With ample time between flights, I kicked back in concourse C at O’Hare to catch the unofficial fashion show. There was the lady in the leopard print pants that were so tight they resembled an exotic sausage casing. Then there were the hat people modeling everything from tweedy newsboys and houndstooth berets to fedoras, turbans and a lid only Boy George could love. Legions of men and women passed by wearing tracksuits, presumably in case the opportunity arose to knock out a few jumping jacks at 30,000 feet. Of course, the business suits marched by with their pin stripes, two-button, single breasted jackets and silk neckties. There were cargo shorts and flip flops, skinny jeans and purple ankle boots and t-shirts communicating the wearer’s love of Coldplay, the Red Sox and Harley Davidsons.
And every now and then somebody wearing a Mossy Oak Break-up tee-shirt or a Realtree Hardwoods baseball cap cruised by. It warmed the cockles of my heart to see them. Were they proud to fly the flag? Or completely unaware of the statement they made? Either way, I always feel like some secret handshake should be exchanged when we who hunt run into each other in improbable places.
But is an airport really an unlikely place for hunters to bump into each other?
Actually, the answer to that is “no.”
According to the 2006 National Survey on Hunting, Fishing and Wildlife Associated Recreation, out of the 12.5 million hunters they count, 10 percent of them hunt in other states and their state of residence while 4 percent of them hunt only outside of their home state. Some of them take to the friendly skies, too. A report entitled Hunting in America: An Economic Engine and Conservation Powerhouse shows out of the $25 billion in retail spending by hunters in 2006, nearly $160 million went towards commercial air transportation.
If you’ve ever flown into Little Rock, Arkansas during duck season or Rapid City, South Dakota during spring turkey season, you’d think everyone at the airport was a hunter. Baggage claim is dominated by gun cases, rolling camo duffel bags and throngs of happy hunters.
I caught a flight a week or so after the horrific events of 9/11, and you could roll a bowling ball down the concourse and not hit anyone. Other than a few road warrior businessmen and women, some of the only other folks flying back then were elk hunters heading west. To me, they were a welcome sight. When the world felt like it might never be the same, hunters conveyed a sense of normalcy desperately sought in those dark days following the terrorist attacks.
While seeing my fellow sportsmen and women at airports always lifts my spirits, it also should put a smile on the face of flight attendants, pilots, store clerks and others whose livelihoods benefit from hunters’ dollars. When you add it up, hunters support nearly 600,000 jobs in a wide variety of industries. When hunters spend money on travel, lodging, food, gear, gas and more, the ripple effect of their dollars total a whopping $66 billion in overall economic output.
With today’s slumping economy, hunters likely are sticking a little closer to home. However, the dollars they spend not only support wildlife conservation, they also may help contribute to our eventual economic recovery.
So, if you don’t have enough reasons to go hunting, add that one to your list!