The COVID-19 pandemic may have slowed travel and hampered traditional vacation plans over the past nine months, but those who enjoy outdoor activities like hunting and ATV riding seem to have spent more time doing so than in pre-pandemic years.
More hunting licenses were sold in 2020 than a year ago, and more ATVs were registered, said Mark Latti, the communications director for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. On the other side of the coin, fewer fishing licenses and boat registrations were sold, though neither was required in the month of April as the state tried to encourage people to take part in socially distant outdoor activities.
Here’s a look at hunting, fishing, boating and ATVing in 2020, by the numbers:
— Sales of resident hunting licenses grew by 8.2 percent, from 120,859 in 2019 to 130,781 this year.
— Despite a mandatory 14-day quarantine on visitors from most states, the sale of nonresident hunting licenses grew by 3.4 percent, from 26,520 to 27,416.
— Combining the resident and nonresident hunting licenses, sales increased 7.3 percent, year-over-year, from 147,379 to 158,197.
And hunters had their best year since 2002, tagging more than 33,000 deer.
But Nathan Bieber, the deer biologist for the DIF&W, said the pandemic affected different hunters in different ways.
“There’s an extra question on our hunter-effort survey. We asked people if they changed their plans due to the pandemic,” Bieber said. “It was around 8.2 percent of people who said they changed their plans and they spent more time hunting. But on the other side, about 5.8 percent of recipients said less time hunting due to the pandemic.”
The experience of hunters varied, Bieber said.
“I think it goes both ways. If you’re an essential employee and you couldn’t get time off, or you didn’t have the money to do what you usually do hunting, or maybe you usually hunt in a big group, and they weren’t gathering this year,” he said. “But it did shake out that more people spent more time hunting this year.”
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The season was highlighted by an Andover man breaking a longstanding state record when he caught a 39-pound lake trout. But overall — at least according to the permits — not as many people were fishing in Maine in 2020.
— The sale of resident fishing licenses increased by just 0.3 percent in 2020, from 174,666 to 175,220.
—The sale of nonresident fishing licenses dropped 12.3 percent, from 84,223 to 73,899.
— Combining the two, the state experienced a 3.9 percent decrease in all fishing licenses sold, from 258,889 to 249,911.
An important thing to remember: Travel to traditional sporting camps, which typically draw traveling nonresident anglers, was hampered due to COVID-19 restrictions.
But 2020 also had some free unexpected license-free fishing. In order to give people an outdoor outlet as the state began discouraging most other activities, people were allowed to fish without a license for the entire month of April. Latti pointed out that there was less incentive for anglers to purchase licenses.
“I think when it comes to fishing, frequency or number of days fished is up while licenses are relatively stagnant,” Latti said.
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Boat registrations weren’t required during April, and anecdotal observations of “camp life” on Maine’s lakes indicate that even during the heat of summer, boat traffic was lower than in a normal year.
The stats bear that out, as boat registrations decreased 3.7 percent in 2020, from 120,770 to 116.296.
An important factor to consider: Those registrations only include boats that use motors. Regular paddlecraft like canoes and kayaks do not need to be registered, and each is very popular on the state’s waters.
And during a year when life became anything but soothing or calm, it seems likely that plenty of Mainers opted for a serene evening paddle (in those unregistered boats) to clear their minds and escape reality for a bit.
ATVs were another bright spot for outdoors enthusiasts in 2020, as riders appeared to embrace the sport as the perfect socially distant activity. A task force issued a report in January that called for a restriction on the size of the popular vehicles.
Trailheads were packed with trailers in many popular spots on summer weekends, and riders surely provided a welcome boost to local businesses in towns nearby.
In all, ATV registrations increased 7.3 percent this year, from 67,211 to 72,103.