With cooler fall weather finally arriving, thoughts of the upcoming hunting season are causing serious hunters to start preparing for their annual treks into the woods in pursuit of game – and relaxation.
Tony Deas, owner of Sports Unlimited in the Hardy Court Shopping Center in Biloxi, said most of the high-end hunting gear is sold well in advance of the season.
“The serious hunters are starting to prepare for it,” Deas said. “They will start preparing 60 days before season. Dove season is open in the northern part of state, and then archery season starts in about 30 days.”
Deas said hunting supplies account for about 40% of his store`s sales. Besides guns and ammunition and archery supplies, hunters stock up on clothing, footwear, camping gear and anything else having to do with hunting. The more expensive equipment sells well in advance of the season, while there is usually a run on the less expensive merchandise just days before the season starts.
South Mississippi hunters don`t have as much public land for hunting as was available 15 or 20 years ago. Rapid population growth in south Mississippi has placed more hunting pressure on public lands. Memberships in hunting clubs that lease rights to hunt on private land has increased drastically.
“There are a lot more hunting clubs than there used to be,” Deas said. “And while I hear complaints about not nearly as much public land being available for hunting, hunting is still considered good in South Mississippi. I`ve been doing this for 25 years, and there are more sales this year because there is more activity on the Coast. There is more disposable income on the Coast than there ever has been before.”
Deas said sales of fishing gear, which account for about 40% of his business, has increased recently. Scuba diving also seems to be increasing in popularity.
Big Bucks Sports in Hattiesburg, a large store which attracts customers from as far away as the Coast and Jackson, reports an increased number of shoppers gearing up for the hunting season.
“Interest is very good,” said Mike Haddox, gun department manager for Big Buck Sports.
“There`s an excitement in the air. We are having large crowds in, and they are buying. A lot of times in the past people were more looking, but they are really buying this year. It seems like it is going to be a really good year for hunting and outdoor sports in general.”
Haddox said that people are spending more money, selecting quality merchandise that will last longer. One popular item is the graphite-type tree stand that is lighter and more durable than less expensive tree stands.
Haddox believes the higher sales can be attributed to a good local economy and a high employment rate. “People do have more income right now, and are willing to pay more to get what they want,” he said. “I don`t think we have any more people going into hunting. The younger generation doesn`t seem to be as interested in hunting as older people. We`re seeing more customers because more people who were already hunting are moving into our area.”
While the economy is good, Haddox said a lot of people tell him they are working longer hours and have more responsibilities in their job than in the past. With more job stress, and some people working extra jobs, hunting and other outdoor activities can be an important way to get away from the pressures of work.
“I think it is more important now than ever to get away to a fishing or hunting camp,” Haddox said. “Personally, if I didn`t get a chance to fish every week, I`d go insane. It just helps to have some release. It helps to get away. I think everyone needs that whether it is hunting or golf or some other outdoor activity.”
A large number of people in Mississippi choose hunting as the outdoor activity of choice. Only fishing eclipses hunting for popularity in the state. Surveys by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) estimate 579,000 people are participating in freshwater or saltwater fishing annually. The number of annual participants in hunting is estimated at 433,000.
Hunting expenditures are significant. The FWS estimates that Mississippi residents spend more than $500 million annually on hunting. Total economic impact from hunting is estimated at $870 million.
“Mississippi is still basically a rural state,” said Tommy Shropshire, director of budget for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “Even Jackson is not that big compared to other cities throughout the nation. So there is more opportunity for hunting and fishing in Mississippi. It is more accessible. Plus we have a lot of public lands plus private lands under lease.
“So anybody who wants to hunt and fish Mississippi, there is no excuse. They have plenty of opportunity. If you don`t believe people take their hunting and fishing seriously, go down to the Legislature during the season. They are constantly talking deer, turkey and fish rules and regulations. The Legislature sets hunting seasons. We only make recommendations to them.”
During the last fiscal year, the state sold 568,963 licenses for hunting and fishing, taking in about $12.7 million in license fees.