Each fall, thousands of Michiganders bundle up and venture out for hunting season. The season has a profound impact on hunting families and brings in billions of dollars of revenue from licenses, lodging, tourism and wildlife conservation.
According to a report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan generates more than $2.3 billion in economic impact from food and lodging expenses. Hunting-related equipment accounts for $1.3 billion spent on supplies like firearms, telescopic sights and ammunition; auxiliary equipment like camping gear, binoculars and hunting apparel; and all-terrain vehicles, campers, cabins and more.
“Leisure travel spending on hunting increased again in 2016, according to data from D.K. Shifflet,” said the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) in a press release. “In 2016, $124.3 million was spent on leisure travel specific to hunting in Michigan. Combined hunting and fishing leisure travel spending was up 7.2 percent in 2016, with $364.5 million spent on hunting and fishing-motivated leisure travel.”
For many, such as John Krohn from Lansing’s Urbandale neighborhood, hunting is not only a tradition, it’s a way of life — and a way to provide nourishment for his family. Krohn started joining his stepfather, uncles and grandparents in pheasant and rabbit hunting around the age of 8 years old, and then began deer hunting when he was 12. He hopes to pass on his love of nature — birdwatching, camping, hunting and fishing — to his daughters.
“Each deer season, we are all there at the family farm,” Krohn said. “A lot of my aunts hunt deer too, in addition to the guys.” Krohn considers himself and his wife as homesteaders, those who hunt, farm and forage most of their food.
“My wife is an expert canner and food preserver, and we both butcher and cook wild game. I would say there are cheaper ways to eat, but certainly not cheaper ways to eat this healthy and locally,” said Krohn. “Plus you have to consider that these are also our hobbies. When you factor in how much people spend on their hobbies — most of which do not feed you in return — then you really start to realize the savings of our way of life.”
The Michigan United Conservation Club’s Public Information Officer, Nick Green, said the impact of hunting is greater than public-facing economics. Hunting is a hobby to some but a lifestyle to others, which helps make recreation within Michigan’s nature scene more viable.
“Hunting license dollars fund the majority of habitat work on public lands in the Lansing area,” Green said. “In turn, that land is utilized by the general public through hiking, camping, cross-country skiing, swimming, boating, bird watching, etc.”
According to Dustin Isenhoff, marketing researcher at the Department of Natural Resources, hunting is valuable to manage wildlife populations. Hunting also funds wildlife conservation efforts like those of the Pittman-Robertson Act.
“Established in 1937, this Act created an excise tax on guns, ammunition, bows, arrows and other hunting-related equipment,” Isenhoff said. “This money is then apportioned to state wildlife agencies, based on the land area and the number of licensed hunters in each state.”
According to the MEDC, 81,119 new customers in the state received paid-hunting licenses in 2016, making Michigan one of the top states in the nation. The Department of Natural Resources reports that, in Ingham County alone, residents annually purchase 27,394 fishing licenses and 49,811 hunting licenses. In terms of public land, Ingham County has 4,988.5 acres of state-managed hunting lands, 4.5 miles of non-motorized trails, eight state-managed boating access sites and one state park/recreation area. Michigan has received $354 million from 1937 to 2016.
Krohn said his family spends about $500 each year on hunting-related expenses; travel costs account for quite a bit. “It’s not too expensive for me to hunt deer, turkey and small game like squirrels and rabbits, since my uncle is a farmer who owns a lot of acreage nearby,” Krohn said. “But since I got into duck hunting — oh, boy, is that a money pit!”
Hunting deer and turkey is more cost-effective, but duck hunting is the most enjoyable type for Krohn, even though ducks provide less meat. The license and ammo sales that help preserve wetlands make duck hunting even more rewarding.
While some people argue against hunting animals, Krohn argues that nature lovers and environmentalists can also be hunters. There are few people more intimate with nature and its inhabitants than those who spend countless hours around it.
“Becoming intimate with the food you eat and where it came from really makes you understand consumption and the cost of all things,” Krohn said. “When the impact of your consumption is not right in front of you or right in your hand, it’s far too easy to consume needlessly and push the blame for ever-degrading ecosystems onto other people.”
Many hunters have developed clubs and organizations dedicated to conservation. According to Isenhoff, “groups like Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever support and conduct conservation and restoration efforts across a wide range of habitats, throughout Michigan and the country.” He encourages residents to thank a hunter for helping to conserve wildlife and maintain the many parks and outdoor marvels that Pure Michigan is known for.