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Where Will You Hunt? What the Changing Public and Private Land Rules are Doing To Public Land Hunting

Are you a public land hunter? Here are the facts about public lands and public land hunting in America you need to know. 

For one reason or another our public lands and hunting on public land have come into the spotlight recently. Whether it be the Oregon militia, an environmentalist organization, a Congressman, website, or the guy across the street, everyone seems to have an opinion on our public lands.

With all the noise reverberating around, it might be getting a little confusing about what is happening to public lands in America and what changing public land rules means for public land hunting.

Photo by the author

As a person who enjoys public lands as much as anybody, I know all of this change can be a bit unnerving. It really can feel like we will wake up one day and, poof, it will all be gone. I wonder what it will do to my hunting, and how these changes could impact my kids in the future.

In an effort to clear the air, here are some basic facts about public land in America and what they mean for public land hunting.

Land Can Be Owned by the Federal Government

Recent groups and politicians have disputed the fundamental issue of federal government land ownership. These groups argue the US Constitution does not give the federal government the right to own land. It has been the motive for several high profile media stunts the past few years.

Here is what the Constitution says about public land ownership:

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.

Read that as you may, and interpret as you may. How people read that clause determines the future of public lands and public land hunting in America.

What it means for You: As of now the Supreme Court has upheld the government’s right to own land. In fact they decided on that specific issue in 1935. Supreme Court cases can be overturned, but it is not common. So, for the public land hunter, this is a bit of good bit news.

The Federal Government Can Sell Land

Yes, the federal government can sell land to individuals or turn it over to the states if they wish. However since a law passed by Congress in 1976, the government does not offer much land for sale. The purpose of this law was to strengthen America’s public lands, and to ensure their vitality. Since then, the government has been reluctant to sell land unless it is very unusable.

What it Means for You: Our history exhibits our nation’s strong support for public lands. At this point it is difficult for our nation to sell large chunks of land.

Greater Sage Grouse is Not and Endangered Species


The Greater Sage-grouse not being listed as an endangered species is a step in the right direction for supporters of public land hunting. Prior to this announcement groups were fearful that if the bird landed on the endangered species list, millions of acres would be lost to public access to protect them. Watch this video of Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announcement of the decision.

What it Means for You: If you live out west, raise cattle on western BLM land, or plan on hunting the west in the near future, the decisions means you will have continued access to public lands in the future.

Public Land Tags

Recently some states have begun to manage their public land hunting licenses differently than their private land hunting licenses. Texas for example requires an individual purchase an Annual Public Hunting Permit. In Florida to hunt in a wildlife management area you must also purchase a special permit to hunt. Additionally states like Kentucky have different regulations and dates on their public hunting seasons.

All told, many states are moving to more regulated public land hunting, probably as a response to the increasing popularity of hunting. As more and more people join the hunting corps more and more people are crowding into public lands for use.

What it Means for You: As with everything when it comes to hunting, ensure you are following the rules set forth by the state. It is the responsibility of hunters to know the rules of each area and to follow them. If you are hunting out of state, be aware of any special regulations before you leave.

In the end public lands and public land hunting is not a settled question in America. However, our history strongly supports our cherished and invaluable public land access in our country. We are one of the few countries in the world that allow every citizen access to our most beautiful places in our country. Like all things, this is subject to change, and to majority opinion. After learning the facts make sure you reach out to your representatives and let your opinion be heard. What we do in the present will change the lives of future generations.

“Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.” – Theodore Roosevelt


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Where Will You Hunt? What the Changing Public and Private Land Rules are Doing To Public Land Hunting