Landowners say grouse shooting could provide Scotland's rural communities with a lifeline during the recession.
On the eve of the Glorious Twelfth, the traditional start of the shooting season, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association says the sport needs to be sustained at a time when jobs are increasingly scarce.
Critics such as the League Against Cruel Sports have called the practice "barbaric" and insist the money spent on shoots would be diverted to other country pursuits if it was banned.
Alex Hogg, chairman of the gamekeepers' association, said landowners' wealth helped to keep rural schools open and supported local employment, while the upkeep of grouse moors was a key part of Scotland's diverse landscape.
"This is a modern industry creating jobs but it also about visitors' impressions of Scotland," he said.
"I don't think the Disney Pixar animators of Brave, for example, would have wanted to make a film about a country covered in blanket bracken and trees.
"People admire Scotland's diversity of landscape, its well-managed heather moorlands teeming with wildlife being a huge part of that attraction."
A study by Strathclyde University in 2010 found that grouse shooting sustained 1,072 jobs and contributed £23.3m to the economy each year.
This year the Glorious Twelfth has been delayed until August 13 because the season legally cannot start on a Sunday.
Despite snow and rain causing fluctuations in grouse breeding success, the association believes any boost to the rural economy is "crucial".
Mr Hogg said: "What must be understood is that these people are creating and supporting local employment, keeping schools in remote communities open and ensuring that there are opportunities for young people to remain in these towns and villages.
"I don't think this is something to belittle, especially in the current economic landscape with zero growth now forecast for the UK in 2012. It is something which should be embraced.
"To put it another way, if the Scottish economy was to lose its grouse shooting jobs, the Government's welfare bill would rocket by millions overnight and I doubt if politicians or the general public would want to see that."
Joe Duckworth, chief executive of The League Against Cruel Sports, said: "It beggars belief that a practice so barbaric in its entirety is allowed to continue in this day and age.
"Each year, from August to December, picturesque moorlands are invaded by groups of men and even children armed with guns, having paid for the pleasure of shooting and injuring thousands of terrified birds.
"If this bloodsport were banned, the people who pay many thousands for the right to blast wildlife from the skies wouldn't simply stop spending their money. It would be spent elsewhere in the economy."