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New research shows non-hunters overwhelmingly support Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program


Recent research finds that 86 percent of firearm owners and sport shooters who do not hunt support the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program, which uses revenues from a tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment to fund wildlife conservation efforts carried out by state fish and wildlife agencies across the country.

When the Federal Aid legislation was passed in 1937, most of the people who purchased the taxable equipment were primarily hunters — in this way, the funding mechanism represented a classic “user-pay, user-benefit” system in which hunters helped to pay for wildlife-related initiatives that were relevant and important to them.

Since 1937, however, hunting participation in the United States has gradually declined just as sport shooting participation and firearm purchases for non-hunting purposes have steadily risen. As a result, America’s oldest and most successful wildlife conservation funding program is now increasingly being supported by non-hunting purchasers of the taxable equipment.

(Photo from National Shooting Sports Foundation)

Despite concern that gun owners and sport shooters who are less connected to wildlife would oppose the funding mechanism that has been the lynchpin of America’s wildlife conservation success story, the survey found overwhelming support among these groups for the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program. The nationwide survey, which was specifically designed to explore the attitudes of non-hunting Wildlife Restoration Program contributors, was conducted by Responsive Management in partnership with the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

In addition to efforts directly benefitting wildlife, the survey looked at respondents’ awareness of other efforts funded through the Wildlife Restoration Program, including providing access to public lands and waters, hunter education programs, and the construction of public shooting ranges. The survey found that less than half of gun owners and sport shooters know that their state fish and wildlife agency restores fish and wildlife species that are in trouble, or that their agency provides public lands for hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching.

Meanwhile, only about a third know that their agency provides educational programs to introduce people to hunting or to recreational shooting. Of particular interest is the fact that less than a quarter know that their state fish and wildlife agency offers target shooting opportunities through public shooting ranges—a subject that is directly relevant to the interests and needs of recreational sport shooters.

After providing respondents with a brief description of the tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment, the survey found that only a third of non-hunting sport shooters and firearm owners knew about the tax prior to being asked about it.

Finally, the survey described the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program and efforts funded through the tax. Respondents were then asked whether they supported or opposed the program. A total of 86 percent of non-hunting sport shooters and firearm owners expressed support for the program (including 52 percent who indicated strong support), compared to just 3 percent in opposition and 12 percent who gave a neutral response.

A later series of questions in the survey revealed that nearly 9 out of 10 non-hunters feel proud to support wildlife conservation efforts, while about 8 out of 10 feel connected to wildlife and its conservation.

“Wildlife conservation is funded by guns, ammo, and archery equipment and the people that buy it. That goes for endangered and threatened species to prominent backyard species we all enjoy like white-tailed deer,” said Jenifer Wisniewski, chief marketing officer for the National Deer Association and grant manager for the study. “Many firearm owners don’t know that they are funding conservation with every bullet purchased, but when they find out, they are very pleased to know it and proud that their tax funds go to such a great cause.”

“I expected that there would be support for the Federal Aid program but not to this extent,” said Responsive Management Executive Director Mark Damian Duda. “I thought there would be more opposition from gun owners and shooters who feel that any tax revenue they generate should go back strictly to shooting projects. Instead, what we saw is that most gun owners and shooters care about wildlife conservation, even if they don’t hunt. Support for Federal Aid exists across the board, with sizable majorities of every demographic group within the sample favoring the program. This is encouraging news and should give legislators a clear sense of how vital the Wildlife Restoration program is. It should also put to rest any ideas of using it for any other purpose.”

“The findings of this important research not only reflect the increasingly high value that Americans place on conservation of wildlife, but they specifically demonstrate that gun owners and recreational shooters support the work that fish and wildlife agencies are doing,” said Brian Clark, deputy commissioner for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, who served on the project team. “Our state agencies do tremendous work with the funds entrusted to us, but we often don’t adequately communicate to the public about it; this study amplifies our need to do so,” he added.

“Due to increased participation in shooting sports, most agencies are investing millions of dollars each year into adding, improving, and enhancing public access to shooting ranges and facilities,” observed Justin Grider, R3 Coordinator with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “It’s encouraging to know most people support the Federal Aid program, as that’s the pool of money being used to make those range additions, improvements, and enhancements.”

The scientific, probability-based survey was conducted in August and September 2023, and entailed a random sample of 2,919 adult firearm owners and sport shooters who had not hunted in the previous 5 years. The survey was fielded through a combination of telephone (including landline and cellular numbers) and online interviews. (The use of supplemental online interviews allowed for greater representation of younger firearm owners and sport shooters, as research indicates that younger people are less likely to complete a telephone survey than they are to complete a survey online.)

For the entire sample of non-hunting firearm owners and sport shooters, the sampling error is at most plus or minus 1.81 percentage points. The survey was funded by a Multistate Conservation Grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources


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