You hear this a lot – that the biggest impediment to hunting and fishing more often is a place to do it. Access is a bottleneck.
But, is it?
Do we have an access problem, in the sense that there’s not enough real estate to go around? Or do we have a problem sharing the access that we’ve worked hard to get and keep?
Those are two pretty different ways of looking at the foundational ingredient of hunting: a place to do it. The situation changes according to region, land ownership, the type of game we’re hunting, and even the season that we’re in the field. But one constant is that we have a hard time sharing our best spots.
See if you recognize yourself in this scenario: You cherish the idea of a fellowship of sportsmen, each of us working on behalf of wildlife and wild places. You love the idea that we’re stronger as a community, whether we’re raising money for wetlands at a Ducks Unlimited banquet or buying hunting licenses to fund biologists and game wardens.
But if you see another duck hunter in your favorite spot on the marsh on opening day, you are not filled with collegiality. You curse them as slob poachers, or ignorant hacks who don’t appreciate the spot nearly as much as you do.
The same goes for your hard-earned lease of prime deer-hunting land. It took you years to find the spot, negotiate with the landowner, and scrape together the funds to pay the lease. Years more to clear ground, plant food plots, and implement your management plan to produce older bucks with heavier racks. You’ll be damned if you’re going to invite a stranger to exploit all your work.
But isn’t that exactly what we should be doing if we want hunting to outlast our own participation in it? Shouldn’t we offer up spots in our duck blind to people just getting started? Shouldn’t we invite beginning hunters to sit over our food plots and reap the benefits we’ve created with years of careful management?
Before you call me a dunder-headed Commie, hear me out. Those beginners are going to go somewhere, we hope. They will probably spend a few years of frustration, squandering otherwise good days looking for access, maybe inadvertently trespassing, or maybe messing up a public-land honey hole because they don’t know better. If they’re really tenacious, they’ll survive those early frustrations and create their own access and traditions and eventually flourish. Don’t believe me? Look at your own trajectory. Turned out okay for you, didn’t it?
Now look at the alternative. Share your access with a beginner. Show them how to properly care for the place and the resource. Get them started with early success. Share the bounty of your own hard-won access. If you do it right, they will start their careers as hunters from a place of confidence. And then they’ll find their own spots. Who knows, maybe they’ll even share them with you. You don’t have to overdo it, or share a limited resource. But if each of us gave a few days and acres of our precious places, then suddenly, America doesn’t have an access problem.