeff Helsdon | May 12, 2021
A hunter walks down a muddy path in the morning sun

More Americans have turned to hunting and fishing during the pandemic, but the jury is still out on that trend in Ontario

Many US states saw double-digit increases in hunting and fishing licence sales, some in the 50% range.

Ontario’s 2020 resident fishing licence sales increased about 12.5% from 2019 to 509,377. The number of non-resident anglers took a big hit however, sliding from normal levels of around 320,000 to 18,542 last year, due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.

Trends hard to ID

Canadian trends regarding new hunters are more difficult to ascertain because of time lags associated with taking federal and provincial training courses — both of which were shut down for part of 2020 by COVID-19.

Ontario hunting licence sales did increase slightly, however. Turkey season overlapped the first shutdown and licence sales were up from to 52,000 in 2019 to 57,000 in 2020. Deer and bear licence sales increased by 4,000 each to 184,000 and 25,000, respectively. Moose licence sales remained the same and there was a slight increase (approximately 2,000) in one year small game licence sales.

Gear in demand

Canadian wholesalers reported a large increase in sales in hunting and fishing products early in the pandemic. The 12.5% increase in 2020 fishing licence sales translated to nearly 57,000 new anglers, many requiring new rods, reels, and tackle.

“Market demand for our brands remains very strong and we expect this trend to continue into 2021, as we’re seeing unprecedented sales at retail, especially with those businesses that have an active e-commerce presence,” said Glenn Cameron, national sales director with Shimano Canada.

“With respect to the past year and our sales of fishing tackle, rods, reels, and combos, we have seen an unbelievable increase in demand as Canadians returned to the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rob Walton, sales director and general manager of Pure Fishing in Canada. “We enjoyed seeing many Canadians reintroduced to fishing, and so many more fishing for the first time.”

Shortages common

Firearms and ammunition shortages were complicated by increased demand due to the political situation in the US and the Remington bankruptcy. On both sides of the border, reports of shortages of rod and reel combos were common, too.

Jason Vanderbrink, president of Vista Outdoor (Federal Premium, Remington, Bushnell), took to YouTube to say his company is doing everything it can to keep up with increased demand caused by seven million new shooters in the US.

“We are hearing from our dealers that a lot of people who were not able to vacation this year due to COVID-19 decided to dust off their hunting boots and get back out in the bush,” said Steve Corlett, director international sales Canada with Vista Outdoor. “As always when demand in the US market cranks up, demand here increases when products get tougher to get.”

Production ramped up

“Demand for Savage products has dramatically increased the past 12 months,” said Rob Gates, VP of sales and marketing Savage Arms. “Some of that growth has been driven by our innovative products, and some has been driven by the unprecedented demand we are seeing due to the pandemic and civil unrest. We have ramped up our production at both our Westfield, Massachusetts and Lakefield, Ontario plants to try and meet our customers’ demands.”

Another indicator was an increase in waterfowl rental spots at two popular Lake Erie locations. Rentals at Rondeau Waterfowl Unit were up 36% over last year, and at Long Point Waterfowl Unit increased to 2,275 from 2019’s 1,795.

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