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Hunting brings big dollars to W.Va.

By SCOTT WARTMAN - The Herald-Dispatch

>> Not your average run in the park

HUNTINGTON -- Hunting in West Virginia isn’t just a hobby or pastime -- it is a big business generating hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

The most recent statistics from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources show hunting of all types generated nearly $244 million in retail sales and more than 6,200 jobs statewide in 2000.

The amount of hunting-related money spent in the state has remained steady for the last 15 years, said Scott Knight, business manager for the WVDNR.

Much of is because of the rural nature of the state, Knight said.

Unlike in many areas of the country where urban development has reduced the number of hunters, West Virginia has taken advantage of the 88 percent of the state that is forested, Knight said. About 40,000 non-residents a year come into the state to hunt mainly deer, turkey and bear.

Only a handful of other shopping seasons, such as Christmas, surpass deer season in its economic impact on the region, Knight said.

"If you want to see the impact, drive at 5 a.m. at opening day on buck season," Knight said. "All the camouflaged people out there will surprise you."

Local hunting shops say they are inundated with people this time of year. Making the sport even more popular are the wide array of gadgets that come out each year, said Greg Borders, owner of Borders Hunting Shop in Ashland, Ky.

To increase safety and effectiveness, hunters now are buying radios, range finders to gauge distance, electronic animal callers and even global positioning units to prevent getting lost, Borders said.

The tech age of hunting has grown tremendously in the last five years, he said.

"Some of the electronic devices came on like the technology with computers and everything else," Borders said.

Depending on what a hunter is looking for, the average gun hunting package with clothes and equipment included runs about $500, he said.

The downturn in the economy since 2000 has reduced business somewhat, Borders said, but the popularity of hunting in this area remains strong. The addition of elk in the Pikeville, Ky. area has opened a new door to a different game in the area, he said.

"I think everybody’s business is off just a bit, but I don’t think it is attributed to (a decrease in popularity)," Borders said. "In our area, we have a lot of guardsmen in the Reserve and National Guard. A lot of those people are the hunters."

Each area of the state has also become a draw for certain types of game, WVDNR officials said.

For the big bucks, southwestern counties produce the record sized bucks, said Paul Johansen, assistant chief in charge of game management with the WVDNR.

Wyoming, McDowell, Mingo and Logan do not have rifle hunting and therefore have a much older deer population, he said. This has also made them and their surrounding counties destinations for those searching for big deer, including Wayne County where the state’s largest buck was shot several years ago, he said.

"It takes three things to generate large antlers -- genetics, nutrition and age. Nutrition is not a problem in this state," Johansen said. "What needs to happen to get big bucks, they need to get age on them."

The northern counties, such as Hancock, Brooke and Ohio counties, have the largest deer densities, he said. Yet, given the state’s population of about 1 million deer, any county affords ample opportunity for game.

"West Virginia is absolutely blessed with a healthy deer population, but if you are looking for large numbers of deer, you will be hard pressed to beat the northwest part of the state."

For turkey and squirrel hunting, all areas of the state afford great opportunities for hunting, he said.

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