By Alex Comstock
Public land holds a special place in my heart. I learned to deer hunt on public land, and it affords so many people a bountiful amount of opportunity when it comes to hunting. Yet, some people don't find public land important, and some public land is in jeopardy of being transferred out of federal hands which could ultimately lead to the loss of public land. If you only private property, I think you should still appreciate public land and value it, and here's why.
Without Public Land Hunters Lose Access
Without a doubt, one of the biggest reasons people start hunting, but then stop is because they don't have anywhere to hunt, and don't want to travel long distances to hunt public land. I've talked to numerous hunters that can't get permission to hunt on private land, and because of that fact, they end up not hunting at all. Now, I don't neccessarily agree with that mindset, as I travel long distances to hunt public land, but not everybody is like that.
Right now, a big issue within the outdoor world is the transfer of federally owned public land to the states, which would ultimately mean the loss of a lot of that public land. When federal public land is transferred to the state, states often sell that property and hunters and sportsmen rarely get to use it. Often times when states acquire federal land, they will sell it to the highest bidder. When the states don't sell the land they acquire, you still may not have the same freedoms as you would on federally owned public land. In a Field and Stream article titled "This Land Was Your Land", the article is quoted "Colorado bans recreation on all 2.8 million acres of state trust lands. Arizona and Oregon prohibit or restrict target shooting on state lands. Montana forbids camping for more than two straight days and all campfires on state lands. New Mexico bans camping, campfires, and discharging firearms on all public-trust lands." These are just a few examples of what happens when land is sold to the states. Don't think this is just a western problem though. In the same Field and Stream article as quoted above, it mentions "This is your fight. Don’t be fooled. If you live outside the West, don’t assume that the efforts to transfer, and inevitably sell, our vast public lands isn’t any of your business...This crazy idea to transfer public lands will gain traction in the Midwest, and the East, and the North, from sea to shining sea." At the end of the day, if we lose our greatly important public lands, I feel as though it could be the start to something much more terrifying in the hunting and outdoor world.
Public Land is Important To Keeping Hunting Alive
This is more or less just expounding on my first point, but I'm also taking a look at this from a slightly different perspective. I strongly believe that public land is the backbone to hunting. Period. That doesn't mean you have to hunt public land, but I think all hunters should support public land. If we begin to lose high percentages of public land in this country, I believe that it could be the start of the end. Deer hunting in particular is going down in numbers, and we need to change that.
The more public land we lose, ultimately the more hunters we'll lose and that could start to affect many other things such as money made on tag sales, etc. This could start to slowly destroy our sport of hunting, and that's why so many people are taking public lands seriously. Even if you don't hunt public land, but want to provide support, do something small and join a group such as the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. A little help from a lot of people can make a big impact.
It Presents a Unique Hunting Challenge
In this last point, I'll explain why I find it important that whether or not hunting public land is a yearly staple of yours, you should at least give it a try to provide context and have the experience. Hunting public land will always present a unique challenge that I think hunters should cherish. It can test your hunting skill unlike any other hunting situation. I've hunted public land more or less all of my life, and it has shaped a lot of how I hunt.
When you hunt public land, there are often rules and laws you have to follow that you don't on private property. You may not be able to use mineral or bait of any kind on public, even if it's legal in the state. Other laws might be in place on public land such as restrictions on dates when you can hang stands, you might not be able to use screw in steps, or even leave stands up over night. These are are seemingly small things that could make hunting more of a challenge. Other factors such as dealing with hunting pressure, knowing how to understand sign and get to areas that don't see as many hunters, and ultimately trying to harvest a mature buck on public land can be challenging. At the end of the day though, I find hunting public land to be one of the best ways to become a better overall deer hunter.
Public land is important to hunting for a multitude of reasons. It's not only important to the longevity of hunting and access for people, but it's also important for hunters that want to test their skills and become more seasoned as well. You don't have to hunt public land to find it important. But whether you hunt it or not, it will always be a crucial component to hunting.