Big game hunting in Wyoming a $300 million industry

Posted 2/21/17

Southwick Associates, a private outdoor recreation and economics firm, recently concluded that those hunters contributed more than $303.5 million to the state’s economy and supported 3,100 jobs.

“With the decline in energy revenue, tourism is …

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Big game hunting in Wyoming a $300 million industry


“Big game hunting is big business in Wyoming.”

So begins a new report commissioned by Wyoming outfitters and others, which analyzed just how much money was put into the state’s economy by the more than 119,000 people who hunted big game here in 2015.

Southwick Associates, a private outdoor recreation and economics firm, recently concluded that those hunters contributed more than $303.5 million to the state’s economy and supported 3,100 jobs.

“With the decline in energy revenue, tourism is obviously becoming a strong economic driver in the state,” said Lee Livingston, a Wapiti-based outfitter and president of the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association, which helped fund the report. “We wanted to highlight, obviously, what outfitting means to the state, but (also what) big game hunting all told means to the state.”

Southwick Associates’ report says Wyoming’s outfitters and guides collected more than $45.4 million from thousands of elk, deer, antelope, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and bison hunters in 2015. The data shows that nonresidents accounted for 84 percent of outfitters’ business that year, with some 10,500 out-of-staters spending nearly $38.3 million on guiding services.

One major message from the report is a caution to state leaders about reducing the number of big game licenses allocated for non-Wyoming residents.

“... Nonresident hunters, particularly those hiring outfitters, generate a disproportionate amount of the economic benefits,” Southwick Associates wrote. “Reducing the number of nonresident tags could exponentially negatively impact tax revenues, sales revenues and jobs in the state.”

Some legislators have suggested cutting back on nonresident licenses in recent years, and Livingston said that’s one reason why outfitters — who oppose the idea — commissioned Southwick Associates’ report.

“If you’re going to go fight a fight, you need hard data,” Livingston said. “And we wanted some hard numbers.”

Southwick Associates concluded that, on average, each nonresident big game hunter contributed about $2,782 to Wyoming’s economy in 2015. That’s about $370, or 15 percent, more than the average in-state hunter. Included in that estimate are the hunter’s spending on transportation, equipment, lodging, food, taxidermy, meat processing, etc., along with estimates of the jobs supported, taxes generated and other direct benefits of the hunter’s spending.

Out-of-state hunters who hired a guide had the largest economic impact: about $7,325 per person, Southwick Associates found. (Unguided nonresidents, meanwhile, contributed $1,372 per person — less than the average resident hunter, according to the report.)

Unsurprisingly, the main reason that guided big game hunters have a greater impact is because they’re spending money on that guide; the average out-of-stater spent an average of $3,623 for a guide, Southwick Associates found.

Park County is a beneficiary of some of those dollars, with 28 of the state’s 295 licensed outfitters based in Cody, Powell and Meeteetse.

“It’s significant up here,” Livingston said. “Northwest Wyoming’s kind of the elk mecca.”

When he talks to a client who’s looking to book an elk hunt, Livingston said he tells them to expect to pay more than the $6,000 he’ll charge.

“By the time they get their license, their gratuity, their staying here, their extra money, their gift to take home to their wife and kids, I’m telling them, ‘You’re going to be scaring the hell out of $9,000,’” he said, adding, “They spend a fair amount of money right there in Cody.”

The vast majority of Livingston’s clients used to fly in, but since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — and the subsequent hardening of airline regulations on firearms and other items — he figures that’s completely flipped. Now, he guesses perhaps 80 percent of his hunters drive to Park County. Livingston said people tend to stay longer when they drive, often sticking around to have their meat processed before heading home — and enjoying the area while they wait.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is another prime beneficiary of big game hunting: Most of the department’s funding comes from selling hunting licenses and special management permits for big game.

Elk are at the top of the list; Game and Fish sold 72,038 elk licenses in 2015, collecting more than $9.9 million in license revenue.

“While the department is responsible for managing over 800 species of wildlife in Wyoming, many of its constituents are focused on the management of big game species,” the department wrote in its annual report for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission was among the report’s sponsors.

During the 2014 Budget Session, a group of six lawmakers sponsored a bill that would have reserved 90 percent of all big and trophy game licenses for residents — roughly halving the number of licenses available to nonresidents. (For example, 84 percent of elk tags and 80 percent of deer and antelope tags are currently set aside for residents.)

Some other Western states use a 90 percent/10 percent split on their licenses, but Livingston argues it’s not right for Wyoming.

He said that model works better for states like Arizona, where there are more than 6.8 million residents, “but Wyoming is very unique in the fact that … our human population is so low and our wildlife resource is so high.”

The state’s outfitters guided about one out of every four nonresident big game hunters (23.5 percent) in 2015. Livingston said that ranges from guiding about 40 percent of nonresident elk hunters down to only about 9 or 10 percent of the antelope and deer hunters from out of state.

With Southwick Associates finding that guided nonresidents contribute five times as much to Wyoming’s economy as their do-it-yourself counterparts, Wyoming’s outfitters could conceivably use the data to make a case for setting aside a certain percentage of the nonresident tags for guided hunters, as some other states do.

Livingston believes that would be a good thing for the industry, but he doesn’t foresee anyone picking up that fight any time soon.

“It’d be a bloodbath,” he said, adding, “There’s a very strong sentiment in Wyoming that this is our wildlife and we’re not going to exploit it.”