We have here another great article from friend of The Hunt Blog; Ryan Hughes. In this post Ryan highlights some pertinent points for the future of hunting. We as hunters are rightfully quick to get up in arms and lobby for our hunting rights. Unfortunately preserving access to public land for hunting is often over-looked. Ryan highlights this and sheds light onto how some states are approaching this issue and offers some solutions for gaining access. Enjoy!
If you ask anyone who regularly hunts in California what the hardest aspect of California hunting is, nine out of ten times you will get the answer “finding a place to hunt”; and on top of that, finding a place to hunt where you have a chance to see or successfully harvest game. No matter what animal you are going for in California, often times one of the hardest struggles of being an average hunter is gaining access to a piece of land to hunt on.
I am writing this article to address a problem that I have just began to notice as I am growing up, beginning to hunt alone or with a friend, and having the urge to become a more independent hunter. Growing up as a young hunter, a good portion of my hunting has been on private land with my father or another adult, and most of the time it has all been on land that I have hunted many times that has become extremely familiar to me. One thing that I have found hunting has given me is a sense of challenge and pride, and for me the most effective way to stimulate that sense is to go somewhere I have never been and learn about the dynamics of a new place and way of hunting. If you are reading this, and realize that you are the kind of hunter who would rather drive around and glass a hill until you find a reasonable sized deer to fill your tag on, then that is fine; there is nothing wrong with that, it is a type of hunting and is practiced and understood by many. For me and many other hunters, the adventure of new surroundings and facing new challenges is a feeling that is very surreal and gives us a sense of life. As it may be easy to some hunters to find a new place, there are an incredible amount of variables that come into play once you find a spot such as over population of hunters, underpopulation of game, and I am pretty sure that you can figure out a few more on your own.
There are an infinite amount of extraordinary places to hunt in the state of California, in fact California is the one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world and has been called a biodiversity hotspot by many. Being such an incredible state to hunt in, and having so many different game animals that are inhabitants, it is quite a shame that many hunters are not able to hunt to their full potential because of many barriers such as distrust from land owners, commercial use of land, land that simply does not allow hunting, and of course many other reasons. A great real world example of efforts to defend access to land is Montana’s HAEF as a part of the Block Management program; this acronym stands for Hunting Access Enhancement Fee. The HAEF is a fee that hunters have to pay when they buy certain tags and licenses. I happened to stumble upon the acronym HAEF when I was doing some research on the Montana fish and game website, so I looked it up and was inspired by the Block Management program.
From what I gather, what the fee basically does is ultimately help in an effort to create more huntable land to the public. This program reflects many others in western states such as Wyoming’s Private Lands Public Wildlife and Colorado’s Ranching for Wildlife. When I read this I wondered why we don’t have a program like this in California; the only possible answer that I could come up with is that most huntable land is probably privately owned, but of course that is just my opinion and I could not find any credible information to back that statement up, but regardless, maybe a program like that would be good in our state for many hunters that do not have the privilege to access a nice piece of property to hunt on. Who knows? Maybe something like that could even open California up to out of state hunters. A huge reason that many out of state hunters do not look at California as a destination is because it is so underestimated as a western hunting state, despite its diversity that includes coastlines, mountains, deserts, and everything in between.
There are a lot of different approaches to this problem that many “average Joe” hunters are facing. Many people might say that the state government is not doing their part, or even that it is the individual hunter’s problem, and he or she should just figure it out on their own. Regardless of the view, there are many solutions that you could take part in. The biggest eyebrow raiser for me was the fact that license fees are so high, and resident hunters are getting nowhere near what should be expected in exchange. If you have the opinion that nothing is going to change, and the government wont help no matter what, and that we are going to have to fend for ourselves and make the best out of this situation, then the simplest solution is that the hunter needs to either save up his or her money to gain land access, or the individual better go out and meet some land owners. From what I have noticed, being a social person along with being a likable and trustworthy person can easily put you looking down your sights at a monster buck. Its not always going to be the case, but if you are out there in the outdoorsman community meeting people, making friends, and becoming a well-known guy then it is not too unlikely that people are going to let you hunt on their property at least once or twice. There is not much more too it than that. Another great way to open the doors to filling tags is to do some research. A lot of people I know, including myself, use websites and other forms of social networking to educate themselves on places to hunt. There are so many resources out there such as first hand experiences and even articles like this one that will inform the reader about places to hunt, ways to hunt, people to call, and even leads to more information. If a hunter is doing his or her homework and educating themselves properly, there is no telling what they will find and where they might end up, even if it does involve putting a few more miles on the road than planned.
Now if you are on the other end of the spectrum and believe that the government needs to do something about our hunting situation, then a big question that comes to mind is “what kind of incentives should be given to landowners?”. If you were the owner of a piece of property, what would make you want to allow hunters to have access to your land? Money of course! Some landowners are already getting money in exchange for rights to hunt. Would they be making more money if we were all forced to pay a small fee, and all the money generated was spread to landowners across the state? If you look at it the way I do, then yes it is very likely that they would be making more money.
A huge problem with that would be the fact that many hunters would not want it because of course, many hunters already have access to all the land they want. It is pretty obvious that there is no easy way to solve this problem. There are so many ways to go about it and a lot of people that might not enjoy one way of doing it. It seems to me that it is our problem, and as the hunters of California, we must solve it together. Often times it truly seems that hunters are viewed as second class citizens by the state and by many people who live in California, which is very much due to modern California culture in much of the state. This attitude about hunters plays a huge part in the diminishing of our hunting rights. A great example of this where I live is the destruction of land by the wild hog population. Many landowners do not allow hunters access to their land, but with the increasing threat of wild hogs, agriculture is often times in danger. Landowners like this will complain to the media, but avoid the single solution to this problem: hunting and trapping the pigs to control the invasive population.
No matter what we do to try to enhance our hunting in California, we absolutely need to keep playing roles in the outdoor community. Many people don’t see it, but as hunters, we put more time, effort, money, and care into our wilderness and wildlife than any other group of people simply because we truly care and are passionate about our hunting. As we try to address our search for hunting and adventures, the most important thing along the way is to be smart, be safe, and of course put in the efforts needed to keep hunting in this beautiful and diverse state.