The sun kept glaring in my binoculars as I watched the respectable buck on a hillside way out of rifle shot for me. I was sitting in my rig wondering if I could ease down the road a piece to get a better look; and maybe find a shooting perch away from the road. I wanted him; but the road ahead looked pretty steep and rocky. I was by no means road hunting; I just plain got lucky spotting him while taking a break in my Jeep. Getting closer to the big guy and finding a place to leave my vehicle were the next considerations for me.
I knew my trail-equipped Jeep would make it down the rough road, but getting back up was going to be a challenge. Then it dawned on me: I had another problem. Somewhere along here was a Wilderness boundary established by the US Forest Service (USFS) and I wasn’t sure where it was. The designation of Wilderness means no vehicles or bicycles are allowed.
I lifted my binos for another look and saw the buck, at the least a nice four-point California Blacktail drop down the brushy hillside into a patch of timber. Well, he was working his way in my direction. I thought to myself that if I waited I wouldn’t have to get near the Wilderness area. I’m not one to break the rules.
Normally Wilderness land is great for a healthy hunter who doesn’t mind walking; but these days many of our federal land management agencies have designated new wilderness areas where existing roads pass right through them. The hunter has the obligation to know where these boundaries are and not travel by motorized or mechanized means into these tracts of land.
As I sat there I couldn’t help but feel frustrated at some of the things happening to our public lands in this great country. There are currently 100 plus million acres in the National Wilderness Preservation System. In the Northern Rocky Mountain region alone there are 12 million acres of roadless areas. That gives us a lot of country to backpack or horse into to find hunting opportunities void of vehicles.
How much is enough?
Yes, we need Wilderness areas. But we also need a balanced, multiple use approach to public lands that allows hunters (and other recreationists) reasonable access by vehicle. There’s little doubt that in recent years the management of public lands has drastically changed.
The “environmental” movement of today has placed a dim light on those of us who like to recreate (other than hike) in our public lands. Roads are being closed by the USFS and BLM at an alarming rate. Now I’m not what you’d call a road hunter; but roads are crucial to my hunting grounds here in the West. We like to find bucks or buck habitat from a vantage-point, many times accessed by vehicle, then make a sneak or plan a hunting tactic to get him. Roads are how I get my camping gear to camp; and my buck meat to the freezer. Yet “someone” is taking away a lot of my roads. We need to fix that!
The main thing we hunters can do is get involved in the management of our public lands. We need to be part of the solution. There are simple ways to do that.
First, join the NRA; join your local hunting/gun club; and read great magazines and websites like this one. Join a four-wheel drive club if you drive one or have an interest. The key is to band together with other users of public land so we can form a united and multi-faceted front to face off those who would rather see us stay in the cities.
Also, we all need to learn some tolerance. Tolerance of other recreational interests is one of the first things we need to learn if we expect to beat the land closure proponents at their game. Sometimes is hard to accept other users of public lands because it’s perceived as interfering with someone else’s recreation. Perhaps an example of this is the walking, stand type deer hunter who encounters the ATV hunter. Whether one or the other one is “right” is irrelevant. We have to find ways to compromise and cooperate in how we share our trails and public lands. Otherwise, we all lose in the long run.
The second thing a hunter can do is to communicate with your local, state and federal elected officials. Tell them how you feel; what you believe in; and what you expect them to support in your name. If you want access to public lands, and less Wilderness areas, you should tell them that (in writing and in person if you can swing it). It used to amaze me years ago when I would attend a public gathering about a land use issue and find the room 20 to 1 against me. For every pro-access letter I wrote, there were 20 against it (yes, they were for hiking).
The third thing we hunters can do is inform and educate others (and ourselves) as to what is happening in the management of our public lands. Once you know the whole story, and can convince your friends and family, the word will spread quickly. If you’re on email, get on the web and do a search for topics like land use, or public lands, and see where it takes you. If you end up on some of the sites of the radical green protectionist groups, you’ll be mad enough to wrestle a black bear over a beehive!
Oh, you were wondering about my buck in the patch of timber? Well, no land use problem in the world got in the way of me squeezing the trigger on my Sako .308 as he took his last step out from the timber into a small glade. After I got him home in the freezer, I sat down and wrote a letter to my congressman thanking him for his work in keeping my favorite hunting grounds accessible to me.
The BlueRibbon Coalition is a national recreation group that champions responsible recreation, and encourages individual environmental stewardship. It represents over 10,000 individual members and 1,200 organization and business members, for a combined total of over 600,000 recreationists nationwide. 1-800-258-3742. www.sharetrails.org