February 13, 2017
Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz underestimated the collective voice of hunters across the country when he introduced his bill — H.R. 621. Essentially, this bill would have allowed well over 3,000,000 acres of public land to be sold off in what Chaffetz describes as "The long overdue disposal of excess federal lands..."
The reasoning? Fiscal responsibility and the argument that if the land were under state control as opposed to the feds, it would be managed for better revenue. There's a hell of a lot of precedent out there that argues otherwise, which means that an awful lot of the federal land that ends up being transferred to state ownership then gets decorated with a for-sale sign. After that, it's no longer yours or mine. It's private.
What surprised me about this issue is that it's largely a western problem right now. This is not meant to say that bowhunters across the country shouldn't be concerned, because they should. But the 10 states that would have been affected by H.R. 621 area all west of the Mississippi, most by at least half of a day of drive time or more.
Even knowing this, hunters banded together and bombarded Chaffetz with messages that told him he wasn't in a position to give up land that belongs to all of us. To his credit, he heard us loud and clear and admitted so and killed the bill. That's a big win for all of us, but to me also shows something else that is going on in our country.
While I grew up hunting public land, I didn't rely on it solely. I don't today either, but I do hunt at least four or five states a year while never setting foot on private ground. Public land is important to me for a lot of reasons. About seven years ago, as a struggling outdoor writer, I was looking for a way to differentiate myself from the pack. The obvious route to take was to turn down most of the guided/outfitted hunts I was offered and go do things on my own. On public land.
What I accidentally fell into was an undercurrent in our hunting culture where an awful lot of us are tired of the one-percenter mentality surrounding bowhunting. Now, I've got nothing against anyone going on a guided hunt, or buying a killer piece of deer ground to grow bucks. I love America — a lot — and I love our opportunities to do as we please.
I just feel that someone in my position, who is being paid to dispense hunting advice, should probably be actually hunting. Not just showing up and being told where I'll kill something. Again, I'm not saying I won't go on guided hunts, because I will at some point. I just feel that it's my obligation to hunt where others hunt, and to experience what most of us experience.
There is no better way to do that than to chase whitetails, elk, mule deer, antelope and turkeys on public land. I firmly believe that just as I firmly admit there is more to it for me personally than boiling it down to a business decision.
We Are Different
I mentioned that I love America, and I certainly do. One of the reasons I love it so much is that we have public land. A lot of it. There is no place in the world that offers up hunting opportunities to everyone quite the way we do. Even if every piece of private ground got leased up and most of us got locked out, we'd still have places to hunt. Granted, they may not be dream properties that we see on outdoor television, but to be fair, they never were. At least not for deer. Western critters are somewhat of a different story, although comparing public versus private elk hunting is is an apples-to-aardvarks endeavor.
Either way, no one sets foot on most public land expecting idiot animals with cute names that have been shielded from arrows and bullets for most of their life so that they can mature. That's not how it works. Instead, you're allowed the chance to hunt. That's important. You can go out on public land, and aside from a very small percentage of tightly controlled parcels, you can basically target whatever critter you'd like.
That means that not only do you have the freedom to roam wherever you'd like inside the boundaries, you can also hunt for yourself. Those are two parts of public-land hunting that I am personally a very big fan of.
Go Ahead, Puff Your Chest Out
Of course, if you do happen to find some success on public land you're probably going to be damn proud of yourself. I say, as long as you don't get too gross about it, go ahead. Feel proud. You've participated in the most difficult hunting in the country and come out on top. You deserve a few high-fives.
Ditto for anyone who contacted their state reps over H.R. 621. If you took the time to get involved and tell our elected officials to keep their grubby hands off of our land, I applaud you. You've played a small, but very important, role in keeping this country amazing. And you've done something that can't be understated.
You've sent a message that you won't put up with someone messing with the land that belongs to all of us. Sure, that means we will always have a place to hunt and fish. But it also means our kids, and our kids' kids will have a place as well.
Nothing could be more important than that.