In the last two columns, I posted your opinions about diminishing access to good hunting areas and the growing trend in paying for it. By and large, the consensus was this: You don’t blame anyone who leases or buys their own land to ensure a quality hunting experience; however, the trend in paying for hunting rights does bother you. In the long run, you wonder where this leaves those who do not have free access to good areas and can’t afford the often exorbitant prices demanded for a quality lease or parcel.
Unfortunately, on this last point, I think I can offer a little insight. As you may remember from a previous column, I recently lost the last of my good deer hunting spots. Of my few remaining options, none hold many deer and most are overrun with other hunters, including some irresponsible ones. My season so far has been an unmitigated disaster as a result. Here’s a quick rundown:
On my first hunt, I ran into no fewer than four other hunters and, naturally, no deer.
My second time out, four-wheelers were buzzing around me all morning long. And of course, I didn’t see any deer.
For the third hunt, I wanted to escape the crowd and decided to hunt way back in the Adirondack big woods, where the odds of seeing a buck are only slightly better than the odds of winning the lottery. Needless to say …
On my fourth attempt, my friend Jo and I went to a small farm he thought he had exclusive permission to hunt, until we found three trucks parked along the road beside it. We decided to hunt geese instead.
Then, on my fifth hunt, I found myself in the midst of a massive drive. From my tree stand, through binoculars, I saw a guy take four wild shots at a deer that was running full-tilt through the brush. As far as I could tell, he didn’t even check to see if he had hit it.
Next I decided to try an area where I’d located some pretty good buck sign earlier in the season. I put my up climbing stand before first light. When the sun rose, I discovered that I was sitting over an illegal bait pile. I left.
Finally, on my most recent hunt to one of the few places I have left near home, I was sitting in a stand overlooking a rub line. The cover was so thick that if a buck were to show, I wouldn’t see it until it was right under my stand. With only about 20 minutes left of shooting light, I was, of course, hoping to hear crunch, crunch … grunt, grunt. And sure enough, I heard it, slowly moving right toward me.
With the sounds getting closer and closer, I remember thinking, Finally! I inched the rifle to my shoulder, pointing it not at the noises in the brush, but at the opening under my stand, where I expected the buck to show. Not far to my right, the crunching sounds stopped and there was a long series of grunts. I caught some movement in the brush, and my heart started to pound. Then it sank into the pit of my stomach.
Instead of antlers I saw a bearded face staring up at me. Before I could think of anything to say-for instance, “Why are you walking and grunting through the thickest cover around, in an area that gets hunted heavily, wearing no blaze orange, during the middle of rifle season?”-the guy was crashing through the brush away from me.
In the end, like you, I certainly can’t blame anyone who pays to have a quality hunting experience. After this season, I’m almost ready to consider a lease myself, assuming I could find an affordable one. But I’m not quite ready to go there yet. It’s hard for me to get excited about being part of a trend that potentially (and in some cases actually) undermines our sport’s tremendously democratic tradition.
So between now and next season, I’m going to ring a lot of doorbells … and keep my fingers crossed.