Friday, August 14, 2020

Public Land! A Unique Blessing


    I loaded the Beast one more time- dogs in the back in their crates on top of the bed slide, and even one more crate on the back seat, now that I'm taking all five of my Brits with me.  They will rotate through the passenger seat during the three day trip to Montana.  I swear they know when it's their turn. If I forget, or I'm rushed and can't remember, I can scan the crates and the one who's up next will let me know it's his or her turn- usually vocally. The camper is loaded, tires new, propane topped off, generators serviced, refrigerator packed.  I'm ready for a 2000+ mile drive to hunt birds, one of many I will take this year. 

Montana Sharptail Country

Almost every trip, I will hunt public land.  Meaning: anyone with the proper license can hunt the same land.  Many states have programs in which bird hunters can hunt private land that is available for the public through various programs, and I include that in the public land category.  (E.g., Montana Block Management, etc.).   But the vast majority of the public land I hunt is Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land or State land (State of Montana, State of New Mexico, etc.). 

I realized I just take this blessing for granted.  It's always been there for me, and I assumed it would always be there. But, this privilege is almost unique to our country. Unique in the world!  Remember, the game animals in this country are owned by the public, not the landowner.  When taken into account with other facts, such as great roads, motels, gas stations everywhere, vet care in every town, sporting goods stores, gun stores, ammunition stores, truck repair, and safe, stable living conditions and no requirement to check in or report to the government, or cross through checkpoints, etc., this resource is a one-of-a-kind on this planet. And, it's available to any citizen.
Chickens, Sharptail, Roosters on Public Land 2019

What other countries have a system like ours?  Europe would be the closest to our system, but they've relegated themselves to a system of private ownership that is expensive for the common man and exclusive.  What about Asia, Africa, etc.?  In many locales, I'd be concerned about driving, much less hunting.  The availability of accommodations, fuel, and land make hunting in those areas problematic.  Yes, hunting can be done, but it's Public Hunting for (relatively) free, and safety that we are considering. South America and Central America have plenty of game birds, but once again, we are stymied by the availability of Public Land.
Perhaps the closest I've found to our system is in Australia and New Zealand. Australia has a vast amount of land available- millions of acres- regulated by each state.  Citizens are encouraged to hunt invasive species, especially rabbits, camels (?), dogs, and others (it's an interesting list!), but also, there are several types of quail, pheasant, ducks, etc.  Also, New Zealand has almost a million acres of public land available to hunt, and an outdoor lifestyle is common in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. So, this country isn't totally unique (and I apologize, in advance, for any areas I missed), but when all the conditions are tabulated, I believe we have a resource second-to-none. 

Shack and me. North Dakota 2016

How much land are we talking about? Well, here's where it gets interesting.  I'm loaded and heading to Montana. How much land, in Montana, is available for me to run my dogs?  (I'm excluding any private land, including Block Management Land.)  Montana has a little more than 30 million acres of public land.  Ponder that.  30 MILLION acres.  Sure, a lot of that is vertical, or not suitable in one regard or another.  Some is even landlocked by private land with no public access and therefore not accessible to us.  (A continuing bone of contention in many states.)  But, that's a lot of land.  More than all five of my Brits can cover in a day.   Some states, like Wyoming, have even more land available (31 million acres), Nevada (53 million acres), and, finally, Alaska (271 million acres).  The top 12 states have 558 million acres of Public Land (358 million acres, excluding Alaska).  The total for the United States is 697 million acres.  Two thirds of a BILLION acres of land for anyone to hunt in this country.  A half BILLION acres  excluding Alaska- the numbers are truly staggering! .  
Being a flat-lander from Georgia, I'm often asked if I'm "hunting private land?".  The answer is "yes and no".  The land I hunt may be private, but it will be open to the public through one program or another.  Or, it will be outright public through BLM or other Federal or State program. Generally, in the East, a bias is given towards private land, in that it's assumed it will hold more birds, less pressured birds.  Perhaps.  But, like I tell friends, the limit on pheasant is three roosters per day. How many do you need to shoot at to get three?  Besides, I try to find public land in which the bird populations are close to the private land numbers.  It's not hard to do. Remember, it's perfectly acceptable to access BLM land on the other side of fencing, State land when not in standing crops, etc.  You should visit the  Bureau of Land Management website and learn the rules.  There are many BLM offices in every western state, where you can access detailed maps for a nominal fee. 
Blue Grouse Country Wyoming

When I reach Montana, my biggest problem is not access, it's sorting through what's available- a good problem to have.  As I stand and look out on a prairie so vast it is disconcerting to some, I remember to take time and thank God I was born to this country, the greatest on Earth.  I encourage you to do the same. 

#abirdhuntersthoughts #endlessoctoberbook #flyboybrit #turnemloose