Texas Tops Nation in Hunters and Hunting Expenditures...Hunting, Fishing and Wildlife Watching Big Business in the Lone Star State

Texas led the nation with 1.1 million Texans going hunting during 2006, and the lone star state was also tops in hunting related expenditures with sportsmen spending approximately $2.3 billion.

According to preliminary data from the new 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation conducted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas was also near the top in fishing with 2.5 million anglers, second only to Florida's 2.8 million fishermen. Angler spending in Texas was $3.2 billion, behind Florida at $4.5 billion.

California was the number one wildlife-watching state with 6.2 million of its residents observing wildlife, and Texas counted 4.17 million wildlife viewing enthusiasts. Texas ranked third nationally for expenditures by wildlife-watchers at $2.9 billion, with California first at $4.6 billion and Florida edging Texas at close to $3 billion.

The national survey has been conducted every five years since 1955 and is one of the nation's most important wildlife recreation databases. It is considered by many to be the definitive source of information concerning participation and expenditures associated with hunting, fishing and other forms of wildlife related recreation nationwide. The $8.4 billion spent in Texas on hunting, fishing and wildlife watching reflects spending on food lodging, transportation, equipment and other items.

"The National Survey is an important tool that measures in economic and participatory terms the value that wildlife has in American's hearts and to the nation's economy," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall. "Wildlife related recreation rejuvenates our spirit, connects us with nature and gets us outside pursuing healthy activities."

In 2006 more than 87 million Americans or 38 percent of the United States' population age 16 and older hunted, fished or watched wildlife. They spent $120 billion last year pursuing those activities. A closer look at the national totals reveals that 30 million or 13 percent fished and spent a total of $41 billion on their activities; 12.5 million or 5 percent hunted and spent a total of $23 billion; and 71 million or 31 percent observed wildlife spending a total of $45 billion.

The survey is conducted at the request of state fish and wildlife agencies and is funded by grants from the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Acts' Multi-state Conservation Grant Program. A range of federal, state and private organizations depend on the survey to track participation rates, trends and economic impacts.

The survey counts only participants who actually went hunting, fishing or observed wildlife in 2006 and does not represent the total numbers of anglers, hunters and wildlife watchers in the United States. Many people who consider themselves hunters, anglers or wildlife watchers do not participate every year. For example, survey data revealed that over the five year period from 2002 to 2006 a total of 44.4 million people fished and 18.6 million hunted. The final report is expected to be published in November of this year.

In the Rio Grande Valley, hunting, fishing and wildlife-watching or ecotourism are big business. According to the RGV Chamber of Commerce more than 200,000 visitors come to the area annually to enjoy wildlife, and they spend in excess of $125 million watching birds, butterflies, dragonflies and other native creatures.

Each year approximately 152,000 people visit Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and about 85,000 people visit Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.
The eight tracts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge that are open to the public including Boca Chica, Sal del Rey and Salineno attract some 65,000.

It has been several years since a study has been conducted on the value of the Lower Laguna Madre, but the bay is regarded as being worth more than $400 million annually just for sport fishing and recreational use. The total economic impact of sport fishing alone is estimated at more than $238 million.

A brief snapshot of the value of sport fishing to the area is reflected in a recent economic study of the Texas International Fishing Tournament. The annual bay and offshore tournament is the largest single event fishing tourney on the Texas coast and attracts more than 1,500 anglers annually. The direct spending effect during the five days of tournament activities is in excess of $1.5 million dollars not including tournament expenses.

While the economic value of ecotourism and fishing to the Valley is well documented precise data on area hunting is not available. However, whitewing dove, quail and whitetail deer bring thousands of hunters and millions of dollars to deep South Texas. The special whitewing dove season which traditionally opens the first weekend in September brings thousands of wing shooters to the area.

South Texas is also home to some of the finest quail hunting in the world. Throughout much of their historic range in the southern states bobwhite quail have decreased dramatically over the past several decades as much of their traditional habitat has been destroyed by urban sprawl. However, the expansive ranchland of southernmost Texas remains a stronghold for the prized game birds.

Texas boasts the largest deer herd in the nation fluctuating between three and four million animals. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, TPWD, approximately 545,000 hunters kill an average of 418,000 whitetails annually. South Texas is generally regarded as the best region in the state to hunt trophy white-tailed deer.

South Texas is such a desirable place to hunt that finding a good lease that is affordable is becoming increasingly difficult. Fortunately, there are hunting opportunities on state and federal land, but time is running out to sign up for hunts this year.

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge will be accepting applications until the end of August for both archery and firearm hunting for white-tailed deer, feral hog and nilgai antelope. Two archery hunts will be conducted on the refuge, and a few permits are still available.

Five firearm hunts will take place in December, and all firearm hunters will be selected by random computer drawing. If you want to participate in the archery or firearm hunts the refuge office is open between 7 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday thru Friday. The office is located 14 miles east of Rio Hondo on FM 106. For more information call Mari Ybarra at 748-3607.

There are also archery, rifle and dove hunting opportunities on Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge property. Hunt permits are available until the end of the month at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. or call Ernie Crenwelge at 784-7500 for more information.

More than 3,000 acres of state lands area also available for Valley whitewing hunters this season. You will need to purchase a $48 annual permit, which will allow hunting in the area year round during the appropriate season for dove, quail and chachalaca. For more information call local Parks and Wildlife biologist Sam Patten at 501-4793.

When you purchase your new hunting license, you might want to enter, for a $10 fee, the opportunity to win one or more of TPWD's Big Time Texas hunts. These hunts are some of the finest guided adventures in the state and include trophy whitetail deer hunts, waterfowl hunts or even a bighorn sheep hunt.

Timely rains have enhanced habitat for wild game state wide, and the outlook is bright for dove, quail, waterfowl and deer. Whether you hunt on federal, state or private land, this promises to be a banner year for Texas sportsmen, and that is good news for the number one hunting state in the nation.

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Copyright 2007 Richard Moore