This article originally appeared in Archery Business magazine
By Sawyer Connelly
The tan spackled wall of the room where I store all my hunting and fishing gear is relatively plain by most sporting standards. There are no bucks or turkey fans, simply a few second-hand fishing poles and a lone arrow. The arrow is an Easton Axis 5mm with blue and white Blazer vanes from the first pack of arrows I ever bought, five years ago. The vanes are covered in dried blood, darkened from the once-stark red. The blood is from the first deer I ever took with a bow: a whitetail doe from a creek drainage on Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, a place better known for its scenery and grizzlies than its whitetails. The vanes hold the memory of that first kill.
If you pick up a pre-fletched arrow at your local sporting goods store, most likely it’ll have Blazer vanes. Blazer, owned by The Bohning Company, produces 40 to 50 million vanes per year. Vanes, along with other arrow components— sights, stabilizers, strings, quivers and most other components the industry produces—are levied with a 11% Federal Excise Tax. Those monies are pooled and distributed via the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program (WSFR) to all 50 state fish and wildlife agencies.
If you talk to any biologist or manager in a state fish and wildlife agency about the importance and far-reaching nature of WSFR funds, you quickly realize that if the agency was a deer, WSFR funding would be a great portion of their forage.
In Connecticut, Supervising Wildlife Biologist for Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Howard Kilpatrick, explained that WSFR “funds at least 90% of all the work we do.” For Kilpatrick, one of the challenges of his job is managing whitetail deer in urban settings in the context of differing opinions of how and who should manage the deer. In response to this, Connecticut developed a handful of research projects to study how to manage whitetail deer. One project, part of a 13-year study learning about the movement of urban deer, started with deer collaring and data collection. After two years, a community hunt was implemented to reduce the deer population. As time progressed, Kilpatrick and his team continued to collect data, monitor the collared deer and measure how effective hunters were in reducing the population. Meanwhile, surveys were also administered pre- and post- hunt to measure public opinion on deer hunting in the community with results showing pre-hunt support at 65% and post-hunt support at 80%.
Throughout the East and across the U.S., especially in urban areas, we are seeing whitetail deer adapt, resulting in increased interaction with humans. This presents significant challenges for our wildlife managers. “The funding from Fish and Wildlife Service has been critical for us doing all our research,” Kilpatrick said, “for us monitoring populations, for the survey work we’ve done in communities. It has been important in making big strides to managing deer in these very challenging settings.”
A few states south, Deer Project Leader for Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Brian Eyler, echoed much of Kilpatrick’s sentiments on WSFR funding. “It’s critical for our mission,” Eyler said, “first and foremost, it supports our data collection for harvest data and of course we need those data to track our deer population and make the proper management decisions regarding season and bag limits, to ensure we have a healthy whitetail population for archery hunters and all hunters combined.” Furthermore, Eyler explained how Maryland DNR receives very little general tax dollars from the state. The department, especially the wildlife end of it, relies almost exclusively on special funds, and while the state’s 120,000 hunting licenses sales contribute, Eyler relies on WSFR funding to assist in research from whitetail recruitment studies, disease monitoring (Maryland has both CWD and Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease), and public opinion surveys on deer management in the state. Eyler reiterated, “It is extremely important to us and [we] very much appreciate all the industries that support this. We could not do our job and we could not do anything here as effectively as we do.”
About 2,000 miles west, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Deer/Elk Coordinator Lindsey Parsons deals with whitetail in a much different landscape than Kilpatrick and Eyler, but WSFR funding is just as critical. “We wouldn’t be able to operate without [WSFR], or if we did operate, it would be such a drastic change from how we operate now,” said Parsons. With the first wild case of CWD in Montana discovered in 2017, the state is ramping up its monitoring and this is all made possible through WSFR funding. Parsons explains the states’ wildlife health lab is funded through WSFR money and via WSFR grants, the state has set up CWD surveillance where hired technicians focus on target areas to develop a sample size that detects CWD with a specific level of certainty. This, in turn, allows managers to better map and manage the spread of the disease. Before the arrival of CWD, when a sick whitetail was recovered by an FWP official, WSFR funding made it possible to perform a necropsy.
Beyond disease management, Parsons highlighted the use of WSFR funding to help preserve and protect deer habitat by providing technical input and assistance on habitat projects with various stakeholders as well as the purchase of conservation easements, which also have the added benefit of public access for hunters.
WSFR funding reaches far and wide when it comes to whitetail deer and that funding is critical. “It’s huge,” said Kilpatrick, pausing, “It’s huge.”
Across the country WSFR funds work to help keep deer healthy and on the landscape, so novice and veteran hunters might, too, cherish a blood speckled vane.
And to help us better understand the work of these funds, the USFWS and industry partners have created the Partner with a Payer program. A nationwide initiative, Partner with a Payer works to strengthen relationships, collaboration and understanding between state and federal agency partners and the archery manufactures who pay these excise taxes. Most importantly, to help further this understanding, the Partner with a Payer program offers in-the-field experiences for those in the archery industry. These in-the-field experiences allow you to see, first hand, the critical work your products are helping fund. In turn, this work helps create a better experience for your consumers in the field and ensure those experiences are possible for generations to come.