Shutting the door of the truck just felt different. The first hunt of the year was finally here. Grouse Ridge, so dubbed by my young son, lay before us. This area is renowned in my household. It’s produced spruce grouse every year for almost a decade.

And still, I learn more about this place every time I visit. My trusted five-year-old Lab, Tule, hunted that first mile on this opening hunt in a manner that was nothing short of frantic. She too was loaded with energy, rushing around like it was the only hunt of the year. Soon she calmed down and hunted closer, more methodically. The team was back together. 

The overwhelming feeling of fall is here. Anticipation that grew throughout the year now has an outlet. How lucky are we? How lucky are we to have the chance to amble across a landscape that is open to all, regardless of who your parents are, how much money you made last year, or your political affiliation? How lucky are we to have the opportunity to pursue the people’s game? Damn lucky.

Today is National Public Lands Day and National Hunting and Fishing Day. We rightfully should take time to celebrate our great fortune and revel in it afield. However, we also should take stock of how it came to be, this great opportunity. And more importantly, what we must do to carry it on. 

None of what we have happened by accident. We stand on the shoulders of giants, many of whom we know by name, but countless others we don’t.

Today the public lands legacy is carried on by individuals and groups within our community. Species-specific groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and the Mule Deer Foundation galvanize us toward a common cause. Other groups like the National Wildlife Federation, Boone & Crockett Club, Nature Conservancy and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers fill important roles, too. And relatively new groups like the Outdoor Alliance, Outdoor Afro and Minority Outdoor Alliance are adding strong voices. 


public lands grouse
The author’s dog and a limit of grouse after a public-land hunt. Land Tawney

Together, we share grand responsibilities: On-the-ground habitat work; Influencing policy at the state, and regional levels; And the ever-present need to represent the nation’s hunter and angler in Washington, D.C.

As the saying goes, if we aren’t at the table, we are on the menu. So, sign up as a member of your preferred organization. Hell, sign up for many. Use your voice when you get the chance. Contribute to the stewardship of our lands and waters by making our natural world a better place. 

This September, a month that in 2017 we at Backcountry Hunters & Anglers deemed Public Lands Month, BHA has been working to heighten engagement by our community in the places and opportunities that inform our passions. BHA members all over North America are powering through a weeks-long cleanup effort on our shared lands and waters. Public Lands Pack-Out events have been happening across the continent all month as well as individual efforts. Stewardship is year-round endeavor but this month we double down.

Positive developments are happening at a national level, too. Earlier this month, a broad coalition of hunter conservation groups united in support of our grasslands habitat via a legislative approach called the North American Grasslands Conservation Act. Momentum is growing behind the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which would dedicate $1.3 billion annually to state and tribal fish and wildlife managers to keep at-risk species, both game and non-game, out of the emergency room known as the Endangered Species List. And sustained efforts to conserve special places like the Boundary Waters Wilderness, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and Alaska’s Bristol Bay are gaining steam and making progress.

In short, good things are happening right now in support of our North American fish and wildlife populations, in the name of our public lands and waters and toward the long-term sustenance of our all-important hunting and fishing traditions. Public Lands Month is living up to its name. However, our ability as a community to make continued progress and – even more importantly – to exponentially increase our impact and effectiveness relies on our willingness to work together. To focus on shared values and objectives. “To dare mighty things,” as Theodore Roosevelt said, and “to win glorious triumphs.”

There’s no shortage of challenges for us to tackle. We need to focus on conservation funding – ensuring that our public lands management agencies receive the resources they need and making strategic investments to create jobs, repair infrastructure, and improve public access opportunities. We need to work to implement legislative victories like the Great American Outdoors Act, which guarantees $900 million annually for Land and Water Conservation Fund projects and an additional $1.9 billion for maintenance projects over the next five years – how can we make sure those funds are spent wisely?

With increased participation comes increased impacts and potential user conflicts. How do we minimize those impacts and conflicts while at the same time finding common ground? In the face of a warming world with extremes like hurricanes and drought, how do we make sure fish and wildlife get a fair shake?

And what about the rise of threats like chronic wasting disease, which is impacting cervid populations across North America? Increased funding for wildlife managers, increased education for hunters, and coordination with entities like the federal CWD Task Force all are critical factors in achieving success here.

As Tule and I worked Grouse Ridge, memories of past flushes were aplenty, but the birds were few and far between. I sat down on a stump for a reset. Where were the birds?

I gave my thirsty companion some water and then took some myself. Onward. The landscape changed from Douglas fir and alder to western larch and kinnikinic. Tule’s focus changed, too. He flushed two grouse, but his hunting partner missed. We moved on. Four more flushes ended with three birds brought to hand. Our limit was complete. 

As Tule and I made our way back to the truck, I checked my watch: 5 miles, 3 hours, 895 feet of elevation gained, and more than 1000 calories burned. In my hunting vest were three delicious morsels as well as an old, discarded glove, a rusted coffee can, and some blue marking tape. The best part? Grouse Ridge is an hour away from my house, doorstep to ridge. Not only had we found birds, but amongst all the craziness in this world right now, we also found solace—a place to escape.

You have a place like that, too. As owners of our vast public estate, we all do. No matter where you are, you can find a wind-swept ridgeline, a still forest, or a breathing marsh that offers adventure and solitude.

Let’s all take a moment to give thanks for our North American public lands and waters. How lucky are we?

Land Tawney is the Executive Director of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and is a fifth generation Montanan who garnered his conservation ethic from a young age in duck blinds on warm water sloughs in the Bitterroot Valley, at the end of a flyrod during the salmon fly hatch on the Big Hole River, and chasing the wily wapiti in Cinnabar Basin.