Guest Blogger Michael Hoyle

October 25, 2018

Walk-In Access Leads to Tagged-Out Turkey Hunt in Kansas

For two hunters on a bucket-list turkey hunting road trip, Kansas’s Farm-Bill-funded access program delivers

Like many hunters from the eastern United States, I’ve always wanted to head west across the Mississippi for an unforgettable hunting trip. Hitting the road with a good friend, taking in the wide-open landscape, and spending time in the woods with a tag in my pocket just couldn’t be more appealing.

I had the chance to fulfill this dream with my buddy and co-worker Travis only a few months ago, thanks to the generosity of a Kansas farmer named Ray. Travis got in touch with Ray through his brother, a farmer in our home state of North Carolina. Neither Travis nor I had met Ray in person, but he offered us a place to stay if we wanted to come out and hunt spring turkeys in the Sunflower State. We didn’t need much convincing to take advantage of the opportunity.

What’s particularly special about the land, and further proof of Ray’s generosity, is that it’s enrolled in the state’s walk-in access program, which is funded in part by the federal Farm Bill initiative known as the Voluntary Public Access Program. Landowners are encouraged to open private acres for public access to hunting and fishing, creating new outdoor recreation opportunities in areas with few public lands. Now that the 2014 Farm Bill has expired, walk-in access programs across the country face an uncertain future.

This is just one hunting story that wouldn’t have been possible without walk-in access on private land and Farm Bill funding.

First Stop: Topeka

Our journey started at 4:00 am when Travis picked me up at the farm, hoping that an early start would get us to our destination by nightfall. After crossing into Kansas, we planned to stop first in Topeka, both to stretch our legs and to buy hunting licenses and a pair of tags each.

Around 9:30 we arrived in the town of Liebenthal, where we met Ray as well as some of the local farmers and residents. Everyone couldn’t have been more welcoming. Later we unpacked our bedrolls at Ray’s, which was serving as something of a makeshift hunting lodge for his friends and family. After some more conversations and introductions, we went to sleep with plans to wake up at 5am.

Only a few hours later, our alarms sounded, and we headed out in the dark.

Day One Success

In addition to our gear and shotguns, each of us carried a Kansas turkey hunting guide book, which proved extremely valuable throughout the trip. These guides include a map that identifies lands enrolled in the Walk-In Hunter Access program. Having turkey hunted in Nebraska and Kansas the previous year, Travis was familiar with WIHA and raved about the opportunities we would enjoy.

The first morning, we made our way northwest to a block of WIHA land, clearly marked by signs on the boundary of the property as we drove. We located a spot next to a river which we found had cottonwood trees lining the water just after daybreak. From the road we could both see a large Rio Grande tom fanning several hens about a hundred yards off the road under a large cottonwood tree.

Right away, I jumped from the truck, got my turkey suit on, and loaded up a shotgun, telling Travis that I was going to put a stalk on my first Kansas turkey. He looked at me like I was crazy, but I had come 1,200 miles to hunt and the clock was ticking. Thirty minutes later, after crawling on my hands and knees to within forty yards of the birds before blowing them out, I returned to the truck disappointed.

After a quick huddle, Travis and I came up with an afternoon plan to ambush an old tom we’d seen roosted in some big cottonwood trees. Once we set up the blind, the wait began and we took turns resting while the other watched and listened for the turkeys returning to their roost. About an hour before sunset we heard our first gobble, which perked us right up. The tom was coming towards us on the hillside above, letting out a thunder gobble every twenty yards until I pulled the trigger. With a cloud of dust and the flop of feathers, I had my first Rio Grande tom in the bag.

The Long Sit

Our wake-up call came early the next morning and it was Travis’s turn to find his bird. We headed south through LaCrosse and then east to another patch of WIHA land with a creek running through it. Water is scarce in central Kansas, and the cottonwood trees that grow nearby hold turkeys early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

Our initial set-up on some roosted birds fell apart when they flew down and quickly headed in the opposite direction from us. The wind began to blow hard out of the south and we were both tired, so Travis suggested getting the blind from the truck and hunkering down where we were. The rest of the day we watched for turkeys out of the blind’s portholes and caught up on our sleep.

Just before sunset, we both came to full attention as a large group of redhead turkeys began approaching from the other end of the meadow. As the birds got closer, we both realized they were the jakes from the group we’d seen come down that morning.

Travis was still looking at the jakes when I peered out of other side of the blind and spotted two giant toms coming out of the creek bottom. I told Travis to get to where I was and scrambled to move out of his way. After a shotgun blast rang out, Travis yelled “I got him” and turned around to celebrate. With two tags punched and a few days left in our trip, we started planning our next move. In the meantime, we repaid some of the locals for their hospitality by cooking up a dinner of wild turkey nuggets and roasted red potatoes.

On the Move

After a day of rest, we loaded up early on the fourth morning and drove back to the WIHA property we’d hunted previously. Unable to sit still another day, I decided to spot-and-stalk a tom. Travis didn’t seem to have much confidence in the idea and wanted to stay in the blind, so I grabbed the decoy he’d brought and headed for bluffs above the valley.

Working my way across the top while glassing with my binoculars, I spotted a group of hens on the valley floor. I dropped down the slope and moved between the cedars to get within shooting range, letting the hens and then a group of jakes pass. My patience was rewarded. A very nice long-beard tom was about a minute behind the jakes, following slowly in their tracks.

I presented the decoy and then flipped the fan around to its rear, causing the tom to lock in and race towards me—just the reaction I was hoping for. Once the tom got within 20 yards I let go of the decoy and raised my shotgun, dropping him in his tracks a moment later.

I took a minute to thank God for my second turkey of the trip, collected my things and slung that old tom over my shoulder for the walk back up the valley floor.

Tagged Out

The next morning we drove around looking for turkeys in fields with hopes that some would be accessible to us on WIHA land. South of Bison, we spotted three toms fanning several hens at the back of a crop field. It wasn’t long until we saw WIHA signs hanging on the fence row, and Travis turned onto the next road and pulled over at the nearest spot.

Once out of the truck, I grabbed the decoy and we began our stalk single-file, with me holding the decoy out in front. Our first movement took us roughly 500 yards to several round bales of hay in the middle of the crop field, but another 500 yards stood between us and the turkeys. We again hooked up single-file, shielding ourselves from view with the decoy, and headed straight across the open ground.

Once we were within 30 yards or so, two jakes and a tom locked in on the decoy and began running towards it. I urged Travis to shoot as the birds closed the distance, picking up their pace. When he finally pulled the trigger, I saw one of the birds go flopping across the field. Travis was tagged out in Kansas.

The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

Between the opportunities we found on prime private land, the success we enjoyed turkey hunting, and all of the deer, quail, pheasants, and rabbits we saw, I couldn’t be positive enough about the experience we had in Kansas. And what made it all possible, in addition to the friendliness of everyone we met, was the outstanding opportunities made available through the Voluntary Public Access Program.

The opportunities this program creates on private land are a huge boon to hunters who have limited access at home or want to chase game in states that have very few public lands.

If you use walk-in access, or know someone who does, click here to tell Congress to increase funding for VPA in the upcoming Farm Bill.

 

Michael Hoyle is a criminal investigator for the Catawba County Sheriff’s Office in Newton, North Carolina, and a SWAT team sniper. When he’s not chasing criminals, writing reports, or training, he’s chasing feathers, fur, and fins throughout the United States and making the most of our public land. Hoyle has been hunting and fishing since he could walk and loves nothing more than to put his friends and family on fish and game. Find him on Instagram @Hoylesopenchokeremmy

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Travis Cooke

October 19, 2018

How Maintenance Backlogs Could Affect Your Hunting Season

Deferred maintenance projects without suitable funding crop up on more than just national park lands, and it could waste your precious daylight hours afield—here’s everything you need to know about the backlog issue, proposed solutions, and why it’s personal

Picture this: You draw a special deer tag in a unit you’ve never hunted before, and like most people, you’re busy. So, you study maps and satellite imagery to mark roads and trails on your GPS, but family and work obligations prevent you from being able to get out there and scout in-person.

You could be pulling into camp the day before a six-day hunt, with your entire strategy reliant on being able to use access that you’ve never laid eyes on. It’s not ideal, but it happens. And there is a real possibility that you’ll be confronted with washed out roads and deep ruts that make passage difficult or impossible by vehicle, while some non-motorized trails are so overgrown that you can’t even find them to hike on.

No one wants to burn up half their hunt frustrated by road and trail conditions that fall short of their expectations. But this kind of access to public lands has become more difficult for America’s sportsmen and women because of the massive maintenance backlogs at many federal land management agencies—not just the National Park Service. It’s time to recognize the breadth of this challenge and how it plays out during your hunting and fishing season.

Know the Numbers

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 36 percent of American hunters depend on public lands for some or all of their access. In the West, where the BLM oversees 245 million acres of multiple-use public lands, 72 percent of hunters rely on public lands. When the roads and trails on these lands become difficult to navigate, these are the sportsmen and women who waste their precious time afield and get frustrated with land managers.

Currently, the Interior Department has a maintenance backlog totaling roughly $16 billion. While the bulk of that figure—or $11.6 billion—is tied to national parks, America’s sportsmen and women remain concerned about the backlogs at the Bureau of Land Management and the National Wildlife Refuge System, which have a combined backlog of $2.2 billion. Meanwhile, at the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Forest Service has a backlog totaling more than $5 billion, an issue further exacerbated by the practice of “fire borrowing” before this fix.

Combined, these agencies manage public lands that provide some of the best hunting and fishing opportunities in the country. But nothing is more frustrating than having to ground-truth every route to make sure it’s accessible as presented on a map. Especially in today’s world, when time is precious and most people don’t have extra days to spare.

Loss of access is often cited as the number-one reason hunters quit the sport. With hunting numbers already in decline, creating a ripple that reduces funding for state wildlife conservation, we can ill-afford to let a backlog of repairs put negative pressure on hunter retention and recruitment.

Finding a Solution

The deferred maintenance backlog across federal agencies and Americans’ access to public lands appears to be top-of-mind for the administration. In his infrastructure proposal earlier this year, President Trump offered a new funding stream to address the maintenance backlog on lands managed by the Interior Department, including our nation’s parks and wildlife refuges. And Secretary Zinke has been outspoken about the maintenance backlog issue, even as he has urged agency staff through two Secretarial Orders to prioritize public access to outdoor recreation like hunting and fishing.

Creating a solution will be critical, but it can’t come at the cost of other important conservation programs. While the TRCP supports initiatives to address the significant maintenance backlog on our nation’s public lands, we are opposed to efforts to restructure programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund with an aim of shifting funding from one important need to another.

Instead, we need an all-of-the-above strategy: Reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund to continue creating access where there is none, recognize that the maintenance backlog issue is meaningful for more than just national park visitors, and identify new funding sources to deal with it.

Fortunately, the House Natural Resources Committee recently showed strong bipartisan support for doing just that. In September, they advanced two pieces of critical public lands legislation that would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund and provide dedicated funding to address the maintenance backlogs in our national parks, Bureau of Land Management lands, and National Wildlife Refuge System.

Now, sportsmen and women need Congress to see these solutions through before the end of the year, when all good intentions are left on the cutting room floor and a new Congress begins. If you agree, voice your support for the public lands that we call Sportsmen’s Country—sign the petition now.

 

This was originally posted March 27, 2018, and has been updated to reflect recent events.

October 5, 2018

Five Must-Download Conservation Podcasts for the Weekend

Grab your earbuds and download some serious knowledge about landlocked public lands, chronic wasting disease, the Everglades, and more

Whether you’re looking forward to a three-day weekend road trip or just a long walk to a treestand, here are some of the best podcast episodes on conservation to hit the internet lately.

If you’ve always wanted to land a tarpon in paradise…

You need to hear from Capt. Daniel Andrews, executive director of Captains for Clean Water, on this episode of Tom Rowland’s podcast over at The Saltwater Experience. We’re going back into their archives just a bit, but Dan lays out all the facts on the ongoing fight for better fish habitat in the Everglades.

If you rock a #keepitpublic bumper sticker…

This episode of the MeatEater Podcast, featuring TRCP’s Joel Webster and onX founder Eric Siegfried, is a no-brainer. Learn more about the 9.52 million acres of public lands you own but can’t use.

 

If you are ready to get schooled on the deer disease that is changing the way we hunt…

Tune into this episode of Hunt Talk Radio, where Randy Newberg is joined by Kelly Straka of Michigan DNR and Krysten Schuler of Cornell University, two hunters who know way more about chronic wasting disease than you do.

 

If you’re contemplating a career shift to make more of a difference…

Set aside just half an hour for this episode of the Itinerant Angler podcast to hear about Robert Ramsay’s journey from local fishing guide to leader of a conservation organization that is trying to secure dedicated funding for land and water stewardship in Georgia.

 

If you’re about to drop some serious money on gear…

This three-hour episode of Beyond the Kill is worth putting on in the background as you surf the web for a whole new setup. Host Adam Janke interviews the extremely knowledgeable Jared Frasier, executive director of 2% for Conservation, a non-profit that urges outdoor brands to give at least 1% of their time and 1% of their profits to conservation. Janke calls this the best episode of the year (and possibly the longest episode ever.)

 

Top photo by Rhett Noonan on Unsplash

Kristyn Brady

October 1, 2018

Lapsed LWCF Is a Lost Opportunity to Improve and Enhance Hunting and Fishing Access

Congress avoids a federal shutdown, but allows the best tool for opening landlocked public lands to expire

Midnight last night marked the end of fiscal year 2018 and the expiration of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program that makes critical investments in fish and wildlife habitat and sportsmen’s access on public land. This lapse in authorization effectively represents a loss of potential for millions of dollars in important conservation funding.

“Despite strong bipartisan support for the LWCF, congressional gridlock has effectively created a one-two punch for outdoor recreation opportunities in America—continued inaction would stall efforts not only to conserve key fish and wildlife habitats, but also suspend our best tool for opening access into 9.52 million acres of existing public lands that are entirely isolated by private holdings,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

In August 2018, the TRCP released a report with leading app-makers onX to quantify the scope of the landlocked public lands problem in the 13 Western states.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been used for more than 50 years to invest billions into the acquisition of lands and enhance access to hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation. Thousands of Americans who enjoy our public lands have reached out to Congress to express overwhelming support for a renewal of LWCF. Despite this, Congress still failed to act on what may be the most significant and bipartisan public lands conservation initiative in the country.

“Congress will have opportunities after the mid-term elections to not only reauthorize LWCF but make that authorization permanent with full funding, so that generations of Americans can continue to benefit from this sensible and long-standing investment,” says Fosburgh. “Lawmakers must avail themselves of those opportunities.”

Urge Congress to support swift reauthorization and full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund here.

September 27, 2018

New Study: Hunting, Fishing, and Wildlife Watching on BLM Lands Generates Billions in Spending

BLM public lands are critical to our hunting and fishing access, but a new study finds that they also support outdoor recreation businesses and local economies in a big way

Total direct spending for hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing on the 246 million acres of America’s public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management in the western U.S. totaled more than $2 billion in 2016, according to a new study on wildlife-related recreation spending unveiled yesterday.

Visits to BLM public lands also supported 26,500 jobs, generated more than $1 billion in salaries and wages, and produced more than $421 million in federal, state, and local tax revenue.

The research was conducted by the independent firm Southwick Associates Inc. with support from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Wildlife Management Institute, Trout Unlimited, Archery Trade Association, and the American Fly Fishing Trade Association.

Southwick’s analysis found that visits in 2016 to BLM-managed lands in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming for the purpose of wildlife-related recreation resulted in more than $3 billion in total economic output.

“Our research found that recreation associated with fish and wildlife on BLM lands is a significant jobs generator, providing income for rural communities for decade after decade with minimal investment compared to other industries,” says Rob Southwick of Southwick Associates. “Smart business and planning call for managing BLM’s fish and wildlife-related resources as important economic assets.”

“These findings confirm what many of us have known all along: BLM public lands are critically important for public hunting and fishing in America, and these activities are good for businesses and local communities alike,” says Christy Plumer, chief conservation officer with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This report should be a foundational resource as decision-makers consider the economic effects of wildlife habitat conservation on BLM public lands.”

“Hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching are long-standing traditions in the U.S., and public lands and waters offer some of the best places to enjoy these pursuits,” says Matt Skroch, an officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts. “The report underscores the importance to communities in the West of wildlife and its associated public lands habitat and provides a strong economic argument for conserving our wildlife heritage on BLM lands.”

Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute, adds, “This study shows that our public lands provide not just incredible places to hunt and fish; they also boost the economies of local communities while contributing billions of dollars to the U.S. economy.”

“You can’t put a price on the importance of public lands for our outdoor traditions, but this study shows that you can put a price on the economic impact of these special places,” says Corey Fisher, Trout Unlimited’s public lands policy director. “We’ve long known that public lands are critical to the health of our trout and salmon fisheries, and we now know just how valuable fishing on these lands is for the bottom line of businesses large and small.”

Photo by Eric Coulter, BLM via Flickr.

“As advocates for the fly-fishing industry on conservation, access, and business issues, we see firsthand the benefits public lands bring to local economies. As a nation, we must continue to protect access to our public lands; they are an invaluable asset to the people of the United States and our economy,” says Ben Bulis, president of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association.

“This study shows that the West’s sporting heritage on public lands, including bow hunting and other archery-related recreation, is a significant driver of jobs and revenue for local communities,” says Dan Forster, president of the Archery Trade Association. “Maintaining this heritage, along with the habitat that our wildlife depend on, is an important priority for our community as well as public land agencies.”

Southwick Associates calculated the economic contribution generated by the spending of visitors who engaged in wildlife-related recreation activities on BLM lands in 11 western states and Alaska. The researchers based their calculations on 2016 visitation data from the BLM and spending data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation.

Read the full report and methodology for this study here.

 

Top photo by Michael Aleo

HOW YOU CAN HELP

WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?

The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.

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