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Hunting and fishing is done with family and friends at places that hold special meaning, creating a shared experience that will be reminisced at family gatherings for years to come. Hunters and anglers also play an important role in Iowa economically, as conservationists and as primary recruiters bringing new participants to traditional outdoor sports. It's that role Iowa Governor Terry Branstad recognized when signing a proclamation declaring September 26 as Iowa Hunting and Fishing Day. Part of the reason for the proclamation was to encourage young Iowans to carry on the traditions of hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation. The proclamation noted that 600,000 Iowans support the state's economy by spending $800 million annually while hunting and fishing. Hunters and anglers are encouraged to celebrate Iowa Hunting and Fishing Day at the Iowa Outdoor Expo, September 26 from 9-6 and September 27 from 10-4, at the Des Moines Waterworks Park.
Attendees can read and sign Gov. Branstad's proclamation that references Iowa’s rich and storied tradition of hunting and fishing that predates statehood. It also states that it is important for young Iowans to carry on the traditions of hunting and fishing and outdoor recreation.
The Iowa Outdoor Expo allows participants to try fishing, bow fishing, canoeing and kayaking, outdoor cooking, trap shooting, archery, off road vehicles and more in a safe, controlled environment. "We go hunting and fishing with people who are important to us," said Chuck Gipp, director, Iowa Department of Natural Resources. "Hunting and fishing is about spending time together in Iowa's wild places more than it is about filling a limit or bagging a trophy. There is nothing more valuable than our time and we share that valuable time with those who are closest to us." Those experiences are rehashed, retold and embellished at subsequent get togethers. "People love to tell stories," Gipp said. "And some of the best stories happen at the coffee shop or at family gatherings and inevitably we start talking about a successful hunting or fishing trip and then everyone chimes in with their own bragging board tale. We want to share the experience with our friends and family who were not along and these stories bring them with us." Hunting and fishing is personal to Iowans, Gipp said. They take ownership of the resource and want to protect it and they often put their money where their passions lie. The $30 million spent each year to purchase licenses is used to manage and improve hunting and fishing. License buyers also join conservation groups, like Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, Whitetails Unlimited, Wild Turkey Federation, Izaak Walton League, and encourage support from cities, counties and the state and other organizations to protect and enhance Iowa's natural resources. "National Hunting and Fishing Day celebrates our traditional outdoor sports. Hunters and anglers serve a key role not only financially but as primary recruiter to introduce new participants to these lifetime pursuits,” Gipp said. “They need to teach the next generation and they can do that simply by asking someone to go fishing or to come along on the next hunt." And there are plenty of opportunities right now and more beginning in the next few weeks. Dove, rabbit and squirrel seasons are currently open. Duck season, pheasant season, deer season open at different points in October. "Our pheasant roadside counts are at an eight year high, our deer herd is at or near population management goals, the duck population is in excellent shape so there are a lot of positives for hunters this fall," Gipp said. "For many of our wildlife species today will be referred to as the good old days." Hunters looking to branch out to new areas have a new tool to find hunting ground close to home. The Iowa DNR created a hunting atlas available online at www.iowadnr.gov. It is an interactive map that identifies all public land open to hunting, has information on species in the area, any zones or restrictions, and provides printable maps. The DNR has also been working to expand hunter access to private land through a program that benefits landowners by working to improve habitat on their land in exchange for hunter access. The Iowa Habitat and Access Program (IHAP) now has more than 9,000 acres of private land available to hunters. An economic boost Businesses across Iowa's countryside have a better bottom line because of hunting and fishing. Take Charlie Spencer for example. Charlie has been part of Spencer's Grocery Guns and Liquor since he was old enough to help build the store with his parents in 1950, and has seen the impact hunting can have on this family run business. "Duck and goose hunters get a license the night before, stay four or five days and eat two meals a day and get three tanks of gas," Spencer said. "Then they'd pick up some thing for the kids." Spencer's, in Shenandoah, is 15 miles northeast of the Riverton Wildlife Management Area, which is one of Iowa's premier waterfowl hunting destinations that draws hunters by the thousands to its nearly 4,000 acres of prime marshland and upland habitat. Half a state away from Spencer's in Wright County, Yale Schutt, who started Flatlander Outfitters bed and breakfast near Elm Lake in 2002, has a steady stream of return clients – pheasant hunters – who have booked nights with him over the last few years, which happened to coincide with Iowa's record low pheasant counts. With bird numbers inching higher, business traffic from hunters could improve. In southeast Iowa, outdoor recreation of all variety draws visitors to the dozen communities which make up the Villages of Van Buren. With three stories of Steamboat Gothic architecture, the historic Hotel Manning in Keosauqua beckons weary hunters. According to owner/manager Ron Davenport, up to one third of the hotel’s business is hunting and fishing related. "The biggest impact is the weekends during the shotgun deer seasons. But I get fall bowhunters, a lot of them from out of state. They stay a week at a time,” said Davenport. “Quite a few spring turkey hunters, too. [Hunting] is a major industry around here." At The Dutchman's Store in nearby Cantril, hunters will stop in for lunch, and then stay for the boots. "Hunters come in for custom deli sandwiches; free coffee year round too," said The Dutchman's Kevin Zimmerman. "And then get interested in the boots and clothing." The importance of deer hunting to local businesses isn't confined to southeast Iowa. At Edgewood, near Dubuque, the Edgewood Locker has been a major employer over the years,
including hiring just about everyone in town to help process 4,000 deer hunters brought in. "Deer is a major factor in our business," said Terry Kerns, who with his brother Jim, bought the locker business from their parents in 1999.
During its peak years, deer processing accounted for as much as 30 percent of their business. "Our new building would not be here without deer," Kerns said.