Darren Miller was 13 when he experienced the heart-thumping, adrenaline-flowing excitement of his first squirrel hunt.
"For me, hunting provides a natural connection to the outdoors that is often lost in our everyday lives," Miller said. "I get great personal satisfaction from every aspect of the hunt—preparing for the hunt, being in the woods, seeing and interacting with wildlife, and, when everything works out, enjoying success."
Miller is not alone in his desire to connect with the natural world. According to a 2006 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report, more than 87 million people participated in wildlife-associated recreational activities. Hunting and fishing, however, are declining in the United States.
"More urban populations seem to be disconnected from the land," Miller said. "Also, people have a lot of misconceptions about the value hunting and fishing has on the economy, and on wildlife management and conservation."
The state’s economy gets a boost by the more than half of Mississippians who engage in some form of wildlife recreation and from those who travel to Mississippi from other states.
Recent research conducted by Mississippi State University’s Forest and Wildlife Research Center scientists found that the economic benefit to the state is significant, contributing about $2.8 billion annually.
The study found that hunting, fishing and wildlife-related recreation produces jobs, employing Mississippians throughout the state. These outdoor activities create more than 66,000 full- and part-time jobs that pay more than $1.15 billion in wages and salaries.
"Economic activity and resulting impacts are measured by four statistics: output, jobs, income and value added, or the value of sales minus the costs of production," said Steve Grado, natural resource economist in MSU’s forestry department. "Hunting generates the largest output at $1.18 billion, while fishing and wildlife-watching generate $773 million and $829 million, respectively."
Based on 2006 expenditures, the most recent available, the study uses a computerized database and modeling system to construct regional economic accounts. "We evaluated the impacts of four subcategories of wildlife: white-tailed deer, waterfowl, turkey, and small game hunting, which includes dove, quail, woodcock, rabbit, squirrel and raccoon," Grado said. "White-tailed deer hunting produced the largest economic impact at more than $860 million, followed by waterfowl hunting at $192 million and turkey hunting at $90 million."
The research, which was conducted by Grado, assistant Extension professor James Henderson, professor Ian Munn, and associate Extension professor Daryl Jones, also found that both freshwater and saltwater fishing creates a significant impact.
Freshwater fishing created a total economic impact of $727 million. Saltwater angling accounted for more than $46 million.
"These economic contributions, made primarily by those participating in the sport, provide for the management and conservation of wildlife," Miller said. "The majority of funding for wildlife conservation, through the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, is derived from an excise tax on hunting equipment, firearms and ammunition. This is in addition to revenue from license sales and other hunter-dependent funds, such as duck stamps."
Passed by Congress in 1937, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, commonly called the Pittman-Robertson Act, provides federal aid to states for wildlife management and restoration. It has funded projects that aimed at improving wildlife habitat, introducing of wildlife, conducting research and educating hunters.
Since its inception, the Act has generated more than $2 billion in Federal excise taxes, which has been matched by more than $500 million in state funds for wildlife restoration. The state funds are raised primarily through the fees for hunting licenses.
"Hunters are actually improving wildlife habitat when they purchase equipment and licenses," Miller said. "Hunters and fishermen also are more likely to be involved in conservation organizations."
In fact, a recent nationwide telephone poll conducted by Ducks Unlimited found that hunters were three times as likely as nonhunters to participate in organized wildlife conservation efforts.
"Organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation have conserved millions of acres of habitat and raised millions of dollars for wildlife conservation," Miller said.
Hunting has proven to be an effective tool for managing wildlife populations. Overabundant wildlife can cause numerous problems, such as spreading diseases, endangering and threatening plants and causing wildlife damage issues (e.g., deer-and-vehicles colliding and black bears raiding garbage cans).
The economic impacts and wildlife conservation gained from hunting and fishing benefit all Mississippians, not just the sportsmen.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, although Pittman-Robertson is financed wholly by firearms users and archery enthusiasts, it benefits anyone who enjoys wildlife pastimes such as bird watchers and nature photographers. Recent estimates indicate about 70 percent of the people using these areas are not hunting, and in some places the percentage may be as high as 95 percent.
"Hunting benefits all species of wildlife, their habitat, and the nonhunting public who enjoy wild things and wild places," Miller said. "I take my children hunting so they will learn that we are an integral part of the natural world and to fully appreciate the gift of healthy wildlife populations."