Skip to main content

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.

Public-Hunting-Land

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.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Tree Saddle Hunting: Best Platforms & Ring of Steps

Tree Saddle Hunting: Best Platforms & Ring of Steps

We all need a spot to place our feet in life … and even more so when in the saddle. The two options are a platform or ring-of-steps. For longer hunts, platforms are more comfortable and most familiar. Ring-of-steps are lighter and easier to pack for shorter-duration hunts and long hikes.

New for 2021: Mathews V3 27 & 31 Bows

New for 2021: Mathews V3 27 & 31 Bows

Bowhunter Editor Curt Wells had an exciting visit with Mark Hayes, design engineer for Mathews, as the pair looked at the new V3 27 and V3 31 bows.

Elk Bulls Abound in Colorado

Elk Bulls Abound in Colorado

Bowhunter team member Rudy Bachraty gets his chance to take an elk with Cross Mountain Outfitters of Colorado.

New for 2021: Hoyt RX-5, RX-5 Ultra, Ventum 30 and Ventum 33

New for 2021: Hoyt RX-5, RX-5 Ultra, Ventum 30 and Ventum 33

ATA 2021 NeDuring this video from the Archery Trade Association's New Product Premiere showcase, Bowhunter's TV Mike Carney visited with Evan Williams, pro staff manager for Hoyt Archery, to learn about the new RX-5, RX-5 Ultra, Ventum and Ventum 33 bows.w Product - Hoyt

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Fixed, hybrid and mechanical killers are ready to carve paths of destruction in 2021.New Broadheads for 2021 ATA Show

New Broadheads for 2021

Jace Bauserman - January 06, 2021

Fixed, hybrid and mechanical killers are ready to carve paths of destruction in 2021.

Sometimes, it's a mistake to give deer too much credit for thinking.Can Whitetails Reason? Whitetail

Can Whitetails Reason?

Gene Wensel

Sometimes, it's a mistake to give deer too much credit for thinking.

The biggest day of the new year for bowhunters is here. Here's your first look at the latest batch of hunting rigs.New Hunting Bows for 2021 ATA Show

New Hunting Bows for 2021

Tony J. Peterson - January 13, 2021

The biggest day of the new year for bowhunters is here. Here's your first look at the latest...

Inspired by “Buzzwinkle,” a lit up moose in Anchorage, this Apple and Cheddar-Ale Moose Burger Recipe is sure to be a delicious party on your taste buds with every bite.Apple and Cheddar-Ale Moose Burger Recipe Recipes

Apple and Cheddar-Ale Moose Burger Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

Inspired by “Buzzwinkle,” a lit up moose in Anchorage, this Apple and Cheddar-Ale Moose Burger...

See More Trending Articles

More Stories

Suddenly quiet, the bright-orange, one-time Danish Coast Guard boat drifted with the current, waterA Greenland Hunting Adventure to Remember Stories

A Greenland Hunting Adventure to Remember

Jeff Waring - January 02, 2018

Suddenly quiet, the bright-orange, one-time Danish Coast Guard boat drifted with the current,...

It's often said archers do it The Journey For A Longbow Super Slam Stories

The Journey For A Longbow Super Slam

Nathan L. Andersohn - July 31, 2018

It's often said archers do it "the hard way," but hunting with a longbow is, by far, the...

Hunting seasons don't just happen in the fall. Editor Curt Wells details some spring bowhunting adventures to extend your time in the outdoors!Don't Forget About Spring Bowhunting Stories

Don't Forget About Spring Bowhunting

Curt Wells - March 20, 2018

Hunting seasons don't just happen in the fall. Editor Curt Wells details some spring...

I was sure I was going to have a great season this year. I was shooting well and scouting tripsTough Hunting Season? You're Not Alone. Stories

Tough Hunting Season? You're Not Alone.

Fred Eichler - February 20, 2018

I was sure I was going to have a great season this year. I was shooting well and scouting trips

See More Stories

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Bowhunter App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Bowhunter subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now