By Hal Herring
I left Alabama when I was in my mid-twenties, to live and work in the West. I never planned to stay gone this long. People I grew up with, hunting and fishing friends, school friends, and extended family sometimes ask me why I’ve stayed here in Montana, and why I am raising my children here, so far from the rivers and creeks I grew up on, from the hardwood bottoms and flat-top foothills of the southern Cumberland Mountains that were and are so important to me. I’ve thought a lot about how to answer that question.
The answer boils down to public lands, and the freedom they offer to people like us, who are of somewhat less than moderate means, and who live, when the work is done, to fish and hunt and shoot and wander.
I mostly grew up in the country, and at a time when there were few whitetail deer. Small game hunting was the obsession, and access to that kind of hunting was not usually a problem. You could leave home with a pocket full of 20 gauge shells, from high brass 4s to low brass 8s, and come home with a squirrel, dove, snipe, quail (they disappeared around 1984), a rabbit, even a teal if you were lucky. By the time I went away to work and college, all that land was leased for deer hunting, or posted by the owners.