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Why Public Hunting Land Is More Valuable Than Many Realize

Most of us are aware of the threat from glad-handing politicians who would love to get their greedy mitts on our public land. We've seen these attempts come and go a few times over the last decade, and the ripple it causes —  particularly among western hunters —  is palpable. The pushback from the hunting crowd on these nefarious deals has been impressive.


We know the enemy there. It's politicians who want to transfer federally controlled land to the state. The end goal is to deem the land an asset that simply doesn't pay its own way, and therefore needs to be sold off. Once that happens, it is gone from the hunting public forever.

Lately, I'm witnessing a different kind of enemy that makes me much more nervous than the suits in D.C. It's our fellow hunters, who make no bones about saying that public land is worthless. Their reasoning? Either they don't need it because they have private ground, or there aren't any critters on public so what's the point of keeping it? This is mostly a midwestern and eastern whitetail philosophy, and it's quite possibly the most selfish mindset out there.

Defending public land has been largely a western hunter endeavor, but midwestern and eastern whitetail bowhunters need to fight the good fight as well.

Just because you may have had a few bad experiences on crowded public land doesn't mean all of it is unworthy of your field time. Or, although none of us would ever admit it, maybe the hunting is just too difficult for some of us so we get salty and storm off of the playground. If you want to go either route, that's perfectly fine with me, just don't volunteer away my chance to hunt the same land. If you do, that makes you a thousand times worse than the politicians with the same goal because you should know better.

The Good/Bad Ratio

Here's the thing about public land —  it's all about equality of opportunity, not outcome. We all get the chance to hunt it, but not all of us will walk out of the woods with a freshly notched tag. In fact, most of us won't. When it comes to whitetail hunting public land in most states, a 20-percent success rate would be really high. For the elk hunter in Colorado carrying around an over-the-counter tag on public ground, 10 percent would be an almost unbelievable year.

Judging the value of public land solely on the chance for a mature animal is a bad idea. The best thing about public ground is it gives everyone a chance to hunt.

That means at best one-in-five deer hunters or one-in-10 elk hunters might end up with a freezer full of meat. And obviously, there is no guarantee that those successful hunters will kill 150-inch bucks or 320-inch bulls. Far from it. The odds of taking animals of that caliber is not worth speculating on. Just be happy you can hunt somewhere where it might just be possible.

Now, I know that hunting public land is usually far more difficult than private ground, at least when we're talking generalities. I spend more time each fall on public than I do on private, so I've heard the .22s zinging by and had more encounters with other hunters than I'd choose. It's the nature of the beast.

I've also had plenty of amazing sits on public and had the good fortune of taking turkeys, mule deer, antelope and plenty of whitetails, including my largest ever. I've had so many enjoyable sits on public that they end up weighing the scale on the positive side much more than the negative, so it gets me feeling a little feisty when I hear a fellow bowhunter mention that he'd give up public land in a heartbeat because it doesn't mean much to him.


The Future

If you're privy to any of the inside scoop concerning the hunting industry, then you know there is a general unease about the future. Our numbers are not growing and that's not good. We already have a very small voice in this country, and the smaller it gets the easier it is for us to lose opportunities.

Hunter numbers in general are not so hot these days, which makes public land extremely important. Having access to land is crucial for recruitment and retention.

We have a new world upon us that involves widespread CWD, and what exactly that means is far from set in stone. We've got dopamine traps stuck in our pockets that we stare at all day long and thus far, are doing a great job of outcompeting Mother Nature for our time and focus. We are drifting downstream in an unfavorable direction.

The anchor that will keep us in place, or at least let us hold our position, is access to ground for all. It's not the ability to lease a prime piece of ground, or take out a second mortgage and buy a 40-acre chunk down the road. It's the fact that many decades ago a few truly prescient individuals realized that our land was special and that at least some of it should belong to everyone.

It still does, and that is something that should be celebrated by all of us and vociferously defended whether you hunt solely on public, rarely, or never. It doesn't matter, because what's truly good for some of us is, in fact, good for all of us.

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