|$4554.00 worth of scaled quail, Midland, Texas 2007.|
I've been rolling this number around in my head for about three months now, and I'm not sure what to think. The figure, compiled by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, is certainly a lot to ponder.
The study indicates that in Texas, the average quail hunter spent just over $8600 for roughly nine days of quail hunting during the 2010-2011 season (the year before Texas birds really nosedived.) Texas, as many of you know, is a pay-to-play state -- there's virtually zero public land, which means very expensive leases, which many times go into the five-figure stratosphere. So that's probably a number that skews the figure.
I'll let Dr. Rollins and his cohorts' study speak for itself, but it raises some interesting questions, namely:
- Nine days? Really, guys? If I'm going to drop some serious coin on a Texas quail lease, even if I live in Kansas, I'm spending more than nine damned days hunting them. I spend more than a cumulative nine days a year shaving, for the love of God! I've never cared how many I kill, but nine days concerns the hell out of me -- for a portion of the world blessed with what is the best (yet dwindling) quail habitat on this planet.
- According to the study, the number of Texas resident hunters has plummeted 79 percent since 1981. Frightening, but I guess I can't blame folks. It's an expensive sport, and in a where racks and beards matter, shooting something not much bigger than a songbird apparently isn't as cool or as worthwhile in our time-strapped, measuring stick society.
- How does the price of a quail -- or a decent season of quail -- compare to what a trophy deer hunter spends in Texas? High fence or low fence, a deer outfitter commands thousands of bucks (pun intended) for the privilege to shoot a decent-sized trophy. That's one animal. And the success rate I'm guessing are a lot higher than the probability of shooting a decent day's worth of quail (to say nothing of a Texas limit). So are the economics really in favor of a bird dogger?
- What will gas prices do to this equation? With most Texas quail hunters (read: urban) at least three hours from decent Bob country, will it cease to be worth the effort? Or will it increasingly be the domain of the well-heeled? Sad stuff.
And then, of course, I think about my own season. I shot exactly two quail in Kansas this season. It was on "free" public land, and I'm grateful for those birds. But when you add up the numbers -- gas, lodging, bird dog expenses, vacation time -- well, you get the picture. I might as well have taped some balsa wings on gold bullion bars and shot them in my backyard. Putting a price on our avocation is indeed a slippery slope.
Yet I soldier on, undeterred, as I'm sure most of you do. After all, you can't put a price on happiness.
My wife will read this, after all.