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Local hunters like Benji Hill, pictured, will be joined in the field by many, many more as officials report a major uptick in hunting licenses.

Seeking freedom from isolation, residents and nonresidents alike have embraced hunting in the Wood River Valley, reports from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and local retailers indicate.

Terry Ring, owner of Silver Creek Outfitters, said the uptick of hunting licenses sold in-store this year has been part of a broader trend “for the last 10 years or so.” As with other outdoor activities with built-in social distancing—like fishing, backpacking and hiking—hunting is more popular than ever, he said, especially among young adults.

“They like the chase, the chance to be outdoors, the exercise,” he said. “The prize is that you can fill your freezer with some locally sourced, free-range, organic protein.”

Lost River Outfitters owner Scott Schnebly reported that his store has sold around 150 licenses, both fishing and hunting, since its reopening last month. Last year during the same time period, only 55 licenses were sold.

“More people are wanting to learn how to fish and hunt,” Schnebly said. “They’re coming in, looking for something that they can do outside without having to wear a mask.”

While most of the licenses sold at Lost River Outfitters over the past two weeks have been for fishing, he said, the total number of controlled hunt applications, hunting licenses, sportsman packages and combination fishing and hunting licenses sold increased by nearly 40 percent. Perhaps most notably, combination license sales rose 150 percent.

“I think there is also this instinct among some people of ‘grocery stores might run out of meat, so I’m going to fill my freezer,’” Schnebly said.

Data from the Department of Fish and Game backs up Ring’s and Schnebly’s observations. Fish and Game License Operations Manager Craig Windmeier reported that resident fishing and combination license sales—purchased primarily online due to COVID-19 closures—were up through the month of April compared to the same time period last year. From fiscal 2019 to 2020, sales of multi-year combination licenses to Idaho residents rose about 47 percent, Windmeier said. For nonresidents, multi-year hunting licenses increased 241 percent and multi-year combination licenses sold increased a whopping 303 percent.

Sun Valley Outfitters owner Bryant Dunn told the Express that many of his customers who have been long-time valley visitors are “either relocating here or choosing long-term rental options for the summer.”

That trend may explain the record-breaking sales that his store has seen since its reopening.

“Since Memorial Day weekend, our business has doubled—we are just off-the-charts busy,” he said.

Dunn added that Sun Valley Outfitters already has its highest number of bookings for seven-day big game hunting trips in its 35-year history. The trips, which start in August, have attracted mainly nonresidents, he said.

“I’m amazed,” he said. “This is all very exciting.”

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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