Though crop losses from record rainfall earlier this year reached $200 million, hunting prospects across South Texas are excellent and the money spent on related activities throughout the region will be welcomed, according to a Texas Cooperative Extension economist.

"This is one of the most important economic activities of the year," said Jose Pena, Extension economist at the Texas A&M University Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Uvalde. "When you factor in dove hunting with the upcoming deer and quail season, these activities can boost cattle ranching activities during the year. A lot of ranchers have been taking advantage of hunting lease opportunities or have gone exclusively to hunting operations in lieu of cattle production the past decade."

In the early 1990s, cattle production was the predominant use of range resources, Pena said. However, for the past several years, change has been taking place as more Texans have taken interest in outdoor activities, such hunting, fishing and bird watching.

"Wildlife is now the primary resource on most South Texas ranges," he said. "You're seeing $10-$20 (per acre) gross revenue per acre from wildlife."

By comparison, grass leases for cattle generate $1.50-$3.50 per acre depending on the productivity of the range, Pena said. Recent studies have indicated a decline of those who hunt and fish nationally. But there are plenty of hunters in South Texas, even though hunting lease prices continue to escalate, Pena said.

"The total number (of hunters) is lower, but lease income is higher," he said. "It's a supply-demand equation. "A number of prime South Texas hunting leases are booked for several years, and when they come open, they fetch a high premium. That dictates the cost of other hunting leases in the region."

A good supply of deer throughout Texas is anticipated for the 2007 season, especially in South Texas, Pena said, due to an abundance of moisture throughout the summer.

"I think it's safe to say we have got a very good crop of wildlife," he said. "The fawn crop is excellent, and I think that's directly attributed to the availability of forage for deer and the nutritional benefits of that quality forage. As you drive the roadways throughout the region, you don't see much wildlife along the highways -- a lot of the wildlife is staying in pastures and are not having to search very far for a food source."

AT A GLANCE: South Texas hunting activities in 2007 will be an economic boon to the region and help offset some $200 million in crop losses as a result of record rainfall during the spring and summer. Here's a look at some of the contributing factors:

- Wildlife use on rangeland is generating $10-$20 per acre, which in most cases, exceeds cattle production revenue.

- - Record rainfall has resulted in plentiful forage for wildlife, especially deer. That has sparked enthusiasm among hunters heading into the upcoming 2007 deer season. Many will be traveling to South Texas and spending money at area restaurants, grocery outlets and outdoor retailers.

- - Nature tourism and wildlife resources continue to be an emerging part of the South Texas economy. Everything from bed-and-breakfast activities to bow hunting are offering ranch owners a way to diversify traditional agricultural production portfolios.