AUGUSTA — When Merline Douglas is ready to launch her recreational guide business, probably sometime next summer, she wants to be connected to potential customers.

That’s why when Douglas, who is based in Mount Vernon, saw that hunters spend $213 million in Maine annually, with a ripple effect of $363 million, she wanted to know more.

On Tuesday, she joined about a half-dozen other businesspeople at a meeting of Hunting Works for Maine at the Homewood Suites to learn about the organization and find out how it might help her.

Douglas, who is a broker at Hoang Realty and manages vacation rentals through her company, Dream Maine, is hoping that by associating herself with the organization and its bright orange logo, she’ll be able to tap into a population of people who come to Maine to hunt and to spend money on restaurants, lodging, clothing, souvenirs, guides and recreation experiences.

Hunting Works for Maine is one of about 14 such self-described nonpolitical and nonpartisan state organizations. Funded by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the state groups work to bring the economic effect of hunting into policy discussions in each of its states. Hunting Works for Maine launched in July 2015 and expects to reach 100 members in Maine soon.

In Maine, 181,000 people hunt annually; 40,000 of them come from out of state. They spend about $102 million on trip-related expenses, and more than $60 million on equipment. That translates to $120 million in salaries and wages, and it supports 4,000 jobs.

State Director Rob Sexton said those numbers, which are considered conservative, date from 2011. They are expected to be updated this year.

“Every five years, the Fish and Wildlife Service adds targeted questions to the census around hunting,” Sexton said. That raw data is used in forecasting and it’s used to measure the economic effect of hunting. The same data is collected every five years, so it provides a standardized look at spending and trends in hunting.

And it’s that information that hunting advocates think is important to get across when policies that affect hunting are being considered.

Rep. Gary Hilliard, R-Belgrade, is co-chairman of the group. He said he’s seen the influence of hunting on Maine business.

“I’m a lucky guy. I have a friend in Kansas that has invited me to there to hunt, and I bring him to Maine to hunt.” When the friend comes here, Hilliard said, he’ll bring his son or several friends. They’ll fly into Portland, and stay the night. The next day they might to go Kittery Trading Post or L.L. Bean and then head north to hunt.”

“Seven or eight guys will spend thousands of dollars,” he said.

Hilliard has sponsored legislation to lift restrictions on youth hunting, and he said that results in more people hunting in the state.

“It has had great impact on securing hunters before they get hooked on other interests like hockey or whatever they want to do at 13,” Sexton said.

Douglas, who is working to complete her guide certification now, said she thinks joining the organization will give her business exposure perhaps not to hunters specifically, but to families who are interested in spending time in Maine and giving camping a try. As a real estate professional, she also doesn’t overlook the fact that hunters and their families might be interested in leasing or investing in camps or vacation homes in Maine.

She picked up one of the vinyl window clings, an orange diamond with “Hunting Work$ for Maine,” to take with her.

Sexton said members have posted them in their store windows or reproduced them on menus to signal their membership in the organization.

There’s no risk to Douglas if she joins; because the group is funded by the shooting sports foundation, there is no membership cost to pay.

“If I had thought of this 20 years ago,” she said, “I might be set now.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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