|We all like to think of hunting and fishing as individual sports with the emphasis on solitude and having a piece of woods or a stretch of river to one’s self. But, a recent study conducted by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation indicates that we are not alone out there after all!
In fact, every time we go outdoors for the day we join 34 million hunters and fishermen who spend more than a $1 billion annually just on licenses, stamps and permits. They contribute more than $25 million to general, state, local and federal taxes. They pay more than $76 billion each year on related incidentals, more money than is earned by corporations like Target, Costco and AT&T some America’s top businesses. In fact, that’s more than the gross national product of over 100 countries worldwide! In Florida, fishing brings in more money than that state’s famous orange crop!
On average, one in 10 Americans hunt or fish, more than the number of people who watch the nightly newscasts of the three major television networks! Sportsmen also outnumber NASCAR fans, and in fact hunters and fishermen could fill every NASCAR track 13 times!
There are more hunters in America than there are residents of New York City and Los Angeles combined America’s two largest cities. In fact, more people hunt than play tennis or ski.
Fishing outranks football, basketball, baseball and tennis as pastimes. One in every six Americans will go fishing this year, and, together, they will spend more than $1.1 billion . . . on bait alone! All the skiers in America will spend about half that much on all their pricey gear.
Thanks to special taxes placed on fishing and hunting gear, sportsmen have contributed over $10 billion to conservation projects, and annually provide more than 80 percent of the funding for some state fish and wildlife agencies.
Though it often seems as if we’re overwhelmed with anti-hunters, anti-fishermen and animal rights advocates, the numbers don’t agree. Some 73 percent of Americans approve of hunting, 95 percent approve of fishing and 97 percent approve of the consumptive use of wildlife. Only 3 percent of Americans live the animal rights philosophy. They are certainly a vocal bunch, but they are obviously an extremely small minority.
It is good to sit back sometimes and reflect on such things because it often seems as if hunting and fishing are soon to become a thing of the past. It’s also good to know that so many Americans either approve of hunting or fishing or participate in some way. Both sports should have a healthy following for many years to come.
The interesting thing about hunting and fishing is that most participants continue to do it in spite of the cost, new restrictions or present public opinion. I started hunting in the late 1950s and never stopped. I still have my first .22 (a 1959-model Winchester Model 67A single-shot rifle that cost $20 new!) and have worn it down to bare wood and metal after a half-century of heavy use in the woods and at the range. Sure, there are brighter, faster, more accurate rifles around these days, but for my purposes (hunting rabbits and squirrels or plinking soda cans and milk cartons) it has been ideal.
I have purchased a hunting license every year, and have also bought duck stamps (state and federal) annually. I don’t always go duck or goose hunting but I like to be prepared should an opportunity arise. Meanwhile, I feel good about my dollars going into the pot to help create more, better habitat for nesting birds.
Though much is made of the dollar value of the outdoor sports, I never thought much about it as a goal or incentive to get involved. What I need (and get) from being outdoors can’t be bought at any price. I have always loved the feel of the woods at any season, and I always enjoy observing wildlife even when what I’m watching isn’t what I’m hunting for. I always enjoy seeing a flock of chickadees or a pair of nuthatches poking around a dead tree while I’m grouse hunting, and I never tire of hearing the strident cries of geese high overhead when I’m busy waiting for a deer, bear or other big game to show up.
I once took the editor of a New York conservation magazine to task because he ran a story about ravens in which ravens were portrayed to be “evil demons” and “harbingers of disaster.” Where they came up with that is anyone’s guess, but I told him that the raven is one of the most distinctive critters in the Northeast and I’ve never heard anyone disparage them. Their unusual loud squawks and barks are always a surprise to hear, and their ability to mimic dripping water is phenomenal. Most deer hunters and ice-fishermen have heard a raven fly by at some point during a long, slow day outdoors, and the surprisingly loud swish of wings in the quiet air, often accompanied by various clucks, yelps and acrobatic flight displays, seem quite amazing for such large birds. Our Maine woodlands would be a somber place indeed without the presence of ravens.
Another critter that is pretty much cosmopolitan these days is the pileated woodpecker. I have hunted and fished in most of the 50 states and have never been anywhere that didn’t have at least one resident woodpecker hammering a happy tune on a dead tree nearby.
Common anywhere in the East, West and Canada where stands of large, dead trees may be found, pileated woodpeckers are readily seen to be bold, patient and surprisingly loud birds. I have been as close as three feet from one of these 17-inch-long woo borers and am always amazed that they can actually get from place to place using that roller coaster, undulating trip they call a flight pattern. I’d bet against them ever being able to land while going that fast and that erratically, but they manage to do it!
One year I happened to be out fishing and spotted a pileated woodpecker carrying one of its young from one tree den to the next. I never heard of it and almost didn’t believe my own eyes, but an old National Geographic story featured photos of a pileated woodpecker ferrying its young from one tree to another.
The only way to see such sights is to get outdoors and get involved. So far, there’s only 34 million of us doing so. Grab a kid, a spouse or an in-law this week and show them what they are missing! Wherever you go in Maine, you’re bound to see something out there that will keep you talking all week!