My heart sank as I pulled into the parking spot at one of my favorite public land access points. I had just driven twenty-five miles to hunt the last few hours of the day, and I was greeted by what I dread most as a public land hunter; the tailgate of another pickup. Now I was in a dilemma. Where should I head? Should I pull out, or try and locate the hunter and hunt opposite? Geez I thought, nobody ever comes out here. For a minute it almost seemed as if this stranger had intruded upon my spot. With my Plan A torched for the night I needed to act fast. After a few minutes and some internal debating I decided to pull out of the area and hit another area a few miles away.
Throughout history few things have caused as much conflict as land. Wars have been fought over it, legal disputes have raged, and more than a few people have spent their entire lives trying to hoard as much as possible for themselves. Around the world land has been synonymous with wealth and that fact can be widely seen today. Around the world billions of people are herded into overcrowded cities, unable to explore their lands and severed from the natural world. In America we have been blessed by the actions of genuine public servants of the past who worked to protect natural places for everyone to enjoy. Today the United States government owns a substantial amount American soil and grants citizens access on much of that land. Fortunately this allows every American to explore regions of our land and appreciate the beauty and abundance of our land.
That being said, in recent times our growing population has flooded public lands. At times this causes issues between different parties wishing to enjoy the same piece of real estate. As a rule, hunters visit our public lands as much as anyone, and all public land hunters should appreciate the gift of the land we have been given. With the tremendous popularity boom of hunting in the past decade or so, hunters who can’t afford expensive hunting leases have been utilizing our public lands to a higher degree than in the past. In order to avoid conflicts between hunters in the field each hunter needs to follow some basic ethical guidelines when dealing with others on public lands. Each hunter has to develop their code of ethics individually, but here are a few suggestions from a fellow public land hunter.
First Come, First Served
Hunting public lands requires us to implement a basic idea we all learned in kindergarten, “they had it first, so you can play with it after they’re done.” Lots of guys, like myself, try to squeeze our hunts into the edges of our day. Like in the story at the beginning of this article, guys jump into their trucks and bomb over to their local spot hoping to get a chance in the last hour. That’s why it can be a little disappointing when we see another hunter using our anticipated area. My advice is to back out and try Plan B rather than charging into an area where you don’t know the location of the other hunter. You can imagine if the shoe is on the other foot. If it was your day off, you had gotten situated early, sat for a few hours, then during the heart of primetime some schmuck came tromping through your setup scattering wild life like a pedigreed flushing lab, you might take issue with that. In the end, the second in line is almost always doing the right thing by honoring the creed “first come, first served.”
Learn to Share
A number of years ago I was roving about a large and fairly rugged chunk of public land chasing Merriam turkeys. I had done some scouting during the preceding weeks so I had an idea of where the birds would come from. After a long walk I came across another hunter positioned near the edge of the clearing I had planned to hunt. Taking a quick look around to ensure no birds were close, I crept over to him to see what his plans were. In whispered tones I discovered the guy had driven halfway across the country to try and bag a western bird. Not wanting to disrupt his plans, and since he was there first, I asked if it would be all right if I hunted the ridge behind him and cover a different travel route. The man assured me he had no problem and wished me luck. In a matter of a few minutes we had managed to find some common ground and had create a plan to hunt in close proximity. Learning to share our public lands, and being polite with each other, can help the most people enjoy our limited space.
If you’ve hunted public land regularly and spent the time to really learn an area, this piece of advice is for you. As we invest more of our time and energy into a place we can begin to develop feelings of attachment to the spot. After a time, we almost feel like it is ours. Personally I have fallen victim to this in the past and it could lead to poor conduct on my behalf if I didn’t check myself. As public land hunters we must do this regularly if we begin to feel like other hunters are intruding on our spot. Sure, we might have put in more time than the guy across the street and he might be hunting the area completely wrong in our mind, but he has just as much right to hunt as we do. Public land is just that, public, and if you can’t handle others using an area you might need to think about leasing.
One final note that needs to be included in any discussion on public land is the acknowledgement that activity on public land is the best thing for public land hunters. There is a huge movement in Washington DC to sell off and privatize millions of acres of public land. Politicians who can access private ranches, pay for prime hunting leases, and can afford the finest opportunities often forget what it’s like for the common man. They think our public lands are an extra expense needing to be trimmed. If our public lands lie unused you can bet their arguments will gain momentum and soon we will lose arguably the greatest gift to the common man since democracy. In conclusion, if we can learn to wait our turn, learn to share, and check our actions we can all enjoy the gem of the common man; our public lands.