Many South Dakotans observe an annual holiday that isn’t on the calendar in most other states: the mid-October opening weekend of pheasant hunting season. Opening day of deer season is an important event in the state as well.
The effect of hunting on our state’s economy is significant. A study commissioned by the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department in 2016 determined that $1.3 billion was directly spent on outdoor recreation between October 2015 and October 2016. The largest single portion of that spending, $683 million, came from hunting.
Even more important, hunting is a part of our state’s culture. It is about family traditions, spending time outdoors with friends, and putting food on the table.
It is also about respect for nature. Like other outdoor enthusiasts, hunters typically have an inherent respect for nature and a concern for the environment. This is hard for those not familiar with an outdoor culture to understand. To many, hunting beautiful creatures like pheasants, deer, antelope, and elk seems nonsensical and cruel.
Yet most hunters view hunting season as a time of harvesting what the land has provided, in much the same manner as those who hunted this land hundreds of years before them. Most hunters eat what they kill. Not only is game meat more nutritious, it can be much more economical than commercially raised animals. For some South Dakotans, a freezer full of venison is an important part of feeding the family on a limited budget.
Of course, the dollars and cents of hunting don’t always make economic sense. My teenage son, for example, has followed a longstanding tradition and become a hunter. His great-grandfather and grandfather hunted pheasants. I used to hunt deer; Davin was raised on a diet that included venison. Davin, however, decided to set a new standard in the family. He became a squirrel hunter.
Yes, South Dakota has a statewide squirrel hunting season. It lasts from September through February, with a daily limit of five animals.
This didn’t set well with my wife, who loves every squirrel and bunny that graces our property. When Davin came home overjoyed that he shot his daily limit of squirrels, she put her theater experience to good use in order to act excited for him. Davin and his buddy, as responsible hunters, decided to use every part of their harvest. They saved the squirrel meat for making jerky, they made knife sheaths from the pelts, and they harvested the tails to sell to a company that uses the fur for fishing lures.
I asked my son how much they would get for the tails. He proudly said $0.20 for perfect tails and $0.08 for damaged ones. Given the difficulty of hitting a scampering squirrel, perfect tails were not necessarily the norm. My mind quickly started a cost-of-goods-sold analysis of the tails, totaling the expenses of the license, gas, gun, and shells. I came up with a cost of $1.50 per tail. My encouragement was to start a new squirrel tail fad of some sort and sell the tails to his friends for $3.00 each.
I didn’t realize there was a possibility for an even more lucrative market. Some of my friends and neighbors enjoy feeding songbirds through the winter. Many of them are tired of searching fruitlessly for squirrel-proof feeders. It’s possible, with the right marketing approach, that they could be persuaded to pay a bounty for every clever little feeder-raiding varmint removed from their yards.
This might not add noticeably to the economic impact of hunting in the Black Hills, but at least it could make squirrel hunting a less expensive hobby.