David Elliot first thought of shooting an elk to help feed family and friends back in January when the United States reported its first novel coronavirus case.
Elliot, emergency manager at Holy Cross Hospital in Taos, New Mexico, had always wanted to go big-game hunting and, with the pandemic spreading, there seemed no better time to try to fill his freezer with free-range, super-lean meat.
So for the first time in his life, despite not owning a rifle or ever having hunted large animals, he put his name in for New Mexico’s annual elk permit draw.
With some U.S. meat processors halting operations as workers fall ill, companies warning of shortages, and people having more time on their hands and possibly less money due to shutdowns and layoffs, he is among a growing number of Americans turning to hunting for food, according to state data and hunting groups.
“I understand some people might be driven by like antlers or some sort of glory. I don’t want to do that,” said Elliot, 37, who received a prized permit to shoot a female elk in an area of Taos County where herds of the animal graze in vast plains studded with extinct volcanoes.
Elliot plans to borrow a rifle and maybe even a horse to carry the elk back to his vehicle after the hunt in November. “I want to make sure it’s a clean, humane shot, as much as possible, and get a bunch of food.”
Game and fish agencies from Minnesota to New Mexico have reported an increase in either hunting license sales, permit applications, or both this spring.
Indiana saw a 28 per cent jump in turkey license sales during the first week of the season as hunters likely had more time to get out into the woods, said Marty Benson, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Natural Resources.
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Firearm manufacturers have reported sales increases, and the FBI carried out 3.74 million background checks in March, a record for any month.
That followed a decline of 255,000 in the number of hunters between 2016 and 2020, based on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service license data, a 2 per cent fall, as fewer young people took up the activity, hunting advocates say.
Hank Forester of Quality Deer Management Association expects a resurgence after many Americans saw empty meat shelves at the grocery store for the first time during March and April.