State’s P-R fund share $19 million, up 42%
Harrisburg — The long-running boom in gun and ammunition sales is going to mean more money – a lot more money – in wildlife coffers this year.
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 about 18 percent more than the $390 million collected in 2011 and nearly $100 million more than was 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 is also up significantly.
He attributes that in part to a rebounding economy.
“The shooting public, the shooters and hunters, who maybe have been putting off the purchase of that new rifle or shotgun, are getting back in the game,” he said.
The gun-buying frenzy that’s been ongoing since the tragic mass-murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut has sparked new talks of gun bans, similar to the buying surge that occurred after the 2008 presidential election, Bolton said. It may lead to an even bigger increase in available funding next year.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if this spike could continue. It could happen,” he said.
But the current boom began long before Sandy Hook, he said.
Whatever the cause, it’s going to mean more money for the Pennsylvania Game Commission and its wildlife programs.
By law, wildlife agencies can use their Pittman-Robertson funding for hunter education, hunter recruitment and outreach, wildlife habitat, land purchases and wildlife research. They have to provide a 25 percent match to the federal funds they receive, with that amount based on the number of hunting licenses sold.
The Game Commission received about $13.4 million in Pittman-Robertson funding last year, said Gary Camus, chief of federal aid and grants coordination for the agency. That was up from $13.4 million the year before. The commission got $17 million in 2010; that was the highest allocation ever.
The one it gets this year figures to blow that out of the water, he said.
The commission was in line to get about $13.9 million after just the first three quarters of last year. When revenues from the fourth quarter – typically by far the biggest in terms of equipment sales – are added in, the commission stands to get at least $18.5 million, “with a more realistic number $20 million,” Camus said.
Even if the federal government sequesters 5 percent of that, the commission is expecting to collect somewhere around $19 million, “or about a 42 percent increase over last year,” Camus added.
“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.”
The commission has not yet identified where it might spend any extra money it gets, Neville said.
Bolton said the Fish and Wildlife Service will meet with representatives or the Internal Revenue Service and sporting manufacturers in February to talk about how much tax money was collected, how things are trending and what types of arms and equipment, if any, are selling best. Money will be apportioned to the states in March of April.
But right now, there seems no end to the surge in buying, said Bolton, who said a few firearms manufacturers at the recent SHOT Show in Las Vegas told him they have an 18-month backlog when it comes to meeting market demand.
That’s good news for wildlife management efforts, he said.
“When it comes to the taxes being collected, it’s a substantial amount of money. And it’s really trending to the positive,” he said. “Overall, I think that’s good news for wildlife agencies.”