NEWTOWN, Conn. - For many hunters, that 300-mile drive to deer camp may be put on hold this year. Unwilling - or unable - to spend more on gasoline than licenses and lodging, many hunters are checking out their options closer to home.
Recent surveys have shown that this is a national trend among American hunters. According to research conducted by Southwick Associates' HunterSurvey.com, "40 percent of hunters indicated that rising gas prices will cause them to reduce their outdoor activities or reduce their travel distance."
Realizing that gaining access to both public and private land can be one of a hunter's most daunting challenges, some state fish and game departments have developed innovative programs to address the problem.
Pennsylvania, for example, provides the public with detailed maps that show areas accessible by local hunters. These include state game, forest and park lands, and national forest property, totaling over 3.5 million acres. Through a "landowner cooperator" program, an additional two million acres of private property have also been opened up to the state's hunters.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) recently unveiled a state-of-the-art mapping program using Google Maps. It's a user-friendly service especially valuable for those new to hunting or new to the state. "Every hunter knows scouting is key to success, and these Google Maps make it easy to start scouting at home," said Matthew Keenan, ODFW's Access and Habitat Program Coordinator. The map features state wildlife areas, national wildlife refuges and private lands open to hunting through the state's Access and Habitat and Upland Cooperative Access programs. Each area even has a descriptive bubble that provides information about the principal species hunted, size of the area, access periods and special regulations.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG), working with sportsmen and landowners, provides sportsmen access to private land and through private land to public lands with a program called "Access Yes!"
"The 'Access Yes!' program is an exciting opportunity to get sportsmen and landowners together to improve habitat, increase hunting access and benefit private landowners. An additional benefit is that landowners and sportsmen get to know and respect each other," commented Jim Unsworth, deputy director for IDFG.
In 2008 IDFG has made 444,735 private acres accessible to sportsmen and access to an additional 381,310 acres of public ground by working with private landowners. "We are doing our part to keep our hunters hunting at home in Idaho," said Unsworth.
These programs, and similar ones in other states, have received significant funding from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, through its Hunting Heritage Partnership Program.
The NSSF helps sportsmen and women locate places to hunt at www.huntandshoot.org.