Like clockwork every fall, hunters flock to the nearest sporting goods store to buy their hunting license. If they plan to hunt migratory birds legally, they must get HIP certified.
HIP certification only takes a few additional minutes at the register, but the information obtained goes a long way in determining future bag limits, season lengths, and hunter participation.
In this guide we’ll review the HIP program, what it was designed for, and the requirements for getting HIP certified.
What is HIP?
HIP stands for Harvest Information Program (HIP). The official program title is the Cooperative State-Federal Migratory Harvest Information.
The HIP certification program is used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the states to develop reliable estimates of waterfowl hunting each year. The information gathered by HIP provides waterfowl managers with the information they need to determine future bag limits, season lengths, and hunter participation.
Hunters are given a HIP number that is usually printed on their license that can be traced back to their information in the States database. It’s important when buying your hunting license to make sure it has a HIP identification number printed on it.
How Does HIP Differ from Migratory Bird Surveys?
Bird harvest surveys began in the 1950’s by the USFWS and some states even conduct their own annual surveys as well. While these surveys offer a glimpse of what may be occurring in one location, it’s difficult to combine and evaluate incompatible survey information from many different sources.
Add in the fact that some states don’t even conduct migratory bird surveys which can present huge gaps in data. The National Harvest Survey was a precursor to HIP which sampled each hunter who bought a federal waterfowl stamp. While some useable information was obtained through this system, it left out all the hunters who only went after non-waterfowl migratory birds such as rails, gallinules and doves. Almost 2 million hunters were excluded from the survey because of this.
HIP was first introduced in the early 1990’s by the USFWS in conjunction with the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (IAFWA). Hip certification provided the platform to combine all the migratory bird survey data into one system that could be used in every state in the United States.
How Does HIP Work?
HIP works by collecting all the names and addresses of the migratory bird hunters that purchase a hunting license each year. States store this hunter information in a database and send it to the USFWS Division of Migratory Bird Management’s Harvest Surveys Section (HSS). Once HSS receives the migratory bird hunter data, they select a random set of hunters that will be sent a survey form. HSS evaluates each survey and uses the data to estimate hunter participation, harvest rates, and other factors on a state and national scale.
Why is keeping track of HIP and storing data so important?
A complete sample size is what every data analyst aims for when trying to develop conclusions from a dataset. By evaluating all of the data, there’s less risk that a certain subset of the population is not accounted for.
States are tasked with collecting the brunt of the data through HIP certification during license sales, while the USFWS analyzes the data. From the list of names that’s compiled by the states, the hunters that will be sent a migratory bird survey can then be selected.
The best way to compile the appropriate survey lists is to gather the data from everyone buying a license. If only those who bought a combo hunting/fishing license were surveyed, it may leave out or skew the results in one direction.
How do the states identify waterfowl hunters?
States use many different methods for identifying hunters and entering the data into the HIP system. The most common method that data is obtained is through questions asked when you purchase a license. These can also be written questions, but the majority of retailers have switched over to electronic data entry entirely.
Some states require hunters to call a toll-free hotline in order to provide their HIP information after they purchase a hunting license. These hunters receive a unique identifying number they can then place on their hunting license. Online license sales are also widely offered and the HIP information is provided for you to fill out before entering your payment info.
If you rely on retailers to obtain your hunting license, it’s important to make sure they enter you in the HIP program and ask you the appropriate HIP questions. If you aren’t asked if you hunted migratory birds last year or the amounts of each species you killed, you may not be HIP certified.
HIP certification is mandatory for all migratory bird hunters. Failure to obtain a HIP permit before taking to the field could result in a fine from the Game Warden.
What’s the point with all the questions while buying your license?
HIP certification questions may seem excessive, but they are the best way to narrow down the field of hunters in order to send out surveys to those whose data matters the most. Your answers to HIP questions aren’t designed to get an accurate harvest total, but rather to identify what species you hunt.
For example, if you say you harvested 150 geese last year, that number will go into the system for waterfowl hunting and you enter the pool of hunters that might receive a survey in the mail to fill out and return. If you were asked about dove hunting, and you didn’t hunt dove, you likely won’t receive a dove hunting survey in the mail.
Hunters are grouped together based on season success across many different strata. This is a pretty good indicator of the success they will have for the next season as well. This technique is designed to increase precision and sampling efficiency as the survey forms are sent out.
The ability to group hunters into categories helps limit the overall sample size and reduce the amount of outliers. In turn, this saves the USFWS money because they don’t need to send out as many survey forms and review as much data.
How are HIP hunters grouped together?
Once HIP survey results are analyzed, the data is used to group hunters with similar success. The typical grouping is as follows:
- Group 1: Hunter who didn’t bag any birds
- Group 2: Hunters who bagged 1-10 birds
- Group 3: Hunters who bagged over 10 birds
Hunters in Group 1 are surveyed the least since they shot the fewest birds. Group 2 is surveyed slightly higher, and Group 3 is surveyed the most. This method allows for data collection from all groups, while still giving preference to hunters that were more involved and making best use of limited funding to conduct the study.
There is always the chance of errors and people lying when asked the HIP questions, but these are nothing more than outliers in the overall program. Nothing has shown that data is being skewed or manipulated in any way.
Being selected for HIP survey
If you are selected to participate in the HIP survey, you won’t receive a notification until you receive the survey in the mail. This voluntary survey consists of a journal like entry format where you list the dates you hunted, county, and number of birds harvested. Some even have spots to mark down birds that were wounded and not retrieved as well.
Hunters are also asked to provide total harvest numbers which is easier to fill out than detailed hunting info. If you think you have a high chance of receiving a HIP survey in the mail or have received them in the past, try to keep track of your hunts so that you can fill out the form more accurately.
Completed HIP surveys are then sent back to the USFWS in prepaid envelopes for the data processing to begin. All personal information is destroyed after processing is complete.
How many HIP surveys are there?
Four different surveys are conducted each year which include:
- Waterfowl Survey – 70,000-80,000 samples
- Dove Survey – 40,000 samples
- Woodcock Survey – 20,000 Samples
- Rails, Snipe, Coots, and Gallinule Survey – 15,000 Samples
Sandhill crane surveys are conducted based on Sandhill crane stamp sales. All surveys follow the same format that request hunting dates, bird harvest, and overall season harvest.
When should you expect a HIP survey in the mail?
HIP survey mailing dates vary according to when the USFWS receives the data from each state. Timing can vary greatly, but the first surveys usually go out in August.
Hunters chosen with the first round of data will receive their survey journal before the season starts which makes tracking hunts easier. Since hunters tend to purchase licenses all throughout the season, states will constantly send data to the USFWS as they receive it.
The USFWS will review the data and send out additional surveys in the mail to the next batch of hunters throughout the season. This ensures that a representative sample of migratory bird hunters is chosen whether they purchase their license in August or January.
The USFWS sends a follow up letter at the end of the season to remind hunters to fill out their forms and submit their data as soon as possible. Even if a hunter did not end up participating during the season, they are still encouraged to return their HIP survey form.
Leather Hunting Log Book – Keep track of your HIP survey data easier with one of these.
How does the USFWS analyze HIP Survey data?
The USFWS takes all the data submitted and runs the numbers through statistical models. This statistical analysis is able to estimate the number of active migratory bird hunters, days spent afield, and total harvest. Results are further broken down by species and states from where the data was collected.
How are HIP surveys used to develop waterfowl harvest estimates?
Once the HIP survey data is analyzed, the results are combined with the Waterfowl Parts Collection Survey (WPCS) which is another study conducted by the feds each year.
The WPCS selects another set of hunters randomly before the season starts and requests that they collect one wing from each duck they shoot and wing tips and tail feathers from each goose. These collections are sent to USFWS for examination.
Biologists get together at the end of each season to examine each of these parts and determine species, sex, and age of the birds harvested. This information is combined with HIP survey data to determine species specific harvest estimates.
Why is HIP certification important?
Hip certification is a non-intrusive way to gather important data needed to help conserve waterfowl populations. The data obtained through the Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program only requires a few minutes for hunters to provide, but the results offer a scientific approach to population management free of politics, opinions, and hearsay.
Waterfowlers, especially those that have been hunting for decades, know that waterfowl populations can fluctuate greatly. 3 bird limits weren’t all that long ago, and most of us don’t want to go back to those days.
Alongside proper management and conservation efforts, the HIP program provides factual data that wildlife biologists can use to ensure that migratory bird resources are sustainable well into the future.
Common HIP Questions
- Will you hunt migratory birds this year?
- How many geese did you bag last year?
- How many ducks did you bag last year?
- Did you dove hunt last year? If so, how many did you bag?
- Did you hunt coot, rails, snipe, or gallinules?
HIP stands for Harvest Information Program (HIP). The HIP program is used by the USFWS and states to aid in monitoring migratory bird hunting each year. HIP survey participation is required while buying your license in order to legally hunt migratory birds in the U.S.
HIP certification can be obtained through retailers, over the phone, or online depending on the state. The initial HIP survey is a series of questions inquiring if you plan to hunt waterfowl in the current year, or if you hunted migratory birds in the previous year. If you did hunt migratory birds in the previous year, you will be prompted for your harvest total numbers.
This data is stored in the state database which the state sends to the USFWS for analysis. The USFWS randomly selects groups of hunters to send out HIP survey forms to provide detailed information on harvest totals, days in the field, and location.
The USFWS uses the HIP survey forms to run statistical formulas that can then determine the number of active migratory bird hunters, days spent afield, and total harvest. Results are further broken down by species and states from where the data was collected.
Data gathered through the HIP program has proven to help consolidate information from state agencies into a comprehensive system that can be evaluated in a timely and cost effective manner. HIP data combined with WPCS data is the best method for managing waterfowl populations and ensuring that conservation efforts are directed appropriately.