The National Shooting Sports Foundation toted up the dollars-and-cents impact of hunting upon the U.S. economy the other day and discovered something any hunter could have guessed: the sport is booming. Last year the nation's 19 million hunters spent more than $1.3 billion pursuing some two score species of large and small game.
If this sounds like a big outlay, remember that it is last year's figure. It is a safe bet that this year the tab will be even higher, not because the costs of hunting have gone up but because—along with the number of hunters—the amount of game available continues to increase across the 50 states. Michigan hunters will get their own dramatic evidence of this trend in December when they become the first Americans in more than a century to pursue elk in the state. A small herd of eight of the majestically racked animals, imported from Wyoming in 1918 and installed in the Pigeon River State Forest, has grown to about 3,000 and—to the dismay of fruit growers—is threatening the cherry harvests on the northern shores of Lake Michigan and the strawberry crops along northern Lake Huron.
Michigan state conservationists judge that a reduction in the herd of perhaps 200 would be desirable this year, and so they let it be known that up to 300 special elk licenses would be issued at $25 apiece. Thereupon they were swamped with so many applications—some 23,000—that a few days ago the state turned over the job of selecting the lucky 300 winners to a computer. Governor George Romney presided and personally pushed the button.
Over the past decade SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has taken special pleasure in recording the remarkable general renaissance in American game. We have hailed the return of such natives as the wild turkey to our forests, welcomed such fanciful foreigners as the Hungarian partridge to the north central plains and the chukar to the Far West, and applauded such staid and solid citizens as the whitetail deer. We have probed waterfowl breeding and nesting grounds on the Canadian prairies and have followed ducks to their often fatal rendezvous in the shallow lagoons of the Yucatan peninsula.
In this issue we take up our fall hunting report with a variety of the sport that is as much a part of life in the American Southwest as chili and ranch coffee: an east Texas wolf hunt. "Wolf hunting," writes Senior Editor Jack Olsen in the story beginning on page 66, "is a visual and an auditory experience, an affair of the senses." His story reproduces the mood and atmosphere of the chase, the sounds of dogs and the banter of men. These are some of the special ingredients that SPORTS ILLUSTRATED seeks in its hunting stories, whether the pursuit is of wolves in Texas, of wild boar in Europe or of woodchuck in Pennsylvania.
Some other stories in preparation are devoted to the use of the shotgun in the field, the pursuit of Rocky Mountain sheep in Idaho and of antelope in Montana and an account of one of the most outlandish rabbit hunts ever conceived by man or beast. Each story will try to present a fresh facet in the broad spectrum of the sport—and one more insight into the rich heritage of hunting that is as old as man himself.