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Gun, ammo sales boom to help wildlife in record way

| Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Been in a gun shop lately? I mean, holy smokes, right?

The lines at the gun counter are five deep. Ammunition shelves are as bare as those that hold toilet paper and milk right after the weatherman predicts a storm. The normal, five-minute wait for a background check is sometimes taking hours.

It's crazy out there.

Wildlife and sportsmen are going to benefit, though.

When the final figures are tallied, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expects to have collected a record $570 million in excise taxes on sporting equipment — or Pittman-Robertson funding — in 2012. That's not only significantly more than the $390 million collected in 2011, it's nearly $100 million more than the previous high of $474 million collected in 2010.

“It's off the chain, it really is,” said Hannibal Bolton, assistant director of the service's Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program. “This is the highest increase we've seen, ever.”

The program gets its money from an 11-percent tax on shotguns and rifles, archery equipment and ammunition, and a 10-percent tax on handguns.

The service has seen increases in sales in each category, Bolton said. The sale of ammunition is up the most and “really driving the pack,” he said, though the sale of long guns also is up significantly.

He attributes that in part to a rebounding economy, given that the buying boom started more than a year ago. The more recent gun-buying frenzy that's been ongoing since talks of gun bans heated up again also are playing a role, he said. In fact, it may lead to an even bigger increase in funding next year, he added.

In the meantime, the Pennsylvania Game Commission and its wildlife programs are going to benefit. By law, Pittman-Robertson money can be used only for hunter education, hunter recruitment and outreach, wildlife habitat, land purchases and wildlife research. The Game Commission received about $13.36 million in Pittman-Robinson funding last year, said Gary Camus, chief of federal aid and grants coordination for the agency. It got $17 million in 2010; that was the highest allocation ever.

The commission expects at least $18.5 million this year, “with a more realistic number $20 million,” Camus said.

“That's the beauty of excise taxes,” said Joe Neville, director of the commission's bureau of information and education. “As the price of ammunition or sporting arms goes up, or the demand for them goes up, the amount of excise taxes goes up. It means sportsmen are contributing more money for wildlife programs.”

So when you're standing in line or searching an empty shelf, remember, at least you're helping wildlife.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors

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