Hagan: Hunting helps the state and the animals

Bob Hagan, New Mexico News Services

 

Bob Hagan

 

In the old days about this time of the year, the ciboleros would be returning from the buffalo range with robes and meat to help see the people through the winter. Everybody would turn out to welcome them home, and there would be a fandango in the plaza and a thanksgiving Mass in the village church.

We don’t celebrate hunters the way we used to, although they still make an important contribution to our local economy.

More than 90,000 elk, deer and other big-game hunters and 30,000 small-game and bird hunters were in the field last year, together with 180,000 anglers. According to a study commissioned by the state Game and Fish Department a couple of years ago, anglers spend $268 million a year on fishing-related activities, and hunters spend $345.5 million a year on their sport, supporting 8,000 jobs statewide. The overall impact on the New Mexico economy amounts to nearly $1 billion annually.

A significant portion of that money comes from out of state.

While a New Mexico resident pays $90 for an elk license and spends an average of $770 on his or her hunting trip, a nonresident pays $548 for the license and another $3,600 for expenses, much of it spread around in the rural counties that most need the business. 

Properly managed hunting has also proved to be a good deal for the animals. Extinct in New Mexico a century ago, elk number between 70,000 and 90,000 in the state, together with about 100,000 mule deer and 45,000 to 50,000 pronghorn. We also now have ibex, oryx, Barbary sheep and other exotics that draw hunters from around the world, not to mention more than 8,000 bears, 4,000 cougars, javelinas, turkeys and other game animals. 

The $25 million New Mexico collects from the sale of licenses pays for programs to expand and improve habitat for all these and other species.

Whether it’s a viable economic proposition from the individual hunter’s point of view is more questionable. A good rifle and scope or a state-of-the-art bow might run $1,000 or more, and clothing and equipment can add substantially to the investment.

And then there’s luck. First, there’s the luck of the draw. Big game licenses are allocated through a complex lottery system, in which hunters list their first, second, third and sometimes fourth choices for a particular type of animal in a given hunting area. A computer then shuffles the applications and randomly awards the tags.

For the most popular hunts there are always more applicants than tags available, and while Game and Fish offers some tips on how to improve your odds, the department cautions that, “luck still plays a big part in drawing success.” One hunter I talked to has only drawn a tag in three of the past seven years.

Then there’s the luck of the chase.

More than 36,000 elk licenses were issued in the 2014-2015 hunting season but just 39 percent of those hunters filled their tags.

For many, if not most, hunters the dollar value of a freezer full of meat misses the point, however, and it’s not uncommon for a successful hunter to share with less fortunate neighbors. This year the Roadrunner Food Bank, with a little seed money from Game and Fish, has launched a new program to expand on that tradition. “New Mexico Hunters Helping the Hungry,” encourages hunters to donate all or part of their deer or elk to be distributed through food banks and free kitchens.

The old ciboleros would be proud.

Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com