First, I am not saying deer leases are a bad thing and should be banned. What I am saying is that like all good things, there are unintended things that happen. Also I am not one of those people that complain about a problem and not offer a solution. Those people are called whiners and that is not my reason for writing this. I want to improve hunting for everyone and make sure it is available to future generations.
Let me start off with a story. It is a story that many will find familiar. My family owns 100 acres in south eastern Ohio. Bordering that property is another piece of property of around 800 acres. Up until a few years ago we had permission to hunt that property as well. We were not the only ones that had permission. The farmer that owned it would give permission to any one that lived in the county. Over the course of a deer season, I would guess that approximately 20 hunters hunted the property. Granted they were not all hunting at the same time, so it never seemed crowded.
Around 2008 when the economy took a dump the farmer decided to not renew any ones permission and he leased it out to about ten guys from Cleveland. They held the lease for a few years and it was leased again to four out-of- state guys that hunt it two weeks during the rut. Other times it sits empty.
Over the last decade 800 acres went from supporting 20 hunters, to ten hunters, and now only four part timers. This story is not unique. I am sure many of you reading this can tell the same story. We all have been locked out of places we used to hunt.
I cannot blame the farmers. Dairy, grain and meat prices have dropped and they have to make ends meet. I cannot blame the hunters that lease the land either. Getting your own place locked up to chase big bucks and not having some other guy blow up your stand is something we all dream about. Trust me if I could afford to lease a big track of land I would in a heartbeat.
Like I said before I am not writing this complain about losing hunting property. My goal is to shed light on to the fact that things are changing. It seems that hardly anyone can get permission to hunt on private land anymore without leasing. I know there are exceptions to this, but over all this is a trend that I am seeing.
The unintended conscience of leasing is it reduces access. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation the biggest reason hunters stop hunting and potential hunters never start is lack of a place to hunt. Access is huge for hunter retention and hunter recruitment.
With urbanization and the way people are becoming more and more disconnected with nature, hunters are quickly becoming even more of a minority. Just look at New Jersey and Florida and the trouble they had to go through to get a desperately needed bear season. Cities have turned to deer sterilization programs instead of bow hunters to control populations. Hunters are facing a slow bleed to acceptance. How long before it becomes too much?
We need hunter recruitment and to achieve that we need access. There are a few things we can do about it. The simplest may be taking a person hunting on your lease or private ground. Be generous with what you have and pass on this wonderful heritage to someone else.
Little things like that go a long way, but I doubt it is enough. Hunters need to think on a bigger scale to ensure that our children and grandchildren can enjoy the natural world like we do. Back in the days of Teddy Roosevelt and the early leaders of conservation, they thought big. They knew that if hunting was to continue we needed to conserve wildlife. They set the ground work that built the world we have today. Right now there are more game animals to hunt than there have ever been.
Perhaps the crown jewel of the movement is the Pittman-Roberts Act where hunters levied a tax against themselves on all hunting equipment. That act was followed by Dingle-Johnson that did the same thing for fishing equipment. All the monies raised through both of these acts went straight to conservation.
Today we need a similar act to save hunting. Right now in Ohio a resident license is $19. Let’s make it an even $20, do the same with deer tags, and go from $24 to $25, and raise non-resident license as well. Earmark all of that money to go to access projects. These can include buying new land, working with counties to open their parks to bow hunters, or any other creative project that opens more grounds to hunters.
Access is the most important issue facing hunting today. The hunting landscape is changing and we need to change with it. Leases are here to stay. I encourage everyone to be generous with what they have, support public lands and always try and increase access.