The following post comes to us from Bill Hilts, Jr., a regular contributor to NSSF.org’s “Hunting and Shooting Opportunities” section. This article and others like it — as well as information about hunting and shooting opportunities in every state — can be found at nssf.org/events.
National Forests Offer Great Hunting Opportunities
Federal lands could provide your next hunting hotspot
By Bill Hilts, Jr.
Photos courtesy of Wayne National Forest
“Caring for the Land and Serving the People” is the motto of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That motto was never more appropriate than how it relates to wildlife and the hunting fraternity, with the federal government caring for nearly 200 million acres of public land. Much of this prime wildlife habitat – including some 155 national forests (NF) and 20 national grasslands – is open for hunting opportunities for both big and small game alike. For many previously unknowing sportsmen and women, this realization opens new hunting areas throughout the country for those willing to take the time to research a particular area.
With the help of presidents like Teddy Roosevelt at the turn of the century, a successful effort was made to retain millions of acres of federal forest land for future generations to enjoy a wide range of outdoor-related activities – including hunting. Your first step should be to see if one of these public lands is located within your state or the state you intend to hunt. Simply visit the USFS website and click on the Locator Map to help identify an area managed by the Forest Service.
Focusing on a particular area is easy. Many NFs offer electronic maps and brochures to get you started. Nearly every NF has a printable map on its website, as well as other basic information. For example, Wayne National Forest in southeastern Ohio has a brochure entitled “Hunting on the Wayne National Forest,” an excellent way to get you started on this public gem covering more than a quarter million acres in the Appalachian foothills.
“If you are thinking about hunting in Wayne National Forest, the hunting brochure is a great first step,” says Gary Chancey, public affairs officer for the area. “Maps are also available from any Wayne National Forest office. We recommend 2.5 inch to the mile topographic maps. Maps may also be ordered from the agency’s website or by calling our office.”
National Forest Visitor Maps, Wilderness Maps, and Atlases may also be purchased from the National Forest Store – a national website that sells national forest maps and passes. You can also find maps on the website of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), including topographic maps, scientific reports and educational materials for a particular NF – all good information for planning a hunt.
Some NFs also offer special access for physically challenged hunters such as in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests in central Idaho. This area offers more than four million acres of rugged peaks, deep canyons, dense forest and remote wilderness, yet still offers Handicapped Access Hunting opportunities.
In all locations, USFS personnel work with that state’s wildlife management agency to establish rules and guidelines for hunting on these public lands. It’s important to contact both the NF office responsible for overseeing hunting activities, as well as that state’s wildlife website for hunting to understand all of the rules and regulations that need to be followed. Some areas may be closed to hunting for a variety of reasons so make sure the necessary precautions are taken to become knowledgeable about what’s legal on the NF lands you intend to hunt on.
“Wayne National Forest offered us some tremendous opportunities that complemented the adjoining private lands very well,” said Ottie Snyder of Ohio, who ran a hunting camp in the southeast corner of the state. “Locating areas that did not receive too much pressure was not very difficult. It made our hunts that much more productive by utilizing these extra lands that were available to us. We could move our hunt sites around and play the wind game that much better.”
Check to see if a NF is convenient to where you live or to where you may be traveling. It could open up a whole new world of hunting opportunities.