The Washington Times - April 19, 2009, 08:55PM

When the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recently did a study about who spends what on any particular hunting activity, it didn’t surprise me that waterfowl hunters ranked highly among the biggest spenders. Over the past 30 years, I’ve tried to keep up with certain goose hunters I’ve known, but eventually discovered that being perennially broke was no fun.

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The guys and gals who spend their days dressed in expensive goosedown and GoreTex parkas and bibs, along with pricey waders and high-dollar shotguns, forked over $900 million on equipment, guides, hotels, motels, restaurants, gasoline and other items, in the process generating more than $2.3 billion in total economic output in one year (the study was for the year 2006). The $2.3 billion included millions in federal and state tax revenues and also supported more than 27,000 jobs and generated more than $8.5 million in employment income.

The report shows more than 1.3 million people, 16 years of age and older, hunted waterfowl in 2006.  Waterfowl hunters represented 10 percent of all hunters, 7 percent of all hunting trip-related expenditures, and 6 percent of all equipment expenditures.

“The financial support [they] provided to conservation, and the economy as a whole, is significant,” said Rowan Gould, acting Director of the USFWS. “Waterfowlers, like many other sportsmen, have a proven track record in their contributions to the U.S. economy, and that’s certainly something to take comfort in during these tough economic times.”

It is pretty well accepted by hunters of all walks of life that waterfowlers tend to be younger, have higher educational achievements, and are more affluent compared to other hunters. The study confirmed as much.

Personally, it’s this affluence that has done me in over the years. Look, I’m a newspaperman, not an attorney, judge, restaurant chain owner, lawyer or physician — I’ve shared a water blind or field pit with all of those professional types - and these fellows didn’t know or care that I had to watch every penny I earned.

Once, in a Kent County, Md., field pit, one of four shooters said, “Let’s make it interesting. Let’s bet $200 on the first bird bagged by any one of us. Three of them agreed to the bet, but I begged to be exempted lest my wife divorce me should I lose. Sure enough, one of the guys dropped a big Canada before anyone else did and he earned $400, plus got back his initial investment.

Then  there was the time I was invited to a wonderful prime rib feast at the end of a day’s duck shooting in Louisiana. The hunter who invited our group of four forked over nearly $500 in cash when the check came. The man peeled off five $100 bills, never flinched, but instead laughed and over and over said what a great time he had. I don’t believe the wine we drank at the end of the day altered this gregarious man’s generosity one bit. He obviously was a big spender and didn’t mind showing it.

Once, on a trip to Canada where we enjoyed a wonderful duck and goose outing, several of the hunters I met had to fly back to various towns in the U.S. and they wanted to take home some of the waterfowl to grace their dinner tables. They paid hundreds of dollars each to an outfitter who arranged to have the birds cleaned, plucked, then shipped back home in Styrofoam coolers that contained dry ice. The cost for each finished cooler box, plus the shipping costs, ran into the hundreds, not to mention the several thousand dollars they spent on airplane fare and hunting guide fees.

Yes, I can believe that many waterfowl hunters are big spenders. It’s just that I can’t afford to be one of them. My bank account won’t permit it. But if the day ever comes and I hit the lottery for millions of bucks, I’ll make the guys that I mentioned above look like cheapskates. I’ll show ‘em what a waterfowl hunter I am.