Hunting is big business for Virginia
Every year in the fall and winter, fathers, mothers, grandfathers, sons, daughters, sisters and brothers set out to honor a tradition that has been around for as long as mankind.
Hunting is a national pastime and during the holiday season, many families spend every bit of their free time in the woods stalking deer, bear, elk, and any other type of wild game.
In Northern Virginia and many parts of the U.S., the most popular game to hunt is deer.
“White-tailed deer garner more interest than any other wildlife species in Virginia. Many Virginians relish the chance to hunt, watch, or photograph this graceful mammal,” Lee Walker, outreach director for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries said.
Deer hunters provide lean, healthy meats for their families as well as those less fortunate. Non-profit organizations like Hunters for the Hungry allow hunters to donate meat for hungry families.
Hunters for the Hungry is an organization that operates through the solicitation of successful hunters to donate high-protein, low-fat venison. To donate, hunters simply go to a local processor who participates in the program and H4H then pays the processor a discounted fee to process the meat for donation.
Since its inception in 1991, Virginia’s hunters have donated almost 20 million servings for people in need.
Loudoun County one of best hunting grounds in the state
More than 231,000 deer were killed in Virginia last year. According to Walker, Loudoun County had the third highest number of deer harvested during the 2011 season.
“Loudoun County, obviously with the size, has a healthy herd of deer and in 2011 it harvested 6,064 deer in the county,” Walker said.
Although no projections in deer population are kept for specific areas or counties, Walker estimated the deer population in the state is about 1 million deer. Hunting season averages about 200,000 to 250,000 deer harvested a year throughout the state.
“That is a really good level and allows us to keep the population pretty stable,” Walker said. “We use carrying capacity, but we don’t want to have so many animals they are effected by disease or there is too much human interaction with them. Of course we don’t want too few animals where we are concerned about being able to maintain a healthy population of them.”
According to the VDGIF Virginia Deer Management Plan, as the largest wild herbivore in the Commonwealth, deer have a profound impact on forest ecosystems. Deer also inflict millions of dollars in damage to crops, trees, and gardens and are a safety risk on the states highways. Deer populations have the capability to double in size over the course of a year without proper containment.
Social tradition with a high economic impact
Despite what one may think, hunting has become big business across the state.
“Deer hunting is a deeply-rooted social tradition in Virginia. The economic impact of deer hunting in Virginia is over $250 million annually,” Walker said.
Walker noted the economic impact of hunting stems from the purchase of industry gear, lodging, meals, gas, meat processors and license agencies.
“You have the individuals who are hunting and those individuals will end up buying associated equipment like clothing, ammunition, guns, bows and a variety of other things,” Walker said. “In turn, that obviously employs businesses that produce that equipment, as well as the retail outlets that sell that equipment.”
While Walker noted the impact on local economies from hunters visiting, President and CEO of Visit Loudoun Patrick Kaler could not provide specific impact of local hunters visiting Loudoun to hunt.
“It really hasn’t showed up on our research and I think that is because to hunt in Loudoun County, you are going onto private property. So I think it’s a lot of family and friends going off and doing that so it hasn’t shown up because we don’t have the open parks,” Kaler said. “As you know it is clearly big business, but for us the limited resources we have for public access is just not there.”
Some old style hunters like to process their own meat, but most use meat processors located throughout the area.
Loudoun County has only two meat processors in the county.
Jason McIntosh, owner of McIntosh Custom Deer Processing in Aldie acknowledges he does deer processing part time, but his business is boosted greatly throughout deer season.
“It varies, but I usually do 300-400 deer a season. I charge $70 and will cut the deer in anyway the customer wants it,” McIntosh said. “For sausages, which get sent up to Pennsylvania, it varies in price anywhere from $4 to $5.50 per pound.
“I do this as a part time job because I enjoy doing it. Eventually, I would like to it be a full time business for myself,” McIntosh said.
Perhaps the most well known processor in the area is William and Linda Linthicum of Linthicum Slaughtering in Manassas.
“Typically, we dress 2,000 to 2,500 deer a year. We used to process as many as 4,000 deer a year, but the economy has taken that down some,” Linda said. “Right now, the majority of our revenue comes from deer, as far as income goes because domestic animals have gone down the same as the deer have over the last three years. It is definitely our busiest time of year.
“We process a lot of Loudoun County deer down here, because we have been here the longest and people seem to like the job we do,” Linda said.
The Linthicums skin the deer, wrap them and cut them up for $75.
Typical processing for a deer with no specialty meats – jerky, sausages, and bolognas – takes about a week.
Hunters who want specialty meats must pay by the pound and both McIntosh and the Linthicums ship that meat off to Pennsylvania for specialty types.
Licensing agents also contribute to the local economy as all hunters are required to possess a license to hunt anywhere in the state of Virginia.
According to Walker, the state has more than 800 licensing agents that are often ‘mom and pop’ convenience stores in local areas.
“These stores rely heavily on hunting seasons, because a lot of their business picks up during hunting season due to hunters coming in for licensing,” Walker said. “These are generally most helpful for the rural areas of the state.”
There are approximately 12 licensing agents in Loudoun County, including stores in Leesburg, Sterling, Ashburn and Purcellville.