As hunters, we often talk about carrying capacity. It's a concept we clearly understand. It's also a key difference between us and those who wish to see wildlife left alone to multiply unchecked — never understanding that available land and food can only sustain a quantifiable amount of animals. But it is interesting, if not a bit ironically myopic, that we never think about the carrying capacity of hunters.
We mindlessly repeat the mantra "we need more hunters," but have we ever really thought about this statement? I just returned from a 45-day walkabout where I hunted public land from New Mexico to Alaska. While the adventure itself was an incredible experience, I will be the first to admit that where over-the-counter tags (OTC) were involved, the hunting was less than spectacular.
What I discovered over 6,000 miles was in many cases there were far too many hunters to provide a quality experience. If hunters can buy an OTC tag and hunt public land, they often overrun it, killing the experience in the process. To create a better experience, most Western states went to a draw system years ago to limit the number of hunters afield at any given time.
Draws are a great idea in theory, but in reality most states/species are an once-every-several years proposition (or once in a lifetime for some species/states). This is not a good situation, either, even though the experience is far better, if you are lucky enough to draw.
So if OTC tags are no good and draws are discouraging, one can always separate themselves from the crowd by obtaining private land, right? Sure, but knocking and getting on land is next to impossible anymore, as landowners have long since realized that their land has value and it is going to the highest bidder.
If you can't afford to pay, you can always offer to help fix fences or bale hay. If you are like me, you have never run a tractor or fixed a fence, so your stock in trade is pretty limited and consequently worthless.
And land is not just a Western problem, this issue affects whitetail hunters just as much and is the reason prime whitetail land is so darn expensive to lease. Remember supply and demand principles from Econ 101? They don't go away just because we are talking about hunting land.
That is the reality of hunting today. Public land OTC, for the most part, is not a great experience. Draws are only successful once in awhile. And private land is priced out of reach in most cases. So what is the answer? Actually, I have no idea. But simple math tells me adding more hunters to this equation without adding more land is not the answer. It will only make matters worse.
It all comes back to the carrying capacity of the land. If we double the number of hunters, we effectively double the amount of pressure on public land, make draw odds twice as difficult and double the already exorbitant cost of leases. But instead of adding more land, our Federal government, in most cases spearheaded by conservative Republicans whom we love so much for their pro-gun stances, is looking at reducing our public land (bowhunter/turncoat Paul Ryan just made my shit list by suggesting such).
Don't believe me? Check out David Hart's full report. If this situation is enough to fire you up go to Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. Join up (I did), support them (it's only 25 bucks!), and educate yourself on the growing problem we face as hunters looking for a quality experience.
If we want hunter numbers to increase, then opportunity and quality have to go hand in hand. No one wants to go out and see a sea of hunter orange and no game.
If you support politicians who are in favor of selling your land to the highest bidder, you really need to drop the "we need more hunters" mantra. We already have enough. If these politicians succeed maybe they could also start a campaign to keep kids indoors. I can see it now: a school program where they get kids to trade in their .22s for a new Xbox One, a 2-liter of Mountain Dew and a bag of Doritos€¦.as long as they make the pledge to never step outside again.