April 08, 2021
As I write this column (mid-September), there is no visible end to the COVID-19 pandemic. The worldwide lockdown means that many borders are closed, most international travel is at a standstill, and hunting outfitters in foreign countries are without much business for 2020. Hopefully most will survive, but some won’t.
We don’t have to look any further than Canada to see the problem. The Canadian border closed on March 21, 2020 and did not open at all in last yeat. When the border closed, all fishing and hunting lodges, and all fishing and hunting outfitters, lost most or all of their spring and summer business. Then they lost the fall, too. Even if there would've been an opening in the fall, outfitters still lost most American clients because of the late date. Since Americans make up most of the Canadian nonresident business, the border closing was an economic disaster for the hunting and fishing industry in Canada.
The Canadian Federation of Outfitter Associations released an economic study showing that each year, more than 300,000 nonresident clients hunt and fish in Canada, and most of those are Americans. Those hunters and fishermen generate $9.5 billion to the Canadian economy. That went missing in 2020.
Each province is different, but the following will give you some specifics. I’ll focus on black bear outfitters, simply because they make up a large component of nonresident spring hunting. Plus, bowhunting black bears in Canada is something I’ve done almost every year since 1969. Missed it last spring.
There are 73 black bear outfitters, 44 deer outfitters, and 139 fishing camps in Saskatchewan, and all licensed outfitters lead to over 5,000 jobs and $129 million contributed to the Provincial Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Manitoba has 37 black bear outfitters and 34 fly-in black bear outfitters. Bear hunting is a huge contribution to Manitoba’s rural economy.
Alberta has 172 outfitters that belong to the Alberta Professional Outfitters Society. Their outfitters contribute $58 million to the GDP, and they create 460 jobs and pay $12 million in taxes. Outfitters and guides in British Columbia create 2,500 jobs, host 11,000 nonresident clients a year, and generate $192 million to the GDP. There are 143 black bear guides and 129 moose guides in British Columbia. Quebec has 30 black bear guides; Ontario has 26 guides who hunt black bear in the spring; New Brunswick has nine bear outfitters; and Newfoundland has 78 bear outfitters and 50 woodland caribou outfitters. All normal income for those outfitters was lost in 2020.
You might think that these Canadian lodges and outfitters could make up the losses by recruiting Canadian hunters and fishermen. That isn’t happening, and here’s why. Canadian citizens are like Americans: Many have lost jobs and have no extra money to pay for hunting and fishing. For those still working, there is some worry about keeping those jobs, so they don’t want to take time off to hunt.
Also, Canadians are like us in another way. They’re afraid of traveling and exposing themselves to the virus. Finally, there have been closings of provincial borders, so some travel inside Canada has been restricted.
We hunters tend to overlook the huge overhead guides and outfitters have. For example, bear outfitters need bait. Those in more remote areas have no access to butcher shops or meat markets where they can get scrap meats, so they purchase bait for their spring bear hunts. We’re talking thousands of dollars, and that was spent before the border was closed. Sheep, moose, caribou, and other outfitters have huge overhead with the use and keeping of horses, remote camps, four-wheelers, tents, etc. Some of those expenses are recuperated when hunters come, but when they don’t come, the guides take a financial hit.
I had a Saskatchewan bear hunt booked for the spring of 2020 and had paid a $1,500 deposit. My guide rolled it over to the fall, but fall bear hunts didn’t happen either. He then rolled it over until this spring. Let’s assume that spring bear hunting will take place in Canada in 2021 (Update: border closures have once again prevented hunters from taking part in spring bear season.) Postponing hunts might be OK for hunters, but it really hurts the guides and outfitters. Here’s why.
Let’s say that a Canadian bear outfitter takes 20 nonresidents a year at $4,000 per hunt, and requires a $1,500 down payment. That gives him a potential $80,000 gross income, and up front he will have $30,000. But for 2020, he lost $50,000. You might think that because those hunters are coming in 2021 and will pay him the $2,500 they owe, he’ll be OK. However, he normally would have another 20 hunters for 2021, and assuming all the 2020 hunters come in 2021, he’ll have no room for 20 new hunters, so the guide loses that $80,000.
I’ve just scratched the surface for what the guides, outfitters, and lodges have lost in Canada this year. If the virus isn’t solved and/or gone by May 2021, who knows how many will be out of business.
Canada isn’t the only country hit by the virus. Border closings have eliminated other international hunting destinations. In Africa, the borders are closed in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. We’re talking about hundreds of safari camps impacted. Owners of such camps are hardy souls who have been dealing with conflicts of various kinds with governments for years. They will weather this storm, but their situation is tenuous at best.
Our winter is summer in hunting destinations in Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand, and thousands of hunters go to these areas for bird shooting, red deer, water buffalo, and a myriad of other species. However, those countries are closed, and have been for months. As I write this, there is no prediction as to when they will open.
In response to this economic tragedy, Safari Club International held a “Share the Impact Outfitter Benefit” from August 1–22. It was an online auction, with proceeds going to the hunting industry and distributed through hunting outfitter associations. If any organization can raise money for hunting, it is SCI. The auction raised $550,000, with cash donations and apparel sales still taking place. That sounds like a lot of money, and indeed as fundraisers go, it was a big success. However, that amount won’t cover much of the outfitter losses.
Pray for an end to this pandemic so that we can all get back to normal. Do your part and stay well.