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Mississippi hunting a billion-dollar industry despite decline in hunters

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In recent years the number of hunters in Mississippi has declined slightly due to various factors, but it is still estimated that the economic impact of hunting and other outdoor recreational activities in Mississippi is nearly $2 billion per year.

“The impact is definitely there,” said Dr. Martin W. Brunson of the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “The economic impact is very significant, but it is difficult to separate out deer hunting. The bulk of hunting is, obviously, deer.”

According to the 1996 National Survey of Hunting, Fishing and Outdoor Related Activities 680,000 Mississippians age 16 and older engaged in hunting, fishing or wildlife watching activities spent $1.8 billion. Hunting expenditures were estimated at $576 million including $183 million for food, lodging and transportation, $272 million for equipment, and $122 for other expenses such as magazines, memberships, license, permits, and leases. About 433,000 individuals hunted an average of 19 days per hunter.

Besides benefits to the overall economy, the state receives about $1.5 million per year on 708 leases for hunting and fishing clubs covering 235,313 acres of land.

“One of the positive things to say about this is that hunting and fishing on 16th Section land is in addition to the revenue generated by the land for timber sales or other uses,” said David Blount, spokesman for the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office. “You can only have a hunting or fishing club on land that is classified forest land. That land is already under lease and generating revenue for the school district from timber sales and the like. So, the money generated from hunting and fishing is in addition to that revenue. It’s gravy, so to speak.”

Larry Castle, a wildlife biologist who is statewide deer coordinator for the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, said Mississippi is following a general trend towards a decline in the numbers of hunters. The number of hunters in Mississippi peaked out in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“We’re still losing some each year,” Castle said. “There is a long-term downward trend throughout the entire Southeast that is a result of a combination of factors. One factor would be hunter apathy. Mississippi has been blessed with good deer herds for 30 years in most locations. The thrill of harvesting a deer is not what it used to be because they are so common. We’re harvesting close to 300,000 deer per year right now. It is just not a big thing to harvest a deer anymore.”

Another factor is competing recreational interests. Some hunters are switching to other sports such as golf or NASCAR racing. And fewer young people are going into hunting. Castle said when he was young, there wasn’t a lot more to do in rural Mississippi than hunt for deer. Now there are many other recreational choices for youth including soccer, other sports and video games. Still another factor is the large increase in the number of families headed by a single woman who might have trouble finding someone to take her son hunting if she doesn’t hunt herself.

While the cost of hunting leases has gone up, there is also a large amount of public land available in Mississippi for free hunting.

“There is public land across Mississippi that many states would lust over,” Castle said. “There are plenty of opportunities there. Many people used to think that one of the major reasons for the decline of hunters is that they didn’t have the opportunity to hunt. I don’t buy that personally, because if you look at hunter opportunity, our season length and opportunity to hunt have increased and increased and increased. In the not too distant past we had a very limited deer season. Now we have one of the longest deer seasons in the U.S. It is not limited to one or two weekends per year. They have opportunity galore. With just a little initiative they can find a place to hunt. We have public acres we manage that hunter man days are declining on.”

Although there are fewer hunters, the remaining hunters are spending more. Castle said retailers have not seen a decline in hunting sales in part because of good marketing and popular new products such as specialized clothing, deer stands and guns.

Dr. Steve Grado, a forest resource economist at MSU, said there is no doubt that the white-tailed deer is the most pursued game species in the state. Money spent for deer hunting far eclipses any other type of hunting. Hunting for wild turkey is also popular, with an estimated 40,000 hunters in Mississippi pursuing wild turkey.

Grado said a survey of turkey hunters showed that they spent about $14.8 million in 1993. Total sales impacts were $16.7 million. The value-added component of the economic impact was estimated at $10.4 million with a total of 385 jobs supported by turkey hunting.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com.

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