Bringing in the big bucks: Deer hunting contributes $2.3 billion to Michigan’s economy

Michael Sharkey, owner of The Gun House in St. Joseph, checks the scope on a Winchester Model 70 hunting rifle, Saturday. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Michael Sharkey, owner of The Gun House in St. Joseph, checks the scope on a Winchester Model 70 hunting rifle, Saturday. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BERRIEN COUNTY — With more than 500,000 hunters expected to participate in this year’s firearms season, several businesses are benefiting from the outdoor sport.

The sport, which is steeped in tradition among families, is also considered a driver of Michigan’s economy.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates hunting in Michigan generates more than $2.3 billion in economic impact in the state, including expenses related to food and lodging and $1.3 billion spent on equipment.

Mike Sharkey, owner of The Gun House in St. Joseph, said November through Christmas is the busiest season for his shop.

“It’s very important this time of year,” Sharkey said. “A lot of people get their guns checked or are looking to upgrade.”

While the deer harvest was down in 2014, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources expects 2015 to provide an increased success rate – especially in the Lower Peninsula.

Sharkey believes this to be true based on his numbers through the first week of deer season.

“Last year it was a little slower, but this year I have seen a 30 percent increase in sales,” Sharkey said. “More people are going out. That deer disease we’ve had the past years has gone down and (the deer) population is coming back.”

The Gun House also sells shooting supplies, gun cleaning materials, cases and other accessories.

Garry Zick, owner of Zick’s Specialty Meat in Berrien Springs, said deer season is important to his meat processing business.

In Michigan, 60 percent of hunters only hunt deer, making the firearm season an especially important driver of the state’s hunting economy.

“It used to be how we got started, but it’s still our way of connecting with the outdoor community,” Zick said. “It’s an important part of our business. Our production increases by at least 30 percent like clockwork this time of year.”

While business was down for Zick last year, he said he believes things will go back to the way they were.

Processing specialty products from sausage to jerky, Zick said they can do just about anything with the meat, as long as they come skinned and precut.

A Michigan tradition

Michigan currently ranks fourth in the nation for the number of licensed hunters in the state. This year, the DNR estimates about 580,000 individuals will hunt during the Nov. 15-30 firearm season

More than 90 percent of Michigan hunters will pursue deer this year, with hunters spending an average of 14 days on the hunt during the season.

Annual hunting participation in Michigan – as in many states – has decreased from levels a decade ago. According to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, expenditures by hunters have increased 276 percent between 2001 and 2011, resulting in a significant hunting-related economic impact for the state.

In recent years, nearly 20,000 annual licensed deer hunters have come from outside of Michigan, representing every state in the nation and more than 20 different countries.

Jason Grimm, president of the Berrien County Sportsman’s Club, said this generates more money for the state when the DNR hands out licenses for out-of-state hunters.

Garry Zick, owner of Zick’s Specialty Meats in Berrien Springs, prepares to package a selection of smoked deer salami, processed from deer shot by local hunters. Zicks says his business increases 30 percent at this time of year. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Garry Zick, owner of Zick’s Specialty Meats in Berrien Springs, prepares to package a selection of smoked deer salami, processed from deer shot by local hunters. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

“The state has raised the out-of-state fee,” Grimm said. “It used to be fairly inexpensive because we haven’t charged as much for a non-resident deer license in the past. People come up here and spend their money and have a good time. I don’t think the deer population is what it was and that is a reason why prices have gone up.”

Zick said his business thrives on hunters who come to Michigan in November.

“About a third of my business is from out of state,” he said. “The others are from around this county. Any business I get that’s not from around here comes from Indiana and Ohio.”

In 2014, an estimated $85 million was spent specifically on leisure travel related to hunting activities in the state according to data from D.K. Shifflet & Associates – a tourism and travel research group. Hunting and fishing leisure travel spending combined for $342 million in Michigan last year.

Grimm said the hunters that go to the northern parts of Michigan stay in a tent and don’t go to a hotel. However, a trip like that does take some preparation.

It is common for such hunting trips to require hunters to buy a week’s worth of supplies, which includes clothing, food and gas, Grimm said.

“Guys who make the trip spend a lot. It can be an expensive sport,” he said. “I mean, you’ve spent about $300 by the time you get done with food and gas. Buying a new gun nowadays is $400. A box of shells used to be $4, but now its $25 because everything is so high tech.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 23, 2015)

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