Shooting for support: Group touts economic benefits of hunting and shooting

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Jerry Stehman knows from personal experience the importance of hunting and recreational shooting to Colorado businesses.

For nearly 30 years, Stehman has operated a Grand Junction store that depends on hunters and shooters. “That’s who we cater to. That’s what we specialize in,” says Stehman, owner of Jerry’s Outdoor Sports.

That’s why Stehman says he didn’t hesitate to join an organization that promotes the relationships between hunting, shooting and the economy.

Jerry’s Outdoor Sports is among a total of more than 70 businesses, business groups and various associations that have become members of Hunting Works for Colorado.

The diversity of the membership reflects the diversity of the businesses that benefit from hunting and shooting, says

Pat Martinez, a retired wildlife biologist in Grand Junction who serves as one of six leaders of the group.

Those benefits extend far beyond sporting goods retailers to convenience stores, hotels and restaurants, Martinez says. “It’s an economic driver.”

Jeff Franklin, president of the Bank of Colorado branch in Grand Junction and chairman-elect of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, agrees. “Hunting is very important to our area here.”

Hunting Works for Colorado quantifies that importance in estimating that $465 million is spent annually on hunting in the state, supporting 8,400 jobs.

It’s essential not only to communicate that message, but also advocate for public policies that support hunting and shooting and, in turn, their economic benefits, Martinez says.

Hunting Works for Colorado is a newly formed state chapter of the Hunting Works for America program.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms trade association, launched the initiative in 2010 to foster alliances among shooting organizations and the businesses that benefit from hunting and shooting. Colorado is the ninth state to join the program.

Martinez says he joined the group because he’s a hunting and shooting enthusiast who’s concerned a changing legal landscape in Colorado could affect the activities he enjoys and, ultimately, the economy.

The economic effects of hunting are sometimes overlooked, Martinez says, because most activity occurs during a short span limited by hunting seasons and often in rural areas that offer more access to open spaces and game.

But in many smaller towns in Colorado, particularly across the Western Slope, sales to hunters constitutes a large and important portion of annual revenues for businesses, Martinez says.

One goal of Hunting Works for Colorado is to tell that story to a wider audience, he adds.

According to Hunting Works for Colorado, hunters in Colorado spend $185 million on hunting equipment and $221 million on expenses related to hunting trips. Each hunter spends an average of $1,800 a year. Moreover, hunters pay $51 million in state and local taxes.

That’s not to mention the wildlife and habitat conservation efforts hunters and hunting associations support through license fees, donations and volunteer efforts, Martinez says.

Martinez says he also expects Hunting Works for Colorado to promote recreational shooting, which provides economic benefits on a more year-round basis.

The construction of a multi-use shooting and educational complex at the site of the former Xcel Energy Cameo power plant should help in bringing money and more jobs to the Grand Valley economy, he adds.

Franklin says the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce joined Hunting Works for Colorado because of the importance of hunting and shooting to the local economy. “It’s just a big industry.”

Stehman has worked in that industry for nearly 30 years in operating Jerry’s Outdoor Sports in four different locations in Grand Junction.

Stehman invested $1.1 million in relocating in 2012 to his latest and largest location near the intersection of the Interstate Highway 70 Business Loop and 30 Road. The move doubled the available space of the operation to 11,000 square foot, allowing Stehman to also increase his inventory and staff.

Stehman says he’s observed a number of trends over the years that are both discouraging and encouraging.

Fewer aging hunters remain active in the sport and more people live in urban settings and no longer hunt, Stehman says. When parents no longer hunt, neither do their children. As a result, he says he’s concerned what’s long been an American tradition could disappear.

The greatest rewards of hunting aren’t necessarily killing an animal or putting meat on the table, but the camaraderie and shared memories, Stehman says. “The spirit of hunting is being with family or friends.”

At the same time, though, Stehman says he’s encouraged in an increased interest in young adults, including a growing proportion of women, in firearms and recreational shooting. By one estimate, there are 15 million to 20 million new shooters.

“What a positive,” he adds.

A growing interest in shooting will lead to a growing interest in hunting and what Stehman hopes will be new generations of hunters. “We’ve got to get more people back into hunting.”

Organizations like Hunting Works for Colorado can help, too, he says, in sustaining the sport and the tradition — along with businesses that depend on hunters and shooters.

For more information about Hunting Works for Colorado, visit the website located at www.HuntingWorksForCO.com.

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