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July 29, 2008

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Phil Bourjaily: An Important Revelation

Last week some of the New York staff were taken out to Colorado by the National Shooting Sports Foundation who put them up in a glorified Holiday Inn where they spent a couple of days listening to presentations about the problems facing hunting in the 21st century. I didn’t go, as it is my policy not to attend industry events that don’t involve me shooting stuff. Also, I wasn’t invited.

Those who went came back with a newsflash: access to land is the number one issue facing hunters today. No kidding. It took two days in a hotel to figure that out?

We do a pretty good job of recruiting young hunters, through special hunts and seasons. It’s when the time comes for those new hunters to strike out on their own that we’re failing. If they don’t live where hunting land is plentiful, or if they don’t have dad’s deer lease to hunt on, we won’t keep them as hunters. I always remember a conversation I had with someone at Texas Parks and Wildlife about a youth program that took disadvantaged kids hunting. Being that this was Texas, where everyone pays to hunt, I asked, did any of these kids ever hunt again? “No,” he said.”It’s the only time in their lives they get to go.”

I live in a place where free access to private land remains relatively common, although that’s changing fast. There’s a big public area about twenty minutes from town. It gets hunted hard, but it’s close. In short, it’s possible if you are a high schooler or poor college student – or poor adult for that matter - to find a place to hunt nearby.

But that’s true in fewer and fewer places. It doesn’t bode well for the future of hunting if we get the next generation all excited about the sport then give them nowhere to go. Exit question: how hard is it for the young, impecunious and unconnected to find a place to hunt where you live?


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It's coming down to pay to play for most people. Leasing, buying land or paying for outfitted hunts seems to be the wave of the future.

Depredation permits in summer will allow farmers/landowners (and the people who lease their ground) to kill off extra does (keeping the herd in check) while allowing the property to be undisturbed for paying clients in the fall who are buck hunting.

Free hunts will be on public ground unless you are blessed to know a landowner who isn't outfitting or leasing to an outfitter or hunter.

It's sad, but I don't see anyway around it and I really can't blame landowners for doing it.



Locally, there has been a reduction in huntable land due to massive annexations of rural land into local municipalities. Several thousand acres have been taken off the 'huntable land' list because they are now in governmental jurisdictions that prohibit hunting. Much of this land is prime deer habitat. The balance is cultivated land that provides habitat for geese and pheasant. Sorry kid - can't hunt there anymore, it's "in the city" now.

We have a small State Forest nearby, but it is overrun in season to the point of futility.

We have a brand new mall in our county (opened one year ago). It sits half empty, surrounded by a thousand acres of corn and bean fields. The job and housing market in our area collapsed - it will be a decade before the area recovers. In the meantime - all that prime hunting land is off limits.

Joe Novak

Its interesting...I live in Illinois, north of Chicago, about the same driving time between Chicago and Milwaukee...and around here, it is very much a pay to play proposition. I have been hunting only once in Illinois, and even that was a birthday gift with an outfitter. If you have a boat, its a little bit more accessible, but even those places tend to be draws for blinds in a parking lot. I go to school in Minnesota, (a little northwest of St. Cloud) and there is public land that is relatively plentiful there. If you want to pheasant hunt, thats nice, but most college kids don't have a dog, and the pheasants aren't so plentiful as to make it worthwhile without one. But when you want to go goose hunting, you have to go on a field, and good luck with getting permission, I asked probably thirty or forty people, with one yes. All the rest was leased by a guide or spoken for. If you don't know anyone, you're hosed.


I grew up from the time I was four hunting on 900 acres of private ground. This was some of the best ground I have ever seen. Once my dad and grandpa couldn't make enough farming anymore it had to go. Now I am hunting cruddy public land. Even on the private land there poachers. Once a poacher went up to me when I was around seven years old and told me to get off the property. Thats how bad it gets. In CA it is getting more and more difficult to find land to hunt on. Not to mention the prices of gas, ammo and guns. As the population grows more and more of our hunting spots are going to be shopping malls and houses. Also, as technology grows more advanced more and more people are becoming out of touch with how we survived during the great depression and how we fought for independence with (gasp) "guns". People need to realize that meat doesn't grow on trees. If this urban sprawl doesn't stop we may soon be hunting with cameras at zoos.

Dand D.

I hunt in 2 states, Maine and Connecticut. In Maine, most of the land is owned by timber companies or land management firms. In order to keep the tax breaks the state offers, the companies maintain open use policies. No permission need to hunt or fish the lands. Most only ask to stay away from active logging areas.

In Connecticut, there is plenty of public land to hunt. Between private and public land archery, shotgun and muzzleloader, the deer season lasts from Sep 15 to Jan 31. As far as private land goes, if you're a bowhunter there is ample oppurtunity. Everybody is sick of the deer eating their landscaping, so no one charges. Plus in Connecticut, if you charge for people to use your property, you loose the sates landowner liability prtoection.

Dan D.


I grew up in AZ and NM with easy access to public land and land owners but never hunted (I know, I still kick myself) because my dad never took us and no one invited me. When I moved to CO 9 yrs ago I decided to just do it for myself and my son. I begged into a hunt with a friend and his family. It wasn't that public land wasn't available or that I was unknowledgeable about what to do, it was just getting started that was the hardest. The same with finding new land to hunt; I know where it is and how to scout and get access, but finding time and making the effort are big opponents.

Let's face it, it is far easier to find a set of clubs, a good golf course and a golf buddy than it is to start hunting. I think that in analyzing this we would be short sighted to only consider access to land, but also need to consider the increased availability and convenience of alternative. For so many it's not that find a place is so hard, it's just that other pastimes are so easy, relatively speaking.


Here's the poop (?) from the Oklahoma area.

There are several, high profile, public access hunting areas in the state.
I live within two (2) miles of one of them. The deer hunting is "Archery Only", .22LR is the ONLY rifle allowed and because it is adjacent to a COE lake, shotguns are "non-toxic" shot only. The spring of '08, they finally opened the public area to "spring turkey" hunting.
Most of the privately held land (I have forty acres) is inaccessible due to previous "slob" hunters, poachers and outlaws. Access can be gained to these properties, but it may take a while to develope a relationship with the landowner. I have been able, within the last six years, to gain access to only two. A landowner in the next county east, has provided me with access to two additional properties. I young man I mentor, has opened up an additional half-section (320 acres) to me, but I can access it only in the young man's company (or his father). That's okay with me.
As I stated on a previous thread, access to privately held land is available by developing a rapport with the land owners.
But don't show up on a farmer's doorstep with tattoos, earrings, piercings or your pants down around your knees! Don't light up a cigarette unless he does, and don't try to carry on a conversation, spitting tobacco between your boots! Terribly "unpukka" old chap!

It's out there, but it ain't always easy!


Matt in MN

Here in MN it's two different situations, in the northern part of the state there's lot's of public land, lots of deer, bear, grouse and some decent waterfowl. In the south and west it's mostly agg land and unless you know someone you'll never get on. There are some WMA's owned by the state, and if you're willing to hoof it around some swamps there might a pheasant still around after opening weekend.

DB in IL

I live in the Chicago 'burbs and hunt only deer. Good public hunting grounds are 2+ hours away. And in a lot of these areas, it is difficult to draw an either-sex permit for the general firearm season. I started hunting at 15, and now, four seasons later, I have yet to draw an either-sex permit for opening weekend. I always get stuck with a late-muzzleloader season permit. No one in my family hunts, and I did my best figuring everything out on my own. As a young hunter just starting out, without getting to hunt opening day of deer season with a buck tag in my pocket, it is a miracle I have maintained an interest. Also, I did not draw an either-sex permit this year for the firearm season. Stuck with late-muzzleloader. People complain about having fewer young hunters. Well, try giving them a place to hunt.

SD Bob

In South Dakota (hence the moniker Sd Bob), there is lots of places to hunt without any fee other than license, gas and ammo. Doesn't matter if it's pheasants, ducks, deer, antelope, swans, elk you name it. Obviously the farther from town you get the better it is, but still, access is pretty good!

Jim in Mo.

Forget the young and impecunious, how about the unconnected period. If an older experienced hunter can't get permission to hunt then how can they take and teach a young person. I like the idea of a landowner giving permission to hunt only if you bring a youngster to teach.

Duck Creek Dick

Not many complaints here in N.E.. Colorado. The Colorado Division of Wildlife purchased extensive properties around here years ago, the Tamarack S.W.A. being its crown jewel. By kicking in a $20 bill the hunter has access to the "Walk-in" areas of numerous participating local farmers. One could hunt pheasants every day of the season and not go on the same property twice. About after the second weekend of the season, you pretty much have it all to yourself and your favorite dog.
Deer hunting is by drawing only, but that keeps the crowd out and gives you a quality hunt.
Duck hunting is a little slow and the D.O.W. will be making a few restrictions on this part of the South Platte drainage. Goose hunting is available but that is where you may have to have a lease.
All in all, not like it was in the mid-50's and 60's, but a fellow can still hunt if he puts his beer aside and gets off his LazyBoy.
The Colorado D.O.W. has a youth mentoring program where an adult can take out a young hunter before the regular season. They also have a D.O.W. volunteer program, of which I am a member. I pick up trash.

hunter Dann

I live in a suburb of syracuse new york.I have a big chunk of public land 20 min away,a 900 acre bow hunting only area 5min away, 30,000 acres 45 min south of syracuse that is multiple state forests and WMA! plenty of deer, turkeys,grouse,rabbits,hares,some pheasant stocking.also even more public land up north 1to3 hours away.We also have the finger lakes for waterfowl hunting.Trappin is also alowed.


Here's the scoop in Arkansas:

Akansas has a ton of public access areas both large and small. Anyone with a license can hunt the Ozark, Ouachita, Bald Knob, and White River National Forests. These four areas comprise hundreds of thousands of acres. In addition Wildlife Management Areas are throughout the state. I live within spitting distance of four WMA's that comprise nearly 40,000 acres of public land. All of these areas are in the White River and Cache River bottoms. They are hunted hard, but anyone can small game, deer, and waterfowl hunt. Only gun hunts and turkey hunts are by permit only. Also, one can drive an hour's time and be at anyone of 10 WMA's. I only hunt one of them that's an hour away just because it's too far to drive with four dollar gas and Akansas' wages. All in all, if a person wants to hunt in Arkansas, all he has to do is find the nearest WMA or National Forest. Besides that, I'm lucky and have networked with friends to hunt their property as well as my own family's 1000 acre ranch in the foothills of the Ozarks. I really have more trouble deciding what species to hunt and where than I do finding a place to hunt.


On a side note, I already have my three year old daughter involved with my outdoor pursuits. Sure she may grow up not liking to hunt, but she will be raised in a hunting environment and will respect what I and others do. My friend and I are building an 8'x5'box blind to take our daughters bow hunting in this year. If you think this is too young then let me tell you that she told my wife last week that she wanted to go hunting with daddy this year and help shoot a deer. We hadn't talked about going hunting yet, she had volunteered herself at 3 years old

Bernie Kuntz

From Montana: Lots of Forest Service land in the western two-thirds of the state are open to hunters (mostly for elk), but it is difficult for me to imagine a first-time teen-age hunter tackling that sort of hunting without a lot of help.

The Block Management Program run by the state has opened about seven million acres of private land for hunting. I have had good experiences on this land and bad.

The remainder of private land is not as accessible as one would think, but it is probably better than most states.

One disturbing reality--the state offers a special youth pheasant hunt on the Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge near Malta, MT in the northcentral part of the state. Teen-agers get to hunt the refuge that has been off-limits all season. Well, ZERO youths showed up for the last two special youth hunts! Can you imagine!? When I was a teenager there is nothing that could have stopped me from participating in a hunt like that!

In general, I think Dave hits it on the head--we can recruit all we want, but if young people don't have a place to hunt without paying a fortune, they'll do something else.


Will you be at the Grand American this year Phil? I'm leaving in just under a week. It will be my second time. Anyone else going to the Grand. I realize this isn't trapshooters.com, but I figure there may be some other trapshooters that frequent Dave's blog.


Will you be at the Grand American this year Phil? I'm leaving in just under a week. It will be my second time. Anyone else going to the Grand. I realize this isn't trapshooters.com, but I figure there may be some other trapshooters that frequent Dave's blog.


Sorry for the double post!

Del in KS

For the last few years I have only hunted Kansas and Missouri. Both states have plenty of public hunting. Kansas also has access to many thousands of acres of private land thru the
walk in Hunting Area program. There is a free state atlas with maps showing all the open hunting areas. If you can read a map you can find plenty of places to hunt. There is excellent hunting for waterfowl, Turkeys, and Deer. Kansas has the best Pheasant, some mulies and also Sandhill crane hunting. My hunting buddies and I have more hunting places than time to hunt them. Guys if you want a big whitetail Kansas is more famous but Northern MO has some huge bucks and now they have had quality deer management for 4 years. A legal buck must have at least 4 points on one antler. antlerless tags are only $7 each after you buy the Non-res anydeer tag. Every year my friends and I load my truck with meat and some nice horns in Macon Co. Mo. This fall I will be taking 2 teenage boys deer hunting in Kansas. One of those kids found a matching pair of sheds that are HUGE with 13 points.

as moeggs

There is actually a fair amount of state land around my area in Michigan. However, much of the hunting has been destroyed with the gas and oil wells being punched in. I don't think too many people give a damn though.

tennesse hunter guy

My family has several leases and the over 35,000 acres of public land in the county where i hunt in tennessee. My family owns about 400 acres of land personally and anyone who wants to hunt can hunt for free as long as they ask first.


I'm blessed AND cursed. My brother and I have access to OVER 200,000 acres of PRIVATE land to hunt. (Various properties. One farm alone covers 70,000 acres of woodland, soybean and corn fields traversed by three roads and the intersection of two rivers) But I don't have time to scout them. Mind you a 10 mile by 10 mile tract of land is 64,000 acres.

I am quite reluctant to ask or take other hunters with me for fear that they will RUIN our hunting rights. They can do this in a number of ways but the ones that come to mind the most are: 1.Going back and asking for permission and either over hunting these properties or bringing OTHER hunters in. (On a few properties I'm sure that they would be DENIED permission without one of us there to vouch for them.) 2.Sneaking in and NOT asking permission or telling their friends and THEY do the afore mentioned.

I'm not greedy since there is no way that I can ever cover all this land in a single hunt season, but I have such a good thing I don't want to risk losing it. If we found someone we could trust not to ruin these rights we would gladly bring them in with us. We've tried on smaller parcels of land and been burned and are now quite reluctant to include anyone.

Another unfortunate thing I notice about much of the land I have permission to hunt is that the owners no longer hunt and neither do their family members. I often offer them meat that I've harvested (already processed AND wrapped) and they often decline. Agriculture is their thing and not hunting.


I have a 400 plus acre Wildlife Management Area just 5 minutes from my house. New Hampshire has a lot of similar tracts throughout the state. Some are stocked with pheasant, most have deer, turkey, grouse, hare, coyotes, 'mine' has access to a coastal river for waterfowl.

I can drive less than 2 hours and be in the White Mountain National Forest which features a more land than I can hunt in one lifetime open to anyone with a valid license.

Access to private land is spotty though. Some which is held 'In Current Use' tax parlance for: "We'll cut your tax bill if you let people recreate on the property." Hunting and fishing are part of that recreation on many of the tracts. Up in the northern part of the state timber companies allow open access to most of their properties; good grouse, deer, bear, moose and small game opportunities all over the place. In the more suburban/exurban areas we do have to count on the WMAs for much of our hunting.

tennessee hunter guy

My uncle lives on the 400 acres and monitors closely so we dont have much to worry about

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