By Bill Cooper
It is no secret that access is one of the major deterrents to participation in hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation pursuits.
If you fall into that category, or know someone who does, public lands are the answer to the dilemma. As a taxpayer, you are a stakeholder in large quantities of wild lands. Millions of acres across the nation are available to public hunting, fishing, hiking and general enjoyment.
Hunters are among the top land users in the nation who raise their voices about the lack of available access to hunting grounds. Private lands become more difficult to access by the day. Hunters must expect to pay large trespass fees to gain access to the best private land hunting areas. However, public hunting lands are plentiful in our great country and access, in most cases, is free. Doing one’s homework and applying a little on the ground reconnaissance can partially make up what one lacks in dollars. Finding public lands to hunt on are not as difficult as you might think. Here are some tips to help you get started.
State Lands – Every state in the nation has park and wildlife lands that individuals can utilize for outdoor pursuits, including hunting. Quantities and varieties of these lands vary from state to state. Some are open to the public for specific uses, while some areas are open to many types of recreation activities.
One of the best places to start your search for public lands is with your state conservation agency. If you do not know your state conservation agency’s website, simply search Google for state conservation agencies.
My home state of Missouri has over 1,000 parcels of lands owned by the Missouri Department of Conservation. These range from parcels of only a few acres to vast areas comprising 30,000 acres or more. Dozens of them lie within a 100-mile radius of my Ozark home. Many are very near urban areas as well.
We are very fortunate in the state of Missouri. Citizens pay a 1/8 of 1 percent sales tax to support conservation. Generated monies help support programs and properties for a vast array of hunting opportunities. Numerous Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) exist in every county of the state. Hunting opportunities abound and special managed hunts provide extra opportunities on WMAs and state parks as well.
County Properties – Often overlooked by outdoor enthusiasts, county parks offer some outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities, including fishing and specially regulated hunting seasons, in some cases. Simply get on the Internet and use Google to find the county parks and recreation department for your county, or for the counties in which you are interested. Many counties in Missouri that surround urban areas offer special deer control hunts.
A trip to your county courthouse can provide an invaluable tool in a county plat book. The plat book lists every piece of property in the county and the owner. You may be surprised to find out how many pieces of property that your county owns. Many are open to hunting and are often very under utilized because of lack of public knowledge about the areas. Counties with up-to-date computer systems offer plat books online.
Federal Lands – Federal lands comprise the largest acreages of lands available to the general public. There are federally owned lands in every state with federal ownership in the states ranging to 0.3 percent to 84 percent in Nevada. These holdings amount to millions of acres of land, which offer outstanding hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, canoeing and boating opportunities.
The four main land management agencies administer vast areas. The Bureau of Land Management controls 248 million acres, the U.S. Forest Service 193 million acres, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 89 million acres and the National Park Service manages 80 million acres. While federal parks are as of yet generally off limits to recreation hunting, the conservation concept that hunters play a beneficial role in land management is spreading. Millions more acres are managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of defense.
Use Your Computer – Recreation.gov provides information on hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation opportunities at federal recreation areas. Mytopo.com offers maps for practically every public land area in each of the states. Too, private companies offer maps and programs associated with public lands. In today’s computer age, information about public lands and hunting opportunities are only a click away. Hunting forums, communities where sportsmen to tell stories, ask questions and enjoy online fellowship, are another great source of info.
There is no reason for any American citizen to be deprived of hunting opportunities. Millions of acres are available, and they belong to our citizens. Too, many conservation and park agencies offer outdoor recreation programs to get the public involved in utilizing public hunting lands, as do many conservation organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and the National Wild Turkey Federation. Finding both programs and available public lands are only a few clicks away. Use your computer to open up a lifetime of new hunting adventures.
Last Note – Hunters are crowded because they choose to be crowded by default. They simply do not do their homework. There are 12.5 million hunters in the United States, 7 percent of the population. The U.S. Forest Service alone administers 192 million acres, all open to public hunting. That amounts to just over 15 acres per hunter. Toss in all the other public lands and you discover you have a mind-boggling abundance of public lands to hunt. Additionally, 60 percent of the nation’s wildlife lives on your public lands.
The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.