A BANG THAT'S WORTH TEN BILLION BUCKS Hunting? There's no sport more incorrect, politically. Yet 17 million typical Americans still love to spend their money on it. Like Jane Fonda, for instance.
By Alan Farnham REPORTER ASSOCIATE Rahul Jacob

(FORTUNE Magazine) – TO EVERYTHING, there is a season. And for things that hop, quack, bare their teeth, or gambol through woods, the season for being hunted is over. Oh, you can still shoot something, if you must. Ask Craig Boddington, editor of Petersen's Hunting magazine, if there isn't a raccoon season, somewhere, that's still open. But don't phone him when he's busy: ''Can I call you back? I'm hanging heads on my wall.'' All across America, taxidermists are fitting eyes into sockets, gluing paws to plywood. They alone are busy. The other industries that profit from the ^ more than $10 billion hunters spend each year have gone into a kind of hibernation. The motels have taken down their HUNTERS WELCOME! signs. The Skoal and Slim-Jim salesmen have put their feet back up on their desks. Everywhere, man is waiting for procreation to do its stuff. With any luck, it will. And when hunters return to the woods next fall, they will find that nature has restocked its shelves with replacements for the animals just killed: 50 million mourning doves, 28 million quail, 22 million squirrels, 102,000 elk, 1,000 wolves, 750 bison, plus miscellaneous goats, wolverines, and musk oxen. Stripped of its heavy moral freight, and considered (for the moment) strictly as a business proposition, hunting had a good year. The two ingredients essential to its success -- hunters and prey -- existed in abundance. Some 17 million Americans chased hundreds of millions of animals. The targets that mattered most, commercially, increased. Hunting big game (mostly deer) accounts for 60% of total hunter expenditures. And deer are now so plentiful they have assumed pest status. As for small game, God must have loved 'em, 'cause He made so many of them. While the supply of targets is holding up nicely, their human predators have problems. They're aging. As a percentage of the population, they're shrinking. Their enemies have put them on the defensive. But contrary to what you might have heard, hunters have not been shamed out of existence. While the TV news shows protesters trying (unsuccessfully) to disrupt a presidential hunting trip, it may not say that 45 states have now passed anti-antihunting laws protecting hunters from harassment. Jane Fonda hunts. Read that again, slowly: Jane Fonda hunts. Grandmas, university dons, psychiatrists, clerics -- all hunt. Rock & roller Ted Nugent hunts, and with a bow and arrow. The sport's commercial muscle remains firm. On weaponry alone, hunters spend $1.4 billion annually. And they don't stop spending in recessions. Explains Alan DeNicola, coordinator of an Orvis shooting school in Vermont: ''A recession can be the best time for hunting. It's an inexpensive escape. Once you've spent the money for a gun, clothing, and so on, the only costs are a license, ammo, food, and getting where you're going.'' Of the more than $10 billion spent by hunters, most (49%) goes for guns, ammunition, camping gear, vehicles, and other equipment. The rest goes for food and lodging, 19%; transportation, 16%; buying and leasing land, 9%; permits, licenses, and other government fees, 4%. That 4% ($435 million) foots nearly the entire bill for state wildlife restoration programs. However much the National Audubon Society and Greenpeace spend to make the world a comfier place for animals, hunters, gunmakers, and target-promotion groups such as Ducks Unlimited spend more (through license fees, taxes, and direct contributions). Urbanites may think of hunters as Yahoos, but the truth, demographically, is that they get less Yahoolike all the time. Compared with the hunter of five years ago, today's is better educated, more likely to be a professional or manager, and earns more (mean income: $43,120). He owns a larger number of firearms (three shotguns, five rifles) and is more apt to use a different firearm for each kind of game. Says Victor Romano Jr., director of product planning for Remington Arms: ''The market is becoming more niche oriented, more specialized.'' Close to 40% of hunters don't own a single handgun; only 12.5% belong to the NRA. A surprising number think legislation restricting handgun ownership would be dandy. They have scruples. Every hunter, it seems, has a different inborn sense of what he will and will not hunt. Statements like the following are typical: ''I could shoot a turkey, but I couldn't ever shoot a deer or moose.'' ''I've got mixed emotions about sheep.'' Most feel obliged to eat the game they kill. One other thing about today's hunter: He's less likely to be male. According to government statistics, women accounted for 9% of all hunters in 1985. Since then, their numbers have increased. No one is quite sure how many there are now, but marketing experts put females as high as 11%, and growing. Says Mary Coleman, 37, a mother of three attending Orvis's shooting school in Vermont: ''Not every woman can nurse a baby, bake a cake, and then go out and kill. But some can.'' She can. She has hunted with her husband, the world over. Beth Ann Bippen, vice president of Central Bank of the South, in Birmingham, Alabama, first got interested in the sport when she accompanied her husband to his hunting club. ''I took my sewing. I didn't plan to hunt. Then one day he asked me if I could harvest a deer, and I said, 'Well, I believe I could.' '' Bippen estimates that she and her husband spend $5,000 a year on the sport. The dollars spent by hunters pack special oomph, because they hit small towns, far off the interstate. There, merchants look to hunting season the way Macy's looks to Christmas: It can make or break the year. In South Dakota, Mark Kayser of the department of tourism estimates that hunting, mostly of pheasants, brings his state $90 million annually. (Citibank's South Dakota payroll, by comparison, is $69 million.) Every October, from all over the U.S., tens of thousands of hunters converge on Sioux Falls, from there fanning west along the Missouri River to little towns like Gregory, the ground zero of pheasantdom. AS OPENING DAY (October 19) approaches, Northwest Airlines begins to average 20 wait-listed customers per flight into Sioux Falls. My own flight is packed. ''Where you goin' to hunt?'' my seatmate asks me. How did he know? ''Well, why else would you be comin' in?'' On board, no one can talk of anything but cocks (male pheasants). This year's crop is said to be a bumper. Declares a man from Arizona, ''Buddy of mine drove by a field down there the other day, near Gregory. Said it was nothing but cocks. More birds than he's seen since 1960!'' (Appreciative nods all around.) The scene at the Sioux Falls airport is straight out of a Preston Sturges movie: From baggage claim tumble Igloo coolers, gun cases, dog carriers, tents, and gear. Wives -- bored and ignored -- talk to dogs through wire bars (''Cattie-Lou, that airplane trip has to be the most stressful thing you've ever done.'') Tobacco spittle speckles ashtrays. Over the P.A. system, this announcement: ''Please check your claim checks. Many gun cases look alike.'' On local TV, the NBC affiliate is running an ad for a furniture store: ''It's open season on values! This La-Z-Boy recliner was $600. ((Sound effect: Blam! Blam!)) Now just $399. This gun cabinet was $400 ((Blam! Blam!)) Now $299.'' At Sid's Crown Liquors, where you have to blow the dust off the champagne, Sid's sales will jump 20% for two weeks. At Scheels Sporting Goods, manager Jim Skrovig walks a novice (me) through his store, explaining what sort of stuff a beginning hunter might need: $200 for a shotgun -- say a Remington 870 Express. ''That's been our most popular model. We've sold 125 so far this season.'' An insulated parka ($100); grouse pants with zippered legs ($50); boots by Browning, with Gortex ($120); orange cap ($3.99); gun-cleaning kit ($4.99); game carrier ($3.99); Remington shooting glasses ($24.99); Johnson & Johnson first-aid kit ($16.99); gun case ($20). Since deer season opens soon, I also might want a rifle ($400) and scope ($220). And because elk take a higher caliber, I might want still another rifle more elk-specific. Enroute to Gregory, at a roadside rest stop across the wide Missouri, all the dogs are wearing bright orange collars. Late afternoon in Platte, South Dakota: At the Barrister restaurant, a fund- raising dinner is getting under way for Pheasants Forever (a target- promotion group modeled after Ducks Unlimited). At each place setting, these items: knife, fork, spoon, a Pheasants Forever booklet sponsored by Schmidt Beer, a sample of WD-40 with a tag saying TRY IT, and a little bag of Hi Pro dog food by Purina. At last, Gregory. On Main Street, at Stukel's Cafe, Karen and Cal Stukel expect to do ''triple, maybe four times'' the business they ordinarily would do, thanks to pheasant season. Next door, Kathie Bartlett, owner of a custom bootmaker called the Arrow 'S', says, ''Our boots start at $450, and we get close to 50 orders a year from hunters. A man from Arkansas just ordered a $4,000 pair in alligator. He already had elephant and ostrich.'' A few miles down the road lolls Dallas -- less a town than a collection of storefronts. Once a year, on Opening Day, it comes to life, like a topless Brigadoon. You can get a striptease and a Bud for $1.50. Word has it that last year's stripper, Mercedes, was so hot she once made $500 in a night. Her replacement is a disappointment. She looked fine in pictures she sent. But on arrival, it was clear she'd eaten quite a lot since then. She'll make $75 a night, plus tips. She picks dollars off customers' noses. Not manually. Mark Kayser of the state tourism office says total visitor sales in Gregory County jumped 10.4% between 1990 and 1991, ''strictly because of the boom in pheasants.'' That boom is abetted by government subsidies that reward farmers for letting land lie fallow. Fallow, it can become a better habitat for pheasants. ''A lot of farmers,'' says Garry Jacobson, owner of a Sioux Falls electric motor company, ''can make more by selling access to their land than they can from farming.'' Jacobson and his friend Tom Batcheller, owner of a feed company, have turned their 2,000-acre spread near Gregory, the No Wives Ranch, into a pheasant Disneyland, planting it with every bush and shrub beloved of birds. The two don't get a commercial return for their efforts. But their community has awarded them a conservation plaque. And they get a PR benefit, since they use ! the N.W. for entertaining business friends. For eight weeks each fall, Disneyland becomes the South Bronx, and guests go home happily pheasanted. Which begs the question: Is hunting a useful venue for doing business? Warren Stephens of the Arkansas investment banking family says, ''Hunting can be awfully useful -- not to develop business, but to cement it. It promotes trust. You've got to trust the people you go hunting with.'' Says Herbert Kelleher, CEO of Southwest Airlines: ''You find out a lot about a person, hunting under wilderness conditions: Can he withstand adversity and not lose his poise? Is he really the fellow he appears to be? On one trip, I noticed that a man of whom I'd had only the highest opinion, up to then, wasn't picking up his birds.'' (That's bad, because it's wasteful.) ''Another guy and I, one time, got lost. It took us five hours, walking in the dark with flashlights, to find our way out. He kept his cool, and we talked pleasantly the whole time. It's like New York: Some New Yorkers are never better than when they're in a blizzard.'' Hunting, though, will always be more dangerous than golf. ''Oh sure, we laugh about it now,'' says Neill Cameron, a senior executive with Ogilvy & Mather in Atlanta. He tells of a hunting party gone terribly, terribly wrong. The guests included a new client of Ogilvy and the young account executive assigned to him. The young man hadn't hunted before and was unaware of the cardinal rule of Southern hospitality: Don't shoot the guests. He inadvertently blew his client right off the wagon he was seated on. The experience wasn't fatal. The client emerged with only a spray of little bandages across his face. Ogilvy still has him -- and the young executive. Like any other industry, hunting has its fads and fancies, trends and hot products. The hottest include these: -- Turkeys. On the prey side of the business, turkeys have become a major hit. Nearly extinct in the late 1930s, they today number four million. ''They're the comeback story of modern game,'' says Gene Smith of the National Wild Turkey Federation. Unlike their domestic cousins, wild turkeys are smart and wily -- which makes them exciting to hunt. -- Bows. A third of all hunters hunt sometimes with a gun, sometimes with a bow and arrow. Most bows cost $175 to $350. Rocker Ted Nugent's own Signature line goes for $338. Retailers sold over 2,000 last year, but Nugent thinks that represents ''only 10% of our potential market.'' Because an arrow's range is so much less than a bullet's, bowmen must get close to prey. That means they must master stealth -- an extra challenge that accounts for part of bow hunting's popularity. The rest is that in almost every state, bow hunters have their own separate hunting season. By using bow and gun, a hunter can stretch his hunting time. -- Muzzleloaders. These guns, which retail for $110 to $400 each, are modern versions of the type Davy Crockett used. They fire only one shot before they must be reloaded, through the muzzle. Like bows, they present the hunter with an increased challenge: He's got just one shot. And like bows, they have their own season. ''They're the second-fastest grower for us, after bows,'' says Toby Bridges, spokesman for Bass Pro Shops of Springfield, Missouri, the nation's largest single sporting goods store. -- Scents and lures. A hunter going after deer, let's say, will use essence of skunk or fox or bear to conceal his own telltale human smell. Or he can use essence of deer to convince deer he's one of them. He can go a step further and exude the fragrance of a deer who wouldn't mind being asked out on a date. As the label on the one-ounce bottle of Select Doe Urine ($4.99) by Wildlife Research Center Inc. explains, males ''smell a new doe in their area and want to check her out.'' Is the urine game expanding? It is, says Dawn Phenix, owner of Buck Stop Lure (''America's most alluring company''). The fastest-growing end is estrus scents. Buck Stop's estrus line, Mate-Triks, includes Doe-in-Heat, the label of which depicts a perspiring buck -- tongue lolling to one side -- in the final paroxysms of joy. ''The natural scent bucks can't resist,'' says the bottle. ''Brings 'em kissing close from miles away.'' Shelf life: indefinite. -- Calls. Want game? Just call. Depending on what you want to have come running, you can use a World-Class Goose Flute, a Long Honker Goose Call, a Bleat-in-Heat Deer Call, or a Push-Button Yelper -- all of them available at Scheels or any other well-stocked sporting goods store. If you don't want to do the calling yourself, have a cassette do it. Pop this one in your player: Howling for Coyotes, by Dr. Ed Sceery, animal scientist. -- Prey acquisition systems. The term, which FORTUNE just this minute coined, refers to high-tech products that give hunters a sensory leg up on animals. Infrared binoculars permit vision in low light. Bionic Ear, which looks like an oversize set of headphones, raises the wearer's hearing to Natty Bumppo sharpness. Trail monitors, the most ingenious of the acquisition systems, look like key pads of a home security system. A hunter sticks one to a tree. He leaves. For however long he's gone -- two weeks, a month -- the timer's infrared sensor notes the type and frequency of animals passing by. When the hunter returns one afternoon, the unit tells him the next deer should be coming by at 12:58. It's 12:56 now. He smokes a cigarette, hums the ''Minute Waltz.'' There she is -- the 12:58 -- right on time! -- Videos. If bow hunting, muzzle loading, and scent laying don't come naturally to you, don't worry. Videos will teach you all you need to know. Some of the 28 tapes in Jay Warburton's The Sportsman's Workshop series (sponsored by Chevy Truck) cover deer hunting, turkey hunting, and many subjects more abstruse. Warburton had his first million-tape-sales year in 1991. -- Schools offer another way to shorten learning curves. Orvis operates two shotgun schools -- one in Vermont, the other in Florida. Ann Wright of Texas bought a class for her husband, John, as a 40th-birthday present (cost: $950). Later she decided she wanted one herself. So in October the Wrights arrived in Manchester, Vermont, where they spent three days amid the fall foliage, disintegrating clay targets with the Breedings (Dan and Sheila, contractors from San Jose, California) and others. They took snapshots of each other, the women's diamonds glinting off gunmetal, the air heavy with black powder and patchouli. Scott Springer, an IBM product manager from Indianapolis, practiced shooting targets thrown from a tower, his wife dutifully camcording every hit. ''You getting this?'' he asked.

-- Corporate leases. As suburbs spread, the amount of public hunting land diminishes. Hunters are using more private land, much of it owned by public companies. Beth Ann Bippen and her husband, for example, lease the land they hunt on from Weyerhaeuser. According to the October issue of Deer & Deer Hunting magazine, ''more than one-third of all forested land in the southeastern U.S. is leased to deer hunting clubs. Much of it . . . by timber companies.'' -- Lodges and clubs also are profiting from the decrease in public land. Explains Maytor McKinley, owner of the $3 million Chesapeake Gun Club in Bridgetown, Maryland: ''It's a relatively new phenomenon, the luxury club. It used to be that if you wanted to go on a quail hunt, you had to know somebody who had an estate or plantation: Lord Fauntleroy went shooting with Lord Kumquat.'' But anybody willing to pay $285 a day can use the Chesapeake, where amenities include Oriental carpets, a steam bath, and a rathskeller. Customers include executives from Du Pont. The Eagle Nest Lodge, on the banks of the Big Horn River outside Hardin, Montana, hosts executives from Merrill Lynch. ''I've spent half the morning running up and down stairs, delivering faxes,'' says Francine Forrester, who manages the lodge with her husband, Nick. The Nest, built of logs, is spartan only in appearance. Its baths have Camay soap. Breakfasts feature pheasant sausage; dinners, tarte Tatin. Says Nick: ''We have guys who want to guide for us, just so they can eat the lunches.'' -- Sporting clays. The phrase describes a new, nonlethal outdoor game, similar to skeet, in which clay targets take the place of birds and animals. Players walk along a path, from which they try to hit clay ''birds'' thrown into the air, or ''rabbits'' rolled along the ground. ''I call it golfing with a shotgun,'' says Bob Davis, president of the U.S. Sporting Clays Association. ''You can enjoy it without having to kill. And there's nothing to clean when you get through.'' In 1986 there were two such courses in the U.S. Now, better than 200. In Virginia, the Homestead resort has just installed a mile-long, 12-station course worth some $500,000. A computer system called Birdbrain springs its traps. The facility has already proved a potent draw, upping hotel revenues by $1 million a year. Families like it. So do executives. So does Homestead management, since it includes a revenue-producing pro shop. Can motorized, fringe-topped carts be far behind? For an industry so well entrenched, hunting has an iffy future. Antihunters nip its heels daily now, sometimes drawing blood: Organizations such as the Fund for Animals have legally blocked the hunting of grizzly bear and bison in Montana, mountain lions in California. Meantime, hunters are losing a more crucial battle: one for kids' attention. Who needs hunting when you've got Nintendo? Manufacturers lament the fact that hunters, both as a market and as individuals, are maturing. Not only have hunters done a crummy job selling the sport's virtues to the unconverted; by ceding moral ground to opponents, they have spread the belief that no virtues exist. But they do. Advocates cite hardihood, camaraderie, and conservation. But few mention its greatest social function: re-grounding human carnivores. With every passing day, more Americans hold a view of nature informed by Disney movies, singing frogs and talking mules. They feel uncomfortable connecting animals with food. Says a Manhattan travel agent of his own squeamishness: ''It's gotten so that if I'm in a restaurant eating a steak, and I see a dog walk by outside, I can't finish it.'' Hunting cures all such illness by exploding sentimentality. In the moment a hunter pulls the trigger, he takes responsibility for an act other meat eaters pay someone else to do. By killing, he willingly couples himself into the chain of life and death binding all other predators and prey. And thus bound, he experiences nature in a way far more intimate than whale watching: He watches it, and then eats it. Hunters provide an inconvenient reminder that man's elevator, evolutionally speaking, remains stuck between floors -- above beasts, but a good way below angels and Fine Linens. When hunters hunt, they confirm their animal status, just as surely as they confirm other kinds of status when they drive a Ford, drink a Coke, or buy a mohair sweater. Though everywhere the forces of uplift strive to deny man's heritage, hunters embrace it. Like 17 million Cody Jarretts in an environmental remake of White Heat (''Top of the food chain, Ma!''), they sense they're a little out of step. But that doesn't mean they're about to go quietly.