“Sheesh, it’s like a city up here,” I remarked as we drove the horse trailer along the Forest Service road. RVs, campers, and various colors of dome tents were scattered everywhere. It was only early April, but all the usual camping areas were packed with people who came up from town. Some were there to hunt, but many were just trying to get the kids out of the house.
The breed of dog in a camp is a dead giveaway for what kind of camper the owners are. I talk to a lot of campers, and the pit bull owners are never there to hunt. There were a lot of pit bulls tied to trees.
And I can understand how they feel. I’ve got two kids at home all day every day in this quarantine situation, and I normally work from home. Getting the kids out of the suburbs and into the hills is a mental health requirement.
But I’ve also seen a lot more hunters in the hills this year.
Idaho has a youth turkey hunt that opens the week before the regular season. It opened on a Wednesday this year, and most kids usually have to wait for the weekend to hunt. But there were a whole lot of trucks filled with teenagers looking for turkeys mid-week. And I know several other dads who had time to take their kids on a weekday, too.
We readied the horses and headed up the side of the canyon. It seemed like we might have to ride a little farther to find black bears, who are pretty shy in the Spring.
Other people, like David Elliot of Taos, New Mexico, told Reuters that he plans to hunt elk for the first time this year. He’s never hunted big game and doesn’t own a rifle yet, but he’s doing it to protect against another food shortage.
“I understand some people might be driven by like antlers or some sort of glory. I don’t want to do that,” Elliot said. The 37-year-old drew a cow tag for this Fall. “I want to make sure it’s a clean, humane shot, as much as possible, and get a bunch of food.”
If you’re like me, you empathize with his desire to eat delicious wild meat — as well as his naive optimism.
But he’s not alone. Nathaniel Evens is a school teacher and city councilor in Taos. Spending time in the woods hunting is therapeutic, he told Reuters.
“Its been so important for me, being able to go out and kind of cleanse my mental card and just go and be present, you really have to be present, and quiet and listening,” he said. The 38-year-old killed a 17-pound bird last month.
License sales are up significantly in many states across the country. Marty Benson, of Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources, told Reuters Turkey License sales are up 28%. In Idaho, online hunters education course enrollments are also up. In Georgia, turkey hunter numbers are up 47% and the numbers of turkeys killed in the first three weeks of the season are up 26%.
Not only are the number of hunters up, but poaching may be on the rise, as well. Reuters reports that Washington Fish and Wildlife “issued 10 poaching charges between March 25 and April 26 compared with three in the year-earlier period.” However, those charges may not reflect poaching done during the pandemic as charges may not be issued for sometime after an investigation is begun.
Meanwhile, Florida and California are seeing declines in the number of hunting licenses issued. In Idaho, we know that’s because all the hunters have moved here.
We romped all over the mountains on horseback that Saturday and finally got a bear treed in the early evening. Just a little guy. I’d like to think that the big bears are staying farther from the masses camping in the canyon — that way I don’t have to blame myself for being a bad hunter.
If the pressure is bad right now with hikers, campers, and hunters, I hate to think how it might be in the Fall. We can get over-the-counter deer and elk tags as residents, typically one each per hunter. Places like Georiga, however, offer as many as 12 deer to a hunter.
As more people hit the trails looking for critters to fill the fridge I think they’ll realize that it’s not quite as easy as it sounds to bring a deer home for the freezer. Extra pressure could make finding animals more difficult than usual this Fall.
But that’s still a world away right now. I’m focussed on the here and now, looking for a bear for me and a turkey for my daughter.
How has your hunt been affected this year? Have you noticed more people in the woods?