Friday, December 21, 2007

Women hunters - the "72% increase"

There it was again: The number of women hunters has soared 72 percent in the last five years. It's a happy number that has been repeated over the past year in newspapers from the Springfield, Mass., Republican to The Washington Post. This time I found it in a recent piece by Bill Redeker from ABC World News. The problem is it just doesn't appear to be correct.

I've been poring over stats and talking to researchers, and here's what I've been able to piece together:

The National Sporting Goods Association tracks stats on participation in a wide variety of sports, from aerobics to hunting with firearms. That group also provides stats for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the shooting, hunting and firearms industry.

Last year, the National Shooting Sports Foundation put out a press release saying NSGA stats showed a 72 percent increase over five years in the participation rate of women who hunt with firearms, and a 176 percent increase in the participation rate of women bowhunters.

It's a great story. More women taking to the field! Fantastic. Newspapers, bloggers and TV have been repeating the number ever since. I repeated it last month. Great news!

I love numbers, so I started digging into all the stats I could find. I asked the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for stats, and when I put them together last week, I found the actual number of women hunters had been declining slightly since 1996.

Hmm. That's weird. Better go to the source of the "72 percent" figure - the National Sporting Goods Association. That's what I did Sunday, and I found the stats on the NSGA website showed.... the number of women hunters apparently holding steady.

But how could that be? Wasn't the NSGA the source of that figure?

Yes, but it turns out the NSGA does separate research for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, and those numbers are different. It appears there may be some differences in how NSGA conducts those surveys. I've talked to researchers for both of those organizations, and they're trying to get to the bottom of why the numbers are so different. We still don't have clear answers yet.

But what is clear is that the very best numbers out there come from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, because that agency does a huge survey that starts with 85,000 households - vastly larger than the NSGA surveys, which means it's likely far more accurate.

The chart below (click on it to see a larger version) lays out the numbers I have. It's not all apples-to-apples; two figures are for numbers of women hunters and one is for women who hunt with firearms. But you get the general trend - the numbers from U.S. Fish & Wildlife and the National Sporting Goods Association are basically holding steady, but the figures NSGA gave to the National Shooting Sports Foundation show an increase.

Fellow numbers geeks may notice that I've glossed over some fine points: The stats tend to measure three separate figures - total number, percent of women who hunt and percent of hunters who are women. In this chart, I've just used numbers. But I've also crunched the percent-of-women-who-are-hunters figures, and I've compared 2005 to 2001, and 2006 to 2001 to replicate all the variations I've seen reported, and the 72 percent increase is an anomaly that appears only once.

So there you have it. It's not what I wanted to find out when I started digging, but it is what it is.

As for me? I'm going to pull my head out of these numbers and start working to get more women into hunting.

© Holly A. Heyser 2007

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