The Only 3 Things a Hunter Needs

Dan Born
Dan Born

The Only 3 Things a Hunter Needs

I’ll just come out and say it; the title is intentionally misleading. Many articles I come across in outdoor media contain a similar heading, something like “7 Secrets for killing your Booner Buck” or “Without This (insert product) Your Likely to Never kill a Buck Again.” We all know this is largely B.S., no different than the miracle devices pitched on late night infomercials.

That’s not the focus today. There will be no discussion of scent lures, expanding broadheads, food plot mixes, or camo patterns. Don’t get me wrong, I like shiny stuff as much as the next guy but most of it just isn’t needed, it’s a garnish to the steak that is hunting. The real essentials can be broken down into 3 categories; an animal to hunt, a weapon to hunt the animal with, and a landscape to hunt the animal on.

We spend countless hours making adjustments to our gear, experimenting with arrow weights, debating the merits of different bows and fussing over every potential failure point of our backcountry pack systems. Why not do the same here? Let’s look at these essential needs like a piece of equipment pulled from a hunting pack. Maybe it’s time to make some tweaks. Maybe it’s time to toss them and start with something new? Time to do a pack dump and take a good look.

I. An Animal to Hunt

At one point not so long ago in our history, game was abundant and seemingly filled the landscape out to the horizon. But any resource can be over utilized with no consideration for the future. Add increasingly efficient technology and you have a recipe for disaster. That’s what happened to our wild game; almost wiped from the landscape through market hunting. Luckily, enough people had enough foresight to hold back the tide of mass extinction and in the last 100 years’ game has rebounded to levels that at times exceed those found prior European contact. Whitetail populations are booming throughout much of the country. States like Minnesota and Wisconsin have populations of wild turkeys that exceed those of the entire United States in early 20th century.

Mule deer bucks, Wyoming.

Not too shabby. But we aren’t out of the woods yet. Elk now occupy only a small percentage of their historic range. Originally animals of the woods and plains, small pockets survived in the mountains just long enough for us to correct course and halt the slaughter. Same thing with Grizzly. Bighorn sheep, once one of the most widespread species in the west are surviving in secluded groups and face modern threats like the spread of diseases through contact with domestic sheep.

In terms of wild game species, we clearly have some more fine tuning to do.

II. A Weapon To Hunt With

Here is a piece of equipment we have done really well with over its time in our pack. From the moment human hunters hit the continent, we’ve been extremely successful in utilizing the tools we have as well as pushing their development further. Spear throwers gave way to bows, bows gave way to firearms. We got so good at making effective firearms, that some hunters went back to bows in search of some of the challenges firearms had nullified.

Rifle Hunting
A hunter scans the landscape in search of pronghorn.

The challenge we face with this tool isn’t its effectiveness, but in its continued acceptance on the national landscape. Bow hunters feel relatively safe, but firearms ownership is increasingly the hot button issue in many arenas. So far, it’s been a lot of talk without much of any substantial legislation moving forward at a national level that I would consider a real threat to abolishing the 2nd Amendment.

That’s not to say that there aren’t very real opponents to gun ownership. There is. The problem is real proposals at the state and federal level that might seek to chip away at your rights are often completely glossed over in favor of the end-of-the-world fearmongering found on cable news and YouTube that would lead us to believe we are part of some great “culture war.” Just a scare tactic to get more viewers. But it works because it’s easy to sit on your couch screaming at your T.V. or smartphone than it is to actually affect change.

It’s a lot harder to lace up your boots on and walk into your state legislature with a sound argument as to why your rights are being infringed upon. If we want to keep the tool of gun ownership soundly secured in our packs, that’s exactly what we need to do.

III. A Landscape To Hunt The Animal On

When it comes to hunting, access is everything. At about the same time the nation was taking action to save wildlife from near extinction, we also started saving the land wildlife resides on. This was accomplished in a pretty revolutionary way. Rather than follow the European model of wildlife and wild lands as property of the wealthy, acreage was set aside for the wildlife, with large portions kept open to the public to hunt, hike, camp, fish, graze and even earn an income through regulated resource extraction. These lands, administered by agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service equal about 640 Million acres, most of it open to hunting and other recreational opportunities. While not open to all, private land access is hugely important to hunters as well, especially in the eastern half of the country where the majority of hunters spend their time hunting on private land. I don’t think its recognized enough that the impacts of the conservation movement were not limited to public lands only; a lot of private landowners have worked to improve wildlife numbers and habitat on their own property. That’s to be commended; from an income producing standpoint, you are not likely to get rich in improving your property for wildlife.

Pronghorn Hunting
Dan Born hunting on the Thunder Basin National Grassland, Wyoming.

Of the three pieces of gear in our pack, I believe access to hunting land is the most threatened of the three essentials. It’s getting harder and harder to gain access to private land. Family farms are being divided up for housing developments. Handshake agreements for hunting access are being replaced by signed leases with expensive entry fees.

On the public land side of things, how land is managed is again part of the national debate at a level not seen since the Sage Brush Rebellion of the 1970’s and 1980’s. At that time, voices in our government sought to remove federal oversight from lands and transfer them to state and private ownership. Now, 40 years later the same broken tune is being sung. This really is just the same false bill of goods as they tried selling us decades ago. Preserving access is rarely discussed by the pro-transfer folks. They skirt around the issue because they know its bullshit, and no one likes to step in bullshit, especially their own. They know that in the end, the transfer of lands results in loss of access.

Much like gun ownership, the fight to keep “public land in public hands” is one that will always be there. The rallying calls for and against it may vary in pitch, but will never go silent completely. We will always have our work cut out for us in the goal to keep land access secured as a tool for hunters. Looking at these three components like pieces of gear pulled from a pack, its apparent we have seen some success and some failures in their use. If healthy animal populations, firearm ownership and land access are as essential to our hunting pack as I believe, the best thing we can do is to continue to perfect their use, perform the required maintenance from time to time, and never let them become lost and forgotten at the bottom of the bag.