Gun and Ammo Sales Growth Has Increased Wildlife Conservation Funding: Here’s How

by Josh Lanier

Federal and state wildlife conservation efforts are getting a boost thanks to the recent gun and ammo sales spike. The increased purchasing of weapons and ammunition over the past year will fill state coffers and reinvigorate waning wildlife programs, research, and hunter recruitment and retention.

Over the past year, there has been a massive surge in gun and ammo purchases. The FBI conducted nearly 40 million background checks for gun purchases in 2020. That’s an increase of more than 35 percent from the previous year. From those sales, the government collects an 11 percent excise tax on all sporting arms sold as well as ammunition, Outdoor Life said. This includes archery gear as well. Federal officials will disperse that money to state governments to fund wildlife initiatives. That’s thanks to the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act — better known as the Pittman-Robertson Act. Over the last 10 years, it’s generated more than $6.4 billion for state programs.

That extra money couldn’t come at a better time. COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on state budgets. Legislatures will lean heavily on P-R funds to pay for wildlife initiatives as other tax revenues decrease.

“We couldn’t do all the work we do without (the Pittman-Robertson Act), just very simply,” said John Silovsky, the wildlife division director for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “… We’re talking mostly habitat management on public lands, public access, hunting, and wildlife viewing opportunities,” Silovsky says. “But also specific species management like alligators, whitetail deer, bighorn sheep, quail, doves, javelina—the list is quite extensive.”

What’s Behind Spike in Gun and Ammo sales?

While many reasons play a role in the spike, one major factory has been the massive spike in hunting. Sales of hunting licenses were up 12 percent nationwide in 2020. And more than 1 million new hunters joined in the sport last year.

And as more hunters enter the fields, states will need to do more to keep them happy. That means spending more money on conservation efforts and hunting retention and recruitment programs. States will have extra money to accomplish these goals, but it’s not eternal. Tax dollars will eventually return to normal, and states will need to build up their programs now while they can.

“It’s like you’ve got two waves that are meeting, and we’re going to get a superwave next year,” conservation consultant Ryan Bronson told Outdoor Life. “You’ve got these big P-R dollars coming and you’re going to have these big pots of money from hunting and fishing license sales increases. For awhile these agencies might feel pretty flush with cash and might be able to do some cool things in the next couple years. But it’s all cyclical.”

When we’ll reach the end of this run is unclear, but experts expect the gun and ammo sales spike to continue in the short term.