Anyone caught hunting or killing the king’s wild animals could have their eyes “put out” or feet or hands cut off during the reign of William the Conqueror in England. As late as 1723, poaching was a capital offense there. England was not traditionally a country where anyone could enjoy hunting for game. Wealthy landowners controlled the forests and countryside, and only they could hunt large game such as deer.
In the United States, anyone who can afford the small license fee and a weapon of some type can hunt. That system is unique even in the modern world. The democracy we enjoy is not limited to the way we vote. It extends to our shared access to natural resources: Millions of acres of public land are owned by you and me. That land can be used for everything from fishing and hunting to camping.
If hunting were reserved for the rich in the United States, it would contradict our entire system for conservation. The system of conservation that we have set up relies on the millions of hunters and anglers who go out to harvest animals for consumption every year. If we only allowed the wealthy to hunt, our ecosystems would quickly be overrun with large game species, which dominate in the wild without humans playing a role in the food chain and using our knowledge and skill to keep a sustainable balance.
The hunting world is moving toward being run as a business, which could be a dangerous trend favoring those who run the business and can afford to buy into it. It is vitally important for all hunters to keep in mind how our system functions. Every year, more properties that used to grant free permission to hunters adopt a leasing system, often charging thousands of dollars for a one-season lease. Prices for tags and guided hunts in “dream hunt zones” continue to increase every year. Some hunts in Alaska can easily run over $20,000.
I’m not knocking the industry professionals who are working hard to get game for their clients. I’m pointing out the fact that we need to defend our right to our public land. More than ever, we need to value and support our “everyday” hunters for whom hunting is a lifestyle and a way of feeding their families. If our nation ever reaches a point where only the wealthy can afford to hunt, then our system of conservation will begin to break down.
Protect your public lands, encourage new hunters, and work to ensure the system doesn’t buckle under the pressure to earn a profit. This land is your land.