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Logging the dollars involved in deer hunting in Illinois (Do I really want to know mine exactly?)

Among the studies being done by the Illinois Natural History Survey is one on the expenses of deer hunting in Illinois.

Resized/Sun-Times
Yes, deer hunting in Illinois is big business as this classic file photo from the 2011 Deer and Turkey Classic showed.
Dale Bowman

A letter arrived this week from the Illinois Natural History Survey.

I was randomly selected to be in a study of the economic impact of deer hunting in Illinois. I been asked a couple times over the years to participate in other surveys, but, if memory serves me, they were all related to harvest of birds or game.

This was coming at things from another angle: ``We’re asking for your help by keeping a log of the amount of money you personally spend to hunt deer in Illinois during the 2019-20 hunting season.’’

After I read it, I thought the idea is rather cool.

The letter was from Craig Miller, the human dimensions scientist for INHS. He is guy behind the harvest reports and other studies.

Resized/Sun-Times
The Illinois Natural History Survey is studying the economic impact of deer hunting in Illinois, including a survey that went to random deer hunters, including yours truly.
Dale Bowman

The log, split into ``Deer-Firearm’’ and ``Deer-Archery,’’ keeps track of everything economic related to going deer hunting in Illinois: automotive expenses, lodging, food and beverage, daily use fees, entertainment, game processing, guide or outfitter fees, hunting package fees and whether or not it was an overnight trip.

One of the things I am most curious about from this study will be how the economic impact of out-of-state deer hunters compares to the economic impact of resident deer hunters, a real point of interest or contention in Illinois.

Non-resident hunters (and guides/outfitters) have already driven the price up on leasing hunting so high as to push out the ordinary hunter land/or effectively prevented residents from gaining permission to hunt private land.

For Illinois residents, non-residents feel like a depressingly large impact, especially in deer hunting. I will be curious whether the reality of economic impact is as intensely skewed toward non-residents as a lot of us think or feel it is.

Illinois is one of the top destinations in the world for trophy hunters of white-tail deer. In terms of economic impact, it really matters more than any other hunting in the state.

The long-running numbers on the economic impact of outdoors activities comes from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on a regular basis. But, for stat-heads, those figures, while very useful because of the years of those studies, are similar in precision to what RBI and pitchers’ win-loss records are in baseball to WAR (Wins Above Replacement).

It’s long been a running joke among hunters, and to a lesser extent anglers, about how much each duck, each pound of venison or each pheasant actually cost.

The letter came to mind Monday when I was running around perch fishing on the lakefront. As I was driving home, it struck me just how much each of the four keeper perch cost. Between bait and mileage alone (I had packed my own breakfast and lunch), I roughly calculated that each perch cost me in the vicinity of $12.

On a strictly economic level, was it worth it? Of course not. But pure economics is hardly the only way to measure the impact of outdoor activities. Perch fishing had value in itself unrelated to the monetary value of the fillets that our daughter and I ate Monday evening.

Hunting tends to be more expensive overall.

The kicker in all this, at least for hunters, is that hunting is most often an act more keenly related to love than to a rational thinking. That each duck we shot cost $100 or $150 doesn’t mean as much as watching the dawn come over the marsh on a rainy morning. That each pound of venison figures out to a price that makes kobe beef look like a bargain is not as important as being up in the stand before dawn and hearing the first leaf rustle under a deer’s foot before the darkness lifts.

It’s possible to measure to the economic value of the joy that those non-material parts of hunting bring, but it is a whole lot more dicey and difficult that measuring how much car expenses, a three-egg omelet on the drive to hunt, shells, licenses/permits and an Italian beef on the ride home cost.

All right, there is a part of me that is very curious to find out just how much I actually sink into deer hunting.

I can’t wait to fill the log out, though I am less certain how eager I am to see the figures.

To see results of INHS studies on hunters and hunting, go to https://publish.illinois.edu/human-dimensions/