The looks I get when I bowhunt South Dakota's public land are impressive. For a lot of the folks I run across, they don't even try to hide their disgust that someone from Minnesota is hunting their deer. The mean-mugging is rampant, and the hostility is sometimes very thinly veiled.
I've seen the contempt in other states as well and have been on the other side of it. When I was growing up, we fished Pool 4 on the Mississippi River quite a bit. The fisherman who always seemed to disregard our personal space and try to fish right on top of us were from Iowa. We hated them. Then I started going up to northern Minnesota to fish, and it was the rich resort-goers with their ski boats from Illinois who drew our ire.
At that time, I didn't need anything Iowa or Illinois had to offer, so I'd have gladly turned them both around at the state line. Later in high school, however, I started traveling to Iowa to pheasant hunt. They had roosters to spare, and in southern Minnesota, we didn't. At least not as many. What they didn't have was water. Where we have lakes and rivers everywhere, they had ag fields and CRP fields. It dawned on me that trading some walleyes for some roosters wasn't that bad of a deal.
That was in the 90s, of course, long before Iowa looked west and decided that if it's cool to screw nonresident big game hunters with exorbitant license fees in the mountain states, they could too. After all, they have the big deer.
What's The Problem?
I've written plenty on how the gouging of nonresidents will be a net loss for hunters and conservation dollars over time, so I won't go there again. I don't blame states for doing it because it's legal and they can get away with it. Eventually, however, they'll have to figure out a new game-management revenue source because we'll lose hunters to the point where the demand isn't what it used to be, and contrary to the current trend, there isn't total inelasticity when it comes to the price someone will pay to shoot a deer or an elk.
What I do blame for this issue is us â€“ the hunters. I run into hate for nonresidents so often that it's easy to see why we condone charging out-of-state hunters 30 times what we pay to hunt the same animals. After all, those hunters might be making it three percent harder for us to hunt, or they might have access to land we don't have. They deserve to be punished, right?
And we all know it's the nonresidents who are the law-breakers and the lazy road hunters. They shoot all of the forkies too, so that none of the bucks can reach maturity. They are a loathsome lot. They really are.
If you can't tell yet, I'm being facetious. I've heard every nasty thing that can be said about nonresidents, and it would be laughable if it wasn't so common. I've probably hunted close to 20 states in my life, much of it on public land while bumping elbows with residents and nonresidents alike, and my honest opinion is that a decent percentage of hunters are just lazy.
That laziness doesn't breed hunting success, but most of us would never admit why we don't punch our tags very often. There must be some outside reason, and that reason just might be the hunters who reside across some arbitrary lines on the map. At least that's as good of an excuse as any.
The Real Problem
There have been a pile of articles written lately on the loss of hunters. Bowhunters haven't felt it quite as much yet, but we will. It's coming, and stopping it won't be easy if it's even possible at all. The older generation is giving up, and no one is coming in to fill their spots.
We have fewer people paying for conservation, and none of us wins from that. None of us wins when our collective voice is weakened either. We are at a whisper now, just wait another decade or two to see if anyone at all will listen to us. They might, but then again, they might not. Access is an issue too, and not a small one. Most of us have fewer places to hunt than we did not long ago. That trend is going to continue, and it doesn't bodewell for our numbers.
I don't know what to do about either issue, although I've got some ideas. What I do know is that we could remedy our propensity to punish one another because of where we live.
My Fellow Hunters
I know that there are plenty of bowhunters who will read this and get angry. They'll say, "Where I hunt is overrun with nonresidents, and the woods could stand to clear out some!" Sure, everyone has anecdotal evidence of too many hunters in the woods. I spend half of my fall on public land, I get it.
But before you fire off angry emails or leave comments that I'll never read, do this one thing - when you're justifying gouging nonresidents for their licenses or advocating to severely limit their opportunity, replace "nonresidents" with "my fellow hunters." Try it just once to see how it sounds.
Because those folks that you're willing to gouge, they are a revenue source just as you are, and their voice is needed just as much as you are. They buy hunting gear, and maybe they introduce a few youngsters to the sport you love. They are like you, whether you'll admit it or not, and if they go away eventually you will too. And if not you, your children or grandchildren. The karma might not prove instant, but it will happen.
When it does, it will be nobody's fault but our own.