June 01, 2021
If you have spent any time on social media, you have likely noticed hashtags like #publiclandhunter, #publicland, or #keepitpublic. Of course, who would disagree with keeping it public? Unfortunately, special interests exist within our nation and abroad who would love to ruin America’s public lands and make them privatized. But what about those within the hunting community who are publicizing our public lands so much that it is ruining the experience? Some of the public land PR is well-done and intentionally discrete, and other times it is done carelessly for self-promotion.
Hunting public land has become extremely popular in recent years. You see it online and hear it firsthand when people ask, “Was that buck public or private?” As if there is a nutritional difference in the venison in your freezer taken from public land versus the venison from the farm down the road. It can make one wonder, does a pound of public land venison taste more righteous? It depends.
Public hunting expectations should remain fluid. Wildlife is not static. It is always in flux, adapting to an endless list of variables. For example, there are public lands near major metropolitan areas teeming with whitetail deer and are managed accordingly through controlled hunting opportunities. You may win an opportunity to hunt a controlled area and kill a giant buck that gorged on suburban gardens all summer. There is luck and skill involved to hunt and kill these deer, but the expectations should be adjusted because high deer density and low hunting pressure are the exceptions, not the norm.
The norm is most public lands located within densely populated states east of the Mississippi river are heavily pressured. Often, the smaller the acreage the higher the likelihood of seeing more hunters than wildlife, especially on the weekends. It is feasible to spend a week deer hunting without seeing what social media influencers would classify as a shooter. The point is, set your expectations of success based on reality, not the content filling your Instagram feed. If you are hunting exclusively on public land but holding out for a Boone and Crocket whitetail, you might never enjoy the deliciousness of backstrap again.
Another unintended consequence of too much pressure comes in the way of reduced access, or worst-case scenario of hunting closures. Pressure comes in a myriad of forms, and while hunting pressure probably comes to mind, political pressure is a much more powerful force we must contend with. At the time of this writing there is a proposal to close an enormous swath of public land in the Alaskan wilderness to non-locals. The area encompasses 40 million acres and there is no scientific reasoning contained within the proposal for the closure.
Perhaps the Alaskan proposal does not matter because you never plan to hunt moose or caribou. What should matter is this proposal is purely political and hunting, utilized as a wildlife management tool, continues to surface as a political topic. What happens at the state level when a majority elect a politician campaigning to stop a specific type of hunting? Look no further than New Jersey for one such example. The current governor promised to stop black bear hunting if elected, and followed through on his promise, banning black bear hunting on 700,000 acres of public land.
What about localized political pressure? Could management authorities be pressured to eliminate hunting on public land due to the encroachment of subdivisions? I have witnessed state property previously open to hunting undergo this transformation because of population growth. Today there are sections open only to archery deer hunting that once offered fantastic small game opportunities for gun hunters. That access is now lost, and I fear it is only a matter of time before these policy changes spread to other sections. Hunters must remain actively involved in advocacy at the local, state, and federal levels to keep every acre of public land we have. After all, our dollars are paying for the management of wildlife on these lands.
Let us shift from the political soapbox to the slippery slope of social media where the dichotomy of good and bad coincide. The engagement algorithms working within our devices quickly determine whether positive or negative content triggers your interactions. Not surprisingly, posts generating high engagement are created through controversy. The more bickering in the comment section the better, and some influencers intentionally walk the fine line of controversy pulling people into the fray to boost their brand.
Content is king but be mindful of the process. When you are taking pictures in the field, make sure you are not inadvertently advertising your location. Eliminate distinct skylines and backgrounds, stay away from signage, and fill the frame with your subject if it is an image you plan to share with the world. Geotagging photographs is another spot spoiler. In cases like this, sharing is not caring. It is still possible to create compelling content without taking a tell-all approach.
Once upon a time, hotspotting occurred through word of mouth or eavesdropping on conversations at check stations. Now it has become a serious problem amplified through the reach of social media. People are openly giving information away, sharing where they hunted, they become frustrated later when their favorite spot seems a bit more crowded. Perhaps hotspotting varies based on an individual’s level of experience? Anecdotally it seems those with more experience tend to keep locations highly guarded. Maybe they learned this lesson the hard way, or maybe it was how they were taught. Regardless of the root cause, more people should take note of this practice.
It is highly likely that if you are spending time on the county, state, or federal lands open to hunting, your fellow hunters are too. Be mindful of this to protect the resource for future enjoyment. Hunting on public lands is a uniquely American concept we must protect. You can, and should, continue sharing content that promotes hunting on public land in a positive light, not only to educate and inform fellow hunters but the nonhunting public as well. Just be wise in what you post so future generations can enjoy this privilege we have been able to experience.