Hunting, fishing and other outdoor related activities generate an estimated $1.8 billion in annual economic activity in Mississippi.
The potential exists for even greater economic returns, says Dean Stewart, a wildlife and fisheries associate with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
Stewart is working on a publication titled, “Mississippi Wildlife Resources and Hunting Leases: An Income Opportunity for Landowners,” which will be published in
“Currently in Mississippi there is a growing need for landowners, particularly farmers, to generate additional income from the lands that they own,” Stewart said. “In
some cases, it is necessary for survival because farming is not generating enough income. Hunting recreation is another piece of the pie, some cash money they can
bank on year in and year out. They don’t have to worry about the weather as they have to do with cotton and soybeans.”
Stewart said the hunting lease prices are steadily increasing. Leasing is a fairly easy thing to do, and doesn’t require a lot of management. Sample lease agreements are
available from the Extension Service.
The Extension Service is interested in helping landowners who want to generate more income from hunting develop management plans.
“The Extension Service is in the process of developing programs to help Mississippi landowners regarding the wildlife side of business,” Stewart said. “More and more
Mississippians are looking at those kind of operations.”
Management plans can include providing deer stands, duck blinds, and improving wildlife habitat. If the landowner wants to generate more income than a long-term
hunting lease provides, they can look at day leasing and get more involved, even to the point of providing lodging.
Stewart said the potential exists to sell a short-term hunting experience to individuals or a group who are willing to pay good fees for that kind of opportunity.
“The hunting business is big in certain parts of the Southeast. Texas has developed in further than any of the other Southeastern states,” Stewart said. “Part of that is
that Texas more than 95 percent privately owned. Mississippi has more public land, so free public hunting has been more available.
There is a long tradition of income from hunting leases in Mississippi. Hunting has been approached as a business standpoint as early as the 1890s. The Merigold
Hunting Club that leased 15,000 acres of hunting rights for $1 in 1922.
Stewart said that today a good hunting lease in the Delta might bring as much as $30 per acre per year. That’s the high end. On the low end in the Northeast or South
Central portions of the state, leases might be as low as $2 per acre per year. Leases can be for all hunting and fishing and other recreational uses for a year, of can be
specific to one species or time of year.
Recently the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks in conjunction with Extension forestry department surveyed landowners in Mississippi regarding
the1996-97 hunting season. While three-fourths of the respondents allowed hunting on their land, only about 12 percent reported fee hunting. Stewart said that survey
indicates there are many opportunities for more income from hunting leases.
T. Logan Russell, president of the Mississippi Outfitters and Guides Association, said numerous opportunities exist to develop hunting, fishing and other outdoor
recreation businesses in Mississippi
“Hunting and other outdoor recreational business opportunities are virtually unlimited,” Russell said. “One of indications is at Tara Wildlife, a very successful
commercial operation. Grand Casinos has put in the Willows, a sporting clays range that is one of the finest in the country, and casinos on the Gulf Coast have become
involved in guided fishing trips.
Russell pointed to figures from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serve that show there are about 24,000 adult duck hunters and 190,000 adult deer hunters in Mississippi.
“When you throw in the kids, that’s about 10% of the population in Mississippi that hunts for deer,” Russell said. “But you must have the right resources to lease land
for hunting. You can’t just have any piece of land and go out there and sell hunts. But certainly there is potential there. There is no question.”
Russell said there are also a growing number of hunting equipment manufacturers in the state. Haas Outdoors produces the Mossy Oak brand of camouflage clothing
here in Mississippi. Primos Wild Game Calls, one of the largest manufacturers of its kind in the world, is located in Jackson. And L & L Enterprises Ol’ Man Tree
Stands in Hattiesburg, is a leading manufacturer of tree stands. Another related outdoor recreation business is Archery Video in Ridgeland, which sells hunting video.
“It is interesting that, by and large, it is a mom-and-pop industry,” Russell said. “The state is not giving out tax incentives like they do for other industries. This thing is
big, but it could get unbelievable huge. There is a lot of potential. We have the natural resources here, and we already have hospitality ethic. It is just waiting for a little
additional nurturing and time.”
Russell said there are some efforts within the Mississippi Development Authority’s tourism division to promote hunting, fishing and nature tourism in Mississippi. “But it
is still no where near the level of support I would prefer,” he said.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com or (228) 872-3457.