Case: This land is your land, but you can’t hunt on it

AP file photo by Mead Gruver / Pronghorn antelope, like these in Wyoming, are among the game that lure American hunters from back East out to the West. But outdoors columnist Larry Case points out that for those seeking a dream hunt on public land, the red tape of dealing with state agencies can make the process a nightmare.
AP file photo by Mead Gruver / Pronghorn antelope, like these in Wyoming, are among the game that lure American hunters from back East out to the West. But outdoors columnist Larry Case points out that for those seeking a dream hunt on public land, the red tape of dealing with state agencies can make the process a nightmare.

It's late September, the calendar says fall has officially arrived, and whether we like it or not, hunting season is fully upon us.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Several seasons have already started, and many of you are either already traveling to the western side of the Big Muddy for that dream hunt out there, or you have hunted there many times and are returning. For those of us in the eastern part of what is left of our Republic, many spend our lives thinking and dreaming of a western hunt for elk or mule deer. Some of us make it, and some do not.

The point is that in the eastern United States (the part of the country where most of the hunters are), the western states are a faraway daydream and notion that captures our imagination and really never goes away.

(READ MORE: Elk hunt adventures aren't only for the West of US)

The hunting situation in the western states is more complicated and usually more expensive than what we deal with here in the Southeast.

Out there, one doesn't usually buy a general hunting license and mosey on down to some public land and proceed to ramble around and bag the deer of your choice. Especially for nonresidents, the acquiring of the proper tags to hunt deer, elk, pronghorn antelope and other game is usually an intricate and expensive venture. Almost all areas have strict quotas on both the number of animals to be taken and the number of permits to be issued. These numbers are almost always skewed in the favor of residents of the state.

Here is where things will start to get sticky for those who may disagree with your humble outdoors scribe. (I know, hard to believe.)

I have maintained for years that the state fish and game agencies in the western states have wrongly penalized out-of-state hunters compared to those who reside there. Now don't get me wrong; I know why these agencies do this, and they would probably be run out of town on a rail if they did otherwise, so I really don't blame them. I just don't think it is right, and here is why I say that.

Where you will actually hunt is always a big consideration no matter where you go, but even more so in the West. Many nonresident hunters, unless they pay big money to hunt on private land, have to resort to hunting public land. There is a lot of federal public land in the West, millions of acres in fact, but to me, here is the catch: The permits needed to hunt the most desired animals on that land, usually deer and elk, are rigidly controlled by the state agencies. The National Forests, Bureau of Land Management acreage and other federally held land is there, and I would think it belongs to all of us who are U.S. citizens, but you can't hunt there for big game animals unless you have the tags issued by the appropriate state game and fish agency.

Now believe me when I tell you that my position on this is definitely not held by most if not all of the residents of these states. I know they have their reasons, and again, I really don't blame them. You will hear different comments on this, such as, "Well if you want to hunt here, you need to move here and become a resident." I'm sure these residents don't want a deluge of Easterners moving to their town, but this is what a lot of them say.

I spent a few years in the state natural resources and conservation world, so I know these states can't just hand out hunting tags to nonresidents like candy. But the fact remains that the idea they can tie up so much public land out West by severely restricting game tags for hunters who don't reside in that state really sticks in my craw.

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Not the same topic, but something similar to this has come to light recently in a case in Wyoming that involved the aspect of "corner hopping" as to public land access. There is a lot of public hunting land, both back in the East and out in the West, that may be tied up and virtually inaccessible because it is surrounded by private land. Sometimes these blocks of public land may touch at a corner, with the other sides being the corner of private land. There has been an issue for some time as to whether it is legal to "corner hop," that is, cross over that tiny bit of space where the public land touches and go from one block of public land to another.

All of this came up in a big way when some hunters from Missouri found a good hunting place in Wyoming where two blocks of public BLM land joined at a corner. They corner hopped here and had a successful hunt in 2020, but when they returned in 2021, they were confronted by the land owner (who was jealously guarding this crossing), then a Wyoming game warden (who did not charge them), and finally by two county deputy sheriffs (who did charge them).

This is long and somewhat complicated story, but it is very well told and explained in a recent article by Abe Streep in Outside magazine.

After a laborious legal process, the Missouri hunters were found not guilty of the trespassing charges they had been given. The county's prosecuting attorney is appealing the ruling, and all that remains to be seen. It is reported that the Missouri hunters celebrated the finding and may even return to the area again. In all, this was seen as a victory for public land access for hunters.

That thing about the game tags on federal land for nonresidents won't be settled so easily!

"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at [email protected].

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