Saturday marks the start of rifle season for hunters, and while outdoorsmen are looking to bag some big game, businesses are hoping they spend some big bucks in town.
According to the Division of Wildlife, hunting and fishing brings millions of dollars into Mesa County each year, and in a slow economy that money is more important than ever.
Close to 300,000 sportsmen will visit Mesa County this season looking to take home a bull elk, deer or other wild game. "We're a destination state for elk hunting and those hunters bring a lot of money," says Randy Hampton with the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Hampton says hunting plays a key role in Mesa County’s economy. "Forty-four million a year goes into Mesa County's economy because of hunting and fishing," he says.
Most of that money coming from outside the state says Hampton. "Residents pay $45 for an elk license in Colorado, non-residents are paying $450 to $500." A report conducted for the Colorado Division of Wildlife says these types of activities support close to 800 local jobs.
"We don't often think of hunters as being visitors or tourists but they truly are huge for economic impact," says Jenifer Grossheim–Harris with the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau. While hunters may not be as visible as other tourists to the area they do many of the same things.
Grossheim–Harris says, "They stay in our hotels they shop in our shops they buy gas they eat in our restaurants."
And hunting in Mesa County is something many hunters make a tradition. Grossheim–Harris says, "They may come here every year to hunt so they're actually some of our number one tourists we want to take care of while they're here."
Besides giving a much needed booster shot to the local economy, hunting also helps manage wildlife populations. Hampton says, "They become too large they damage the habitat and may starve to death in the winter."
And while thousands of hunters lurking in the woods with high powered rifles may sound unsafe, Hampton says injuries are few and fatalities rarely happen. "Its incredibly safe when you compare it to things like playing football or driving your car around," says Hampton.