Big Bucks!

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Published: December 1,2008

There are certain signs that cold weather is approaching Mississippi.

The leaves turn yellow and orange. Grass turns brown.

But the most recognizable harbinger of winter is a pair of deer antlers sticking out of a truck bed.

That means it’s deer season.

Firearm season began last week, and the state’s highways were jammed with hunters making the trek to deer camps to harvest a trophy to put on the wall and a tasty meal to put on the table.

While deer hunters seek the thrill of tracking a big buck, the State of Mississippi’s coffers seek the money they spend.

Mark Beason, of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP), says deer season is the outdoor activity most profitable to the state and associated retailers.

“Whitetail deer is our most popular game animal,” Beason said. “It’s the engine that drives the truck, so to speak. It has a big impact on the retail community.”

The biggest chunk of revenue flowing to MDWFP comes from the sale of sportsmen’s licenses. The License Bureau of MDWFP gets no money from the state’s general fund, so it relies on funding from license sales and matching federal money.

“For our agency, license holders are a really big deal,” Beason said. “We’re driven off that, and deer season is a big part of that. We have more people deer hunting than anything else.”

Overall, numbers provided by MDWFP show that, in 2007, hunters and anglers had a $853-million impact on Mississippi. More than 19,000 jobs were supported. While no exact numbers were available that detailed how much was related to deer hunting, it would not be a stretch to assume that related activities and sales would make up a large portion, if not a vast majority, of those totals. In sum, hunting in the state — be it deer, turkey, rabbit or any other game animal — supports 12,000 jobs, according to the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF). That is 12th in the country when it comes to job creation related to hunting. Mississippi ranks 15th in hunting spending, according to the CSF. Overall, the economic ripple effect from outdoor activities in Mississippi is $1.3 billion.

And it’s not just in-state hunters. Beason cited MDWFP numbers that showed 66,000 license holders crossed state lines to hunt in Mississippi in 2007. Add in food, fuel and lodging, and the financial impact to the state is substantial.

“I bet we make more money on license sales from out-of-state hunters than we do in-state,” Beason said.

In an economic climate that is forcing businesses and consumers to cut back on the non-essentials, deer hunters do not give up easily, Beason said.

“Even during economic times like now, outdoors is pretty stable, because that’s a family thing. People that hunt and fish generally do it together as a family,” Beason said. “I know people that when gas prices were really high who had deer camps two and three hours away. They may have gotten out of those deer camps because of gas prices, but they got in one somewhere closer. So instead of driving three hours, they drove 45 minutes. They didn’t give it up, they just got closer to home. They were just switching where they were doing their hunting.”

And as a part of an industry that supports 19,000 jobs, a decline in deer hunters could mean a rise in unemployment.

“(19,000) is a significant chunk of the workforce. That would be like everybody who works for Nissan and Northrup Grumman going away,” Beason said.

To keep that from happening, MDWFP has been ramping up its mareting efforts.

“The outdoor tourism market is becoming a bigger thing nationwide, and that’s the case here,” Beason said. “More states are starting to market their outdoor opportunities for hunters and fishermen because hunters and fishermen will travel. And when they travel, they will spend money. We’re probably the most diverse outdoor state in the country. We have more deer per acre than any other state. Other states have more total (population), but as far as density, we’re the highest in the country. Hunters from Louisiana and other states love to come here and deer hunt.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .

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