LITTLE ROCK - Last year Arkansas hunters harvested 192,748 deer, about a four percent increase over the previous season's harvest of 186,165.
The harvest of bucks went up from 82,973 to 85,284 and the harvest of does increased from 88,341 to 93,838.
So far this season about 38,000 deer have been harvested, according to the state Game and Fish Commission. That includes more than 9,160 in Zone 12 of south-central Arkansas. In no other zone have more than 3,000 been harvested.
Arkansas hunters and fishermen generate $1.6 billion in economic activity, according to a recently completed survey by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, along with game and fish agencies of all the states. They analyzed data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau to gauge the extent of economic activity by hunters, fishermen and others, such as bird watchers and hikers. The survey was completed in May, 2012.
Nationwide, 90 million Americans enjoy activities related to fish and wildlife. About 37 million said that they either fished or hunted or both. About 72 million said they were "wildlife watchers." Some of the wildlife watchers were hunters and fishermen and the others said they enjoyed activities like wildlife photography, birding, hiking or simply feeding the animals in their backyard.
Even though wildlife watchers outnumbered sportsmen, they did not spend as much on their activities. Wildlife watchers spent $55 billion nationwide and sportsmen spent $90 billion. Combined, their total spending amounted to 1 percent of the Gross Domestic Product of the United States.
In Arkansas, 572,000 people are classified as sportsmen because they hunt or fish. That is 26 percent of the state's total population. When wildlife watchers like birders, hikers and boaters are counted, 50 percent of the Arkansas population enjoy outdoor activities. On top of the $1.6 billion in economic activity generated by sportsmen, wildlife watchers add another $26 million to the Arkansas economy.
Arkansas anglers led the nation in the average number of days that in-state residents spent fishing with 28. In Arizona, anglers spent an average of eight days fishing.
Nationwide, six percent of the population over 16 years of age went hunting. In Arkansas 14 percent of everyone 16 or older went hunting last year, putting us among the leaders in states where hunting is most popular.
The leader is South Dakota, where 21 percent of people above 16 go hunting. Alaska and Mississippi are tied for second with 20 percent. In Wyoming it is 18 percent, in Wisconsin it is 17 percent and four other states are tied with Arkansas at 14 percent - Idaho, West Virginia, Montana and Vermont.
In the early 1900s deer populations in Arkansas began a steady decline because of unrestricted hunting and the clearing of habitat for farmland. By the 1920s the deer population had been reduced to perhaps 500.
The state and federal governments set up refuges, which were critical for restoring deer populations. In 1944 Arkansas voters approved Amendment 35, which created the Game and Fish Commission and authorized it to regulate hunting. Now, the Arkansas deer population is an estimated 1 million animals, so the state's restoration of deer is one of the nation's most successful conservation stories.