If the 2008 SHOT Show in Las Vegas has proven anything to yours truly, it's that the bucks are big.
No, not the whitetail bucks or mule deer bucks — though ample extra-large sets of headbone can be seen adorning many exhibitor booths, as one hikes the 16 1/2 acres of hunting and shooting gear and gadgets.
Instead of big antlers, what I'm talking about here are the big bucks flowing in (and around) the hunting and shooting industry.
Here in Vegas, a place that knows something about big bucks of the greenback kind, from this humble blog reporter's view, there has been little evidence of a softening economy slowing down the big business of hunting and shooting.
In fact, National Shooting Sports Foundation president Doug Painter said in the SHOT Daily news magazine that the 30th SHOT Show is the biggest yet.
"We have about 1,900 exhibitors, including hundreds of first-time exhibitors," Painter reported. "That's an indication that our marketplace continues to grow."
And it's not necessarily slow growth, either.
"We'll have more than 60,000 additional square feet than last year," Painter stated. "That is extraordinary for a mature show."
As further proof of the current economic strength in the hunting and shooting industries, executives from America's leading firearms and ammunition manufacturers gathered over the weekend at the SHOT Show to mark an important milestone — manufacturers have contributed more than $3 billion dollars since 1991 to help fund wildlife conservation work across the U.S., through the payment of federal excise taxes collected on the sale of hunting and shooting equipment.
To recognize this astounding big business fact, a commemorative check for $3 billion was presented by the NSSF to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service director H. Dale Hall on Saturday.
Along with Hall, the check was ceremonially "accepted" by Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies executive director Matt Hogan.
That above figure is indeed stunning, especially in light of the fact that excise tax payments since 1937 have amounted to some $5 billion dollars.
And according to an NSSF news release, in the past year alone, the firearms and ammunition industry has contributed more than $280 million to conservation by way of the Firearms and Ammunition Excise Tax.
The NSSF also reports that this amount of money demonstrates a 41 percent increase over the last five years.
Very impressive when one considers that according to the NSSF, the complete amount collected through federal excise tax payments (a number which includes payments from the archery and fishing industries too) tops $1 billion a year.
For the record, the federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition products being discussed here (11 percent on long guns and ammunition and 10 percent on handguns according to NSSF info), is collected by the U.S. Treasury, Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
That money is then given to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. After that, the NSSF says the money is then deposited into the Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund, commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson Trust Fund.
Bottom line, as many sportsmen across the country know, these taxes are one of the primary sources for wildlife conservation funding in America.
"Our industry is proud of its leading role in financially supporting wildlife conservation and protecting habitat," Painter said in an NSSF news release.
"We are especially proud that our industry stepped up to the plate for America's wildlife and natural resources decades before 'environmentalism' became a popular movement."
Painter isn't the only one thrilled by such news.
"The federal excise taxes paid by manufacturers of firearms and ammunition through the Wildlife Restoration program provide state wildlife agencies this critical funding necessary to help maintain wildlife resources, educate hunters and fund sport shooting ranges nationwide," said U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service director Hall.
"For example, my home state of Kentucky used these funds to restore elk populations to sustainable levels.
"Now, for the first time in hundreds of years, sportsmen and women have the opportunity to hunt elk east of the Mississippi River."
Hopefully, this good news will continue long after the 2008 SHOT Show has run its course.
"For over 70 years, state fish and wildlife agencies have used the revenue from the Pittman-Robertson program to build the most successful wildlife conservation model the world has ever known," Hogan said.
"One needs only look at the return of species like the whitetail deer, wild turkey, pronghorn antelope and the wood duck, to name a few, to see that this money has been well spent for the benefit of all Americans."
And that's about as close to a sure bet as one can get in Las Vegas.