Ranger Girl ran lazy figure eights around the brittle scrub brush on the flat
lands of eastern El Paso County.
Then the wind shifted and the black German shorthaired pointer dropped her head and crept toward a cluster of brush, betraying the pheasant's hiding place.
The ring-necked bird leapt into the air, chased by the thunder of shotgun fire.
The bird crumpled and dropped from the sky, and Ranger Girl and her hunting partner, Ty, also a shorthaired pointer, raced to see which would retrieve the trophy.
The pheasant hunt that helped raise money for suicide prevention and other charities this day included four hunters and their guide, Amy Winegardner-Johnson. It was one of more than 6,000 pheasant, chukar and quail hunts that occur annually at Rocky Mountain Roosters. The 5,800-acre private hunting preserve lies in Elbert and El Paso counties and is owned by Brett Axton. Each year, the club attracts hundreds of local and out-of-state hunters who along with other hunters and anglers directly contributed more than $1.3 billion to the Colorado economy in 2011, according to a report from the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation.
More than 900,000 people hunted on Colorado lands or fished state streams and lakes in 2011, the report states. Spending on state licensees and fees, equipment, food and lodging and other items helped support nearly 18,700 statewide jobs. The economic impact ripples through individual communities and businesses. The foundation's report estimates that the secondary impact of spending by hunters and anglers throughout the state equates to $2.1 billion, helping to support small-town budgets, family-owned grocery and gas stations and other businesses.
Hunters and anglers added more than $57 million in direct expenditures to Colorado Springs businesses that helped support 1,120 local jobs, according to a 2008 report by Denver-based BBC Research & Consulting for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Doyle Worbington owns J & D Outfitters and Guide Service in Peyton. He spends six months each year guiding hunts for elk, deer, turkeys, antelope and mountain lions on more than 250,000 public and private acres throughout the state. Last year, Worbington guided 160 nonresident elk hunters alone.
Big-game hunters like those spent $235.7 million in Colorado in 2011; small-game hunters spent an additional $56.9 million, the Sportsmen's Foundation report states. A lot of that spending occurred in smaller towns such as Gunnison, Craig, Meeker and Rifle, which rely on hunting and fishing the same way ski towns rely on heavy powder to bring tourists.
"It is a big component in the fall and winter months of what goes on here in Rifle," said Charles Kelty, finance director for Rifle in western Colorado. Rifle has a fiscal-year budget of $7.5 million, Kelty said; $3.9 million, or more than 50 percent of that budget, is expected to come from sales tax collections to which hunters and anglers contribute significantly, Kelty said.
"It is hard for me to quantify the exact impact," he said, "but it is a very substantial impact."
Axton, owner of Rocky Mountain Roosters, paid $15,000 in state and local sales, real and property taxes last year that went to fund city schools, fire departments and other services, he said.
New state gun control measures have spawned concerns that the measures would reduce the number of hunters -- and thus revenues -- in future years. One worry was that new background check requirements would prevent out-of-state hunters from using a guide's gun when traveling to Colorado to hunt and thus deter out-of-state hunters who don't want to travel with rifles and shotguns. But the legislation does not keep out-of-state hunters from using a gun furnished by a guide, providing the hunter has the legal right to possess a firearm, said Doug Schepman, communications director in the Colorado Senate Majority Leader's Office.
"Any person can take possession of a gun for hunting without a background check, so long as they are hunting in a lawful place with a lawful hunting permit, for the duration of their hunting excursion," the legislation states.
Still, the gun control measures have stirred a backlash in some hunting circles. Michael Bane, a freelance producer for The Outdoor Channel, has said he will stop filming his four shows in Colorado, and there is talk of boycotting the state on some gun and hunting websites and forums.
Hunting is one part of the equation; fishing is the other part.
If getting your feet wet is the best way to learn a job, then it's no wonder Landon Mayer is one of the best-known fly fishing guides in Colorado. For the past 17 years, Mayer has helped anglers from Europe, South America and the U.S. wade Colorado's 9,000 miles of fishable streams and 2,000-plus lakes in search of trout.
More than 767,000 cast their rods in Colorado waters in 2011. Mayer, who lives in Florissant, concentrates on the South Platte river. About 65 percent of his clients come from out of state.
Anglers spent more than $725.2 million in Colorado fishing stores in 2011; $1 million of that was spent at Angler's Covey, a fly fishing store in Colorado Springs owned by David Leinweber. Those sales added $25,000 in sales tax revenue to the city of Colorado Springs.
Fishing supports more than 14,500 jobs statewide, the study states. Nationally, there are 37 million hunters and even more anglers 16 and older. The two groups combined spent $90 billion on their respective sports in 2011, the report states.
There's also a trickle-down effect: Pet supply companies, landowners, veterinarians and others benefit indirectly from the outdoor activities.
Mayer, for example, supplies the equipment for his fly fishing clients, spending about $20,000 annually. Worbington, of J & D Outfitters, pays private landowners around $450,000 each year for permission to hunt on their land. Winegardner-Johnson, who guides bird hunts, buys 3,500 pounds of dog food annually for her nine bird dogs. Radio-controlled hunting collars cost $600 for a two-dog set.
Axton said his annual vet bills run around $800 per dog -- if the hounds stay healthy.
"If they get hurt, the sky is the limit," he said. "I have one dog, Isis, that has $15,000 in vet bills in her. She kept tearing her ACL and has two new hips. She is like the bionic dog."
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