Sunday, December 16, 2007

More women hunting: lies & damned lies?

With nothing nice to say about our guided Canada goose hunt at an area hunting perserve on Saturday, I found some time this morning to dig into those perplexing National Sporting Goods Association stats that suggest a 72 percent increase in women hunting, according to numerous articles I've seen. I noted on Friday that this was a surprising figure, given that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stats show our numbers have actually decreased a bit in the past five years.

Little did I know how surprising it would be - so surprising that I've been digging into this for hours when I should be cleaning house for a dinner party we're having tonight. Thank God the boyfriend's doing the cooking, because if it were me, I'd be ordering take-out about now. I love men who cook.

Here's the deal: The National Sporting Goods Association counts 2.4 million women hunting with firearms and 700,000 women bowhunting in 2006. Five years earlier? Again, 2.4 million women hunting with firearms, and 400,000 women bowhunting.

You can click on the image here to see the details - both the numbers taken from the NSGA website and my own additional calculations. But cutting to the chase, that's a ZERO percent increase for firearms hunters and a 75 percent increase for bowhunters. (And don't even think about adding bowhunters and firearm hunters to get a grand total, because I know many of my fellow huntresses hunt with both - you can't double-count them.)

So, you ask, how did this become a 72 percent increase in women hunting? I have an inquiry in to the statisticians at the National Sporting Goods Association to find out if the number came from them. But I did a little sleuthing this morning, and the earliest reference to a 72 percent increase that I can find is an Oct. 18, 2006, press release from the National Shooting Sports Foundation about the NSGA survey. The numbers in that press release bear no resemblance to the numbers in the NSGA survey.

It's possible that the NSGA had different survey results out last year, and the National Shooting Sports Foundation was referring to something entirely different that included radically different numbers. But I doubt that - numbers just don't normally jump around that much from year to year.

So, being a lifelong journalist, a journalism professor and an incurable geek, I tracked all subsequent references in the media to see how the numbers morphed. It's a fascinating trail that wanders through hunting organizations, a university, and newspapers small and large - including The Washington Post. You can watch the total number of women hunters jump around between 2.4 million, 3 million and 3.4 million. You can watch the origin of the stats migrate from the National Sporting Goods Association to the National Shooting Sports Foundation to the National Rifle Association.

Click on the chart below if you want to see what happened. Meanwhile, I'll keep trying to figure out if there's any truth to this 72 percent increase, or if it was all just a sad game of Telephone in which we - including myself - all blindly repeated what we think we heard as if it were the gospel.

© Holly A. Heyser 2007


Anonymous said...


I think this is fascinating, and I hope you keep following it up. As an occasional member of the media, I know how things can rapidly get blown out of proportion.

It will be interesting to see what your final conclusions are.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Thanks! I keep thinking, there must be a reason for this.

At the very least, it's a healthy reminder to always go to the original source if you want good information.