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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Where Will You Hunt This Year?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., October 14, 2006.)
Just because someone has given me
access to land in the past, it's no
guarantee that I'll have access in the future.
Most serious hunters I know are like Santa Claus. They're making their lists, and checking them twice. The lists aren't tallies of kids who are naughty or nice. They're inventories of places to hunt, whether the hunter is after rabbits, pheasants, turkeys, deer, or any other game.

If you need to nail down some new hunting spots for the season that's fast approaching, you're late. In fact, it's a good idea to be looking for your next great hot spot all year long. Why? Because land use changes. Timber gets cut and new roads get carved into the landscape. Land gets sold, and if you rely on one or two properties, they're likely sooner or later to change ownership.

When older hunters were just starting out, the nation was much more rural, and people were much more accommodating to hunters.

Although no one likes stories that begin "When I was a kid..." I'll say it anyway. When I was a kid I used to step out my back door to hunt on my family's 22 acres, and roam freely on neighbors' lands as well. I enjoyed countless hours of hunting, but few kids have that privilege today. Even our rural culture isn't what it used to be.

I've lost several good hunting spots over the years. The lesson I've learned is that just because someone has given me access to land in the past, it's no guarantee that I'll have access in the future.

We can lose access to land for a variety of reasons. Besides being sold, property gets tied up in leases. Property owners pass away.

Even a transfer in ownership of a property adjacent to one you have permission to hunt on can affect your ability to use that land. If you have permission to hunt a piece of land that is without road frontage, you must cross another property to reach it. If that property is sold, you may lose access to land you're permitted to use. Land access is more difficult to get than ever, and when you have it you should treasure it.

One of the most irritating attitudes a hunter can exhibit to a landowner who has just bought a property is the viewpoint that says, "I've hunted here for years, so I should be allowed to keep hunting here." Wouldn't you be irritated if friends of the family that used to live in your house stopped by uninvited to picnic in your yard or sunbathe around your pool? From the landowner's viewpoint, it's not all that different.

The hunter who owns his land is like the golfer who owns his own golf course. Even better, because the forest landowner isn't occupied with meticulous daily maintenance and short-term financial profitability of the property. Unfortunately few hunters (or golfers) enjoy that advantage.

For the hunter there is nothing like owning your own land. You'll have complete control not only of the people who are permitted on it, but also of the way you use it yourself. But without owning our own land, we hunters are plumb out of luck if we don't have the generosity of others. Almost every hunter is the beneficiary of one or more landowners, but don't expect that to last. Something is bound to change.

I hope that no hunter loses access to land because he has behaved like a slob or presumed upon the grace of the landowner, but remember that if someone else is a slob hunter it can reflect on you.

That's one reason I pick up trash I find. But I also do it because of "the golden rule." "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is always a good idea, and can help you avoid misunderstandings that could bring a good relationship to an end. As much as possible, act as a steward of the land.

Yet, no matter how responsible we are or how positive our relationships with landowners might be, at some time or other all of us will lose access to private land.

Fortunately, here in northwest Pennsylvania we have plenty of public land available to us. We have state forests, a large national forest, and dozens of State Game Lands. Those lands are not as crowded as you might think, especially on the weekdays. Make it your business to get to know the hidden opportunities on some of that land. If you do, you'll never be left wondering where you're going to hunt.


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