Big Bucks for Big Bucks: The Importance of the Whitetail Economy

Big Bucks for Big Bucks: The Importance of the Whitetail Economy

Illustration by Mike O'Brien

If you have a deer tag in your wallet: You are most likely a married white male between the ages of 35 and 44. You attended college, and you and your spouse earn a combined income of $50,000 to $75,000. According to a 2006 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report, you aren't afraid to spend some of that money. The average deer hunter bought $885 worth of gear, guns, and gadgets designed to help find, fool, and kill more deer.

The orange army is an economic force unto itself. Ten million of us spent $8.9 billion on trips and equipment alone in 2005, the last time the USFWS examined deer hunter demographics and spending patterns. That's more than the combined total revenue of Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops in 2013. It's more than the entire gross domestic product of dozens of countries.

If hunting were a corporation, it would rank 95th on the Fortune 500 list, ahead of such giants as DIRECTV, Time Warner Inc., and Nike. By itself, deer hunting would rank above nearly 200 corporations on that list.


Overall, America's hunters spent a whopping $33.7 billion in 2010, an average of more than $2,500 per person on all hunting-related expenses. The 60 or so deer hunters who book with Kansas Whitetail Adventures each season likely spend more than twice that, figures owner Gene Pearcy. Like countless other outfitters who have built businesses around America's insatiable appetite for big whitetails, Pearcy has made a career out of helping hunters fulfill their appetite. Despite the lagging economy, his business is thriving.


"People aren't going to give up their deer hunting," he says. "They may not go on the high-dollar elk hunts out West or on a hunt in Alaska, but they will find the money for an outfitted deer hunt, especially in Kansas or some other state known for big deer."


He figures his clients spend an average of $6,000 each on outfitter fees, travel, tips, and other expenses.

Pearcy spends that much just on food plots each year. He's not alone. According to a 2010 USFWS survey, hunters spent $703 million, or two percent of the total expenditures, on "plantings." That's a lot of clover and chicory, and it's helped companies like Whitetail Institute, which started the food plot phenomenon in 1988, build successful businesses.

"You have to remember that food plots don't just benefit deer and deer hunters," says Whitetail Institute Vice President Steve Scott. "A whole bunch of other birds and animals take advantage of the food plot and habitat work conducted by deer hunters. It's money well-spent for the conservation community, and it undoubtedly benefits local economies because people who plant food plots buy fertilizer, lime, and equipment from their local farm stores."


Our money doesn't just go to food plots, outfitters, Cabela's, and the hundreds of mom-and-pop hunting stores scattered around the country. We buy licenses that fund the very agencies entrusted to manage our deer and other wildlife. Ohio deer hunters, for example, spent more than $10 million on licenses last year, nearly one-sixth of the Ohio Division of Wildlife's entire revenue.

As with most state wildlife agencies, the money goes into the agency's general fund where it is used for a variety of purposes. However, our money is vital to their missions, and much of it goes directly to deer management, recruitment programs, and enforcement efforts. Wisconsin has four dedicated deer biologists on staff. The Mississippi Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks also has four biologists whose primary duties focus on deer management.

We  spend the rest of our money on things like leases and land purchases, which totaled $7.1 billion for all hunting in 2010. A single 9,389-acre south-central Kansas ranch sold for about $9.4 million this year. The new owners, says Whitetail Properties broker and owner Dan Perez, bought the land mainly for deer hunting.


"They plan to use the proceeds from the wheat and cattle to pay the mortgage, but their primary reason for buying it had to do with the region's world-class big buck reputation," he says. "They are deer hunters."

Although most hunters can't afford a $9.4 million deer hunting playground, Perez, who founded Whitetail Properties 11 years ago, says the recreational land business is booming and is driven largely by deer hunters. He started his company in response to the growing interest in trophy deer management and hunters seeking their own place to do it.

Despite the protracted economic downturn, Perez says plenty of hunters are still snapping up prime deer ground in places like Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri.

"We are still seeing a land shortage. The demand for high-quality hunting ground will likely force prices even higher than they already are," says Perez. "Our clients are across the board. Many of them are business owners, but we also sell property to a group of guys who form a partnership so they can afford their own place. There is some investment potential, but at the end of the day, it's really just a toy."

High-quality land in a trophy deer region isn't just a toy, it's the most expensive toy in the store. What once sold for a few hundred dollars an acre 20 years ago is now going for as much as $4,500 per acre thanks largely to the growing desire to shoot bigger bucks. The price of a deer lease has also gone through the roof.

At one time, recalls Perez, landowners in Pike County, Illinois, were stumped that anyone would even want to actually sit in a tree stand for the opportunity to shoot a deer. They usually granted permission without a second thought. Now they lease their farms for upwards of $80 per acre.

Thanks to those of us who willingly pay for those high-dollar leases and buy land and countless other deer-specific products, men and women like Perez and Pearcy have turned their passions into careers. America's deer hunting culture has helped turn countless blue-collar workers into multimillionaires and pseudo-celebrities. What deer hunter hasn't at least heard the names Lee and Tiffany Lakosky or Bill Jordan or Larry Weishuhn?

Perez's 30-year career has revolved around whitetail deer in one form or another. He first worked as a writer for a variety of deer hunting magazines before joining PSE as a regional sales manager. He then founded Whitetail Properties, which has grown to include 129 agents in 21 states. Perez also hosts and produces a television show on the Sportsman Channel, part of another industry driven largely by the deer hunting culture.

Thankfully, our passion for whitetails doesn't revolve entirely around money. Success can be found on a nine-acre lot just as easily as it can on a 9,000-acre ranch. In other words, anyone with a battered rifle, a few shells, and a deer tag in his wallet can take part in one of America's richest traditions.

Micros: Aimpoint H-1 with Blaser Mount

If you run your Blaser R93 or R8 straight-pull bolt rifle faster than most semi-autos and need an optic that will keep up, Aimpoint's Micro H-1 with the new Blaser saddle mount is your poison.

Considered by many to be the best mini red dot in existence, the H-1 has a 2 MOA, variable-intensity dot powered by one 3V lithium battery. One battery will last over five years of continuous use. The manual rotary on/off dial has 12 daylight settings.

Price: $600

Shotguns: Benelli Ethos

If the superbly crafted, ultra-reliable Benelli inertia-driven line has an Achilles' heel, it's that sometimes the bolt won't rotate into battery when it's eased quietly forward. Not so with the Ethos. The culmination of the finest elements of the inertia system, the Ethos bolt features an 'œeasy locking' detent that guarantees complete lockup.

Additionally, the loading port and carrier latch were designed to enable thumb-friendly loading. The AA-grade European walnut stock is fitted with a patented recoil-control system, the action is touted to function with any weight shot charge, and the barrel sports a replaceable carbon-fiber rib.

Price: $1,999-$2,199

Centerfire Rifles: Blaser R8 Classic Sporter

This is quite simply one of the finest examples of a firearm I've ever laid my eyes (and hands) on. High praise, for sure, but the Classic Sporter is most definitely worthy of a bit of hyperbole. The smooth straight-pull action combined with the high-grade walnut and the Rigby-style cheek piece make this rifle the epitome of functionality and aesthetics.

The only downside to the R8 Classic Sporter is that you'll be spending a lot of time and money with this gun. Time in the field and at the range and money on the initial purchase and the wealth of upgrades offered by Blaser.

Price: $4,495

Stands & Blinds: Bone Collector Man Cave by Ameristep

The Bone Collector Man Cave from Ameristep is a giant ground blind that's built for men who like to stand up to shoot, for camera crews, or for those who need plenty of room. The two-hub, 18-pound unit is 72x88 inches, and 82 inches tall.

Split front windows provide 270 degrees of vision, while shoot-through mesh conceals you from bucks and turkeys until it's too late for them. It comes in Realtree Xtra camo. Backpack, stakes, and tie-down ropes are included.

Price: $250

Boots: Cabela's Accelerator Boots

Like a typical shotgun wedding, the marriage between neoprene and rubber boots is one that's constantly pregnant with the next big thing. The most recent baby in the delivery room is built with a seamless, injection-molded rubber shell that Cabela's is calling Zero Gravity technology. But no need to worry, they don't fit like space boots.

Instead, the Accelerators are incredibly lightweight and surprisingly streamlined. The full booties are made with proven Armor-Flex neoprene Cabela's has been using on waders for years. Warm fleece linings and orthopedic footbeds with fiberglass shanks add comfort and protection.

Price: $119-$150; cabelas.com

Camp Grills: Camp Chef Rainier Camper's Combo

At just under two feet long, about 13 inches wide, and a flat 5¾ inches high when folded, the Rainier is the ultimate compact, full-featured grill. The grill and stove combo is a grower not a shower, with a propane-powered 8,000 BTU grill and a 10,000 BTU burner under the hood. It comes with a griddle that serves as a non-stick stand-in for the grill come breakfast, and the burner provides a place to brew a pot of coffee.

Bottom Line: Smaller isn't always better, but the Rainier breaks that mold — a must-own.

Price: $153

Rimfire Rifles: CZ-USA 455 Tacticool Suppressor-Ready

CZ-USA\'s 455 Tacticool Suppressor-Ready rifle is designed to be the ultimate silent but deadly option. Yes, you'll have to jump through hoops and get yourself a suppressor (such as the one shown in the picture) to screw onto the muzzle. After that, squirrels and cottontails don't stand a chance.

Paired with subsonic ammo, such as CCI's new Suppressor load, it will be almost silent when fired. Accuracy is aided by a stiff, short-ish 16.5-inch barrel, precision-style laminate stock with durable black finish, and adjustable trigger.

Price: $549

Handguns: Dan Wesson Guardian .38 Super

Put the hot-rod .38 Super into an aluminum-framed, bobtail Commander-size 1911 and you've got a super-carryable classic in a caliber suitable for thumping hogs and varmints of all descriptions. If you're not familiar with the .38 Super, think of it as the cartridge we all wish the 9mm was — fast, flat, and packing great authority at little expense in recoil.

Price: $1,558

Trail Cams: Duck Commander Lightsout

If you think those boys from the bayou jumped the shark with a Willie Robertson Chia Pet, get a load of this — a game camera for ducks. In all fairness, the idea does have some merit, especially for waterfowlers scouting multiple marshes for the perfect place to set their rig.

Migration Mode, a type of time-lapse capture system, keeps an electronic eye on the water from dawn to dusk, revealing just when and where ducks and geese are moving through an area. It's also fitted with a triggered 720p video camera and invisible Lightsout LEDs with a flash range of up to 50 feet.

Price: $150

Arrows: Easton Bowfire

New from arrow juggernaut Easton is its Bowfire arrow that uses 3HD 'œWhite-Hot' printing on a regular-sized carbon shaft so the arrow not only looks great while in the quiver, but also more importantly is highly visible in flight so hunters can see exactly where it hits. Easton's Direct Fit S nocks align perfectly to mitigate any nock-born arrow flight issues. Available in 480, 400, and 330 spine weights.

Price: $69 per six

Bow Accessories: Hunter Safety System Elite Harness

The Elite from Hunter Safety System is a harness that's built into a garment that replaces your vest so you don't have to wear a harness over it.

It's packed with features such as stretchy fabric that fits correctly so you can shoot without impediment, a thin tether that absorbs shock, six pockets for stashing gear, a binocular harness attachment, a low bowhunting-friendly collar, and a safety zipper that won't strangle you if you fall. This vest simplifies treestand hunting and may be the most important piece of gear you own. It's also available in a women's cut called the Contour.

Price: $160

Gear: Kuiu Icon 1850 Pack

We have been field-testing various Kuiu packs for the past few years on four continents and thousands of vertical feet. We are huge fans of the new Icon 1850 — probably our favorite iteration thus far. As the name implies, it has 1,850 cubic inches of storage space, which is ideal for day trips with a couple of overnights thrown in (if you're a gear minimalist).

The most impressive feature — should you happen to fill a tag — is the pack quickly converts to 'œLoad Sling' mode and an additional 2,500 cubic inches of space, enough for a quarter of meat, becomes available. Like all Icon packs, the 1850 incorporates a very rigid, but extremely lightweight carbon fiber frame and 160 denier Nylon Cordura ripstop material to keep the whole package at just over four pounds.

Price: $400

Binos: Leupold BX-3 Mojave

The BX-3 Mojave 8x32 binocular is a great optic for minimalist hunters who like to get close and personal before shooting. Plenty small enough to drop into a cargo pocket, the BX-3 Mojave offers phase coated prisms and fully multi-coated lenses, making for good clarity and maximizing light transmission.

Nitrogen filled to prevent internal fogging, they're waterproof and armored to increase shock resistance. It weighs only 17 ounces and is just 4.75 inches in length. The well-contoured, open design makes it very comfortable in your hand. These binos are also available in magnifications up to 12x50.

Price: $440-$565

Bows: Mathews Creed XS

This new bow is a handier, more compact version of last year's uber-popular Creed. The 28-inch axle-to-axle bow is perfect for treestands with its very shootable brace height of 7 1⁄2 inches, silky smooth Solocam technology (utilizing its SimPlex cam) for which the company is famous, and its feathery feel of just under four pounds. While it's not the fastest, it doesn't need to be, because it's as quiet as a cobra on wet carpet. If you like the feel of Mathews bows and you're a dedicated treestand hunter, this is the new bow for you.

Price: $999

Broadheads: NAP Killzone Crossbow Broadhead

The Killzone Crossbow broadhead mimics NAP's excellent cut-on-contact mechanical, yet it's made with thicker blades and requires more kinetic energy to open, so it's perfect for crossbows.

The Killzone broadhead uses friction to retain its blades rather than O-rings or collars, so the rear-deploying blades resist opening in quivers or while in flight better than most mechanicals. The Crossbow version also features a wicked two-inch cutting diameter that increases your margin of error. It's available in 100- or 125-grain versions.

Price: $45 per three

Camping: Pelican 65QT Elite

What does every hunter need from a cooler? Ice retention. Whether you're chilling freshly removed backstraps or keeping your beer cold while grilling them, your cooler has to keep those ever-important cubes intact. Enter the 65QT Elite from Pelican.

This tough-as-nails offering will retain ice for up to 10 days, which is an absolute dream for backcountry hunters or those making long road trips. The press-and-pull latches provide stability, ensuring that the 65QT Elite won't come unhinged in the back of your truck, and molded-in tie downs provide extra support. The lid on the model pictured doubles as a seat cushion, giving you a place to sit back and enjoy camp.

Price: $395

Headlamps: Pelican 2760

Known for their virtually indestructible hard-sided gun and gear cases, Pelican builds that same bombproofing into their headlamps. The 2760 features a tough polymer housing designed to shrug off drops. The lamp is extremely versatile, with high and low output settings (133 and 90 lumens), as well as a 93-lumen flash mode. The lens is set with three LEDs, a center forward-facing bulb with reflector that illuminates up to 380 feet, and two outside bulbs aimed slightly downward. Set in downcast mode, these two bulbs give off 40 lumens.

There's also a separate red LED that gives off enough light to hike by, yet still preserves night vision. Expect to get up to four hours from three AAA batteries, depending on setting; downcast mode offers about 14 hours.

Bottom Line: Rugged, powerful, and multiple features at a very competitive price.

Price: $45

Predator Rifles: Rock River Arms Fred Eichler

This Rock River tricked-out AR is obscenely accurate — so much for the old myth that bolt guns are more accurate than semiautos. This was by far the fastest rifle for engaging multiple targets — not only do you not need to cycle a bolt, but also you never lose the sight picture between shots. The only downside to this rifle is that it's a pound heavier than the other competitors, but at 7.6 pounds, it's not a beast to carry by any means.

Thanks to the effective, but noisy, muzzle brake, this rifle is also the loudest. With the 1:8 twist, stainless-steel, free-floated barrel, this is an incredibly versatile rifle that could do duty as a hog-hunting or home-defense carbine when it's not slaying coyotes. Despite having the shortest barrel in the test, it produced among the highest velocities.

Price: $1,510

Knives: SOG Bladelight Hunt

Normally, we'd say a gimmicky idea like putting two seemingly disparate tools together in one package is an idea best left to late-night infomercials. But, in the words of the late Billy Mays, the SOG Bladelight Hunt knife/light combo is AMAZING!

Six slim LEDs are mounted in the bolster, three shining down each side of the stainless-steel blade. It really puts the light right where you need it, eliminating shadows while gutting hogs after dark or quartering an elk late into the night. The 3.8-inch fixed blade has a deep belly that's ideal for skinning, and the nylon-reinforced handle provides a decent grip, even while bloody or wet.

Price: $92

Crossbows: Tenpoint Venom

Those that read this test annually will likely ask why TenPoint wins Editor's Choice every year. What can we say? In our opinion, they rule the crossbow world. The new-for-2014 Venom has all the reliable stylings of a TenPoint with a few upgrades.

It sports the company's carbon-fiber barrel design to make it lighter and features a snugger fit for the cocking device into the bow's ACUdraw housing. This x-bow is fast and accurate, never producing a speed less than 350 fps or a group size of more than 1.5 inches at 35 yards.

Bottom Line: The Venom scored 18 or above in all of the five categories. This bow might cost you a few more dollars, but it will help you kill more bucks.

Price: $1,719

Bow Sights: Trophy Ridge React One

The Trophy Ridge React One bowsight is a single pin, micro- adjust, fiber-optic sight that's made of the company's new polymer material, Ballistix CoPolymer. The claim is that it's 25-percent stronger than aluminum yet aids in vibration reduction.

But the real story is its React Technology that makes zeroing a snap. Simply sight-in the indicators at 20 and 30 yards and then the 40- and 100-yard indicators will be automatically set. It comes with a light and a level, plus it's available in camo.

Price: $160

Clothing: Under Armour ColdGear EVO Scent Control

Staying comfortable under the wide range of conditions Mother Nature can dish out is a twofold process: Keep dry and wear layers. Starting with a baselayer is the first step and the most important — having a wet garment next to your skin robs critical body heat. We have been using the Under Armour ColdGear EVO Scent Control and find it amazing.

Under Armour's Moisture Wicking Technology is second to none, moving sweat from your skin to the outer fabric where it can evaporate. UA's Scent Control is arguably the most effective system out there. Utilizing Zeolites combined with anti-microbial silver, the treatment lasts 10 times longer than traditional carbon and is much more effective at controlling scent.

Price: $49

Ammo: Winchester Long Beard

Winchester's new Long Beard XR shotshells employ 'œShot-Lok' technology to increase pattern density and extend the lethal range of capable turkey hunters. Shot-Lok is a solid-through resin cylinder that encapsulates the shot as it travels down the barrel, eliminating — not reducing, eliminating — pellet deformation.

As the lead-and-resin cylinder accelerates down the barrel, the resin fractures, in essence becoming a micro-buffer that dissipates into dust as it exits the muzzle. Available in 3- and 3.5-inch shells, in 4-, 5-, or 6-size shot, it's said to put twice the number of pellets than competing turkey shotshells into a 10-inch circle at 60 yards.

Price: $18-$24

Riflescopes: Zeiss Terra 3-12X50

Top-end German optics come at a very high price, and to this day most 'œregular guys' have never owned a Zeiss optic. Last year, the legendary company announced that it had found an overseas manufacturer capable of building optics to Zeiss' very high standards.

Thus, they introduced the Terra line. Still designed in Germany, they are priced to allow anybody who really wants a Zeiss to own one. For 2014, the line is extended to include 50mm objectives in the 3-9X and 4-12X magnifications. I've carefully examined and used Terra scopes, and they're outstanding.

Price: $349-$600

Rangefinders: Zeiss Victory PRF

Some lesser manufacturers claim phenomenal abilities only to way under- perform and work marginally well under ideal lighting conditions. That's why the Zeiss PRF stands out in the crowd. In field testing, the real world performance was staggering. Used side-by-side with several other rangefinders, the PRF got instant readings in the field at nearly triple the distance of its competitors (1,456 yards).

Price: $699

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