Maine Sportsman Vermont Column, September 2022
“P is for Public Land”
When the calendar flips to September I feel like the lights turn on. Ahead of me awaits a flurry of activity and some of the most exciting moments of the year. I only hope I’m ready. I get out all my gear and get that ready (My girlfriend would say that I never actually put it away, but we don’t need to get too technical). I shoot my bow, rifle, and shotgun a bunch. I try to remember which rubber boot was leaking last fall. I need to check my woolies for holes and get those fixed, as well as find my blaze orange cap.
A big part of September is planning what to do and where to go. While it’s winding down, the fishing can still be hot and there is little in nature as pretty a brook trout in spawning colors pulled from a mountain stream. Bear season is on. Moose hunting is just around the corner. There are dogs and gear to get ready for ducks and upland birds. There are traps to boil, dye, and wax. Top of mind for me, deer tracking is coming, which takes some September scouting for me. What an embarrassment of riches we have.
Where to Go
Adding to the abundant opportunities we have, we are exceedingly lucky in Vermont, and really across northern New England, to have a lot of access. The private land connection, with a focus on the land owned by the timber companies, is really a boon to us. In the Constitution of VT, access to private land has been codified, “The inhabitants of this State shall have liberty in seasonable times, to hunt and fowl on the lands they hold, and on other lands not inclosed [sic], and in like manner to fish in all boatable and other waters (not private property) under proper regulations.” With that stroke of a pen in 1793, the framers assured for us that we can cruise mountain ridges, float rivers for ducks, and sink a worm.
In addition to this fortunate access to private land, we have some tremendous public land around VT. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers celebrates September as ‘Public Land Month’ and it really is something to revel in. As of this writing, there are 345,000 acres of land managed by the VT Agency of Natural Resources (VTANR), with an additional 128,000 acres of land under conservation easements, most of which have access as part of the easement. Within the VTANR lands, there are 130,000 acres on 100 Wildlife Management Areas that are managed by Vermont Fish and Wildlife. The state forests and parks are managed a bit differently than wildlife management areas, but many have opportunities to hunt on them, especially after operating seasons are over.
Under the heading of federally managed public lands, we have the Green Mountain National Forest with more than 400,000 acres in the southern and central parts of the state. The National Wildlife Refuge System has over 33,000 acres in the northeast and northwest portions of VT. Much more local, there are also numerous town forests that might be just the spot for a new hunter.
All told, that is over 700,000 acres of public land that we get to access, managed for the benefit of the citizens. Add to that all the water in the state that we can get out upon and we are most certainly blessed. We can haggle over how it should be managed, but that amount of land is a tremendous inheritance that we have a right to use. Of course, with rights come responsibilities.
As hunters and anglers, whether we’re on public or private land, we need to behave. Things like yanking down gates on public land ruins things for everybody. Crowding one another can ruin everyone’s day, so I remind myself to give people space. It isn’t that hard to get along at trailheads and parking spots. I find a kind word goes a long way and there’s usually space to spread out once I’m out in the woods. We need to respect all property by not damaging or littering. I’ve picked up more trash from impromptu shooting ranges than I really wanted to, along with worm containers and beer cans at fishing access areas. Our chosen lifestyle could really use some relationship building, despite our inherent right to be out there.
The fall is looming large just in front of us and there is much to be excited about. I get riled up getting my gear organized and checking out places to go. I try not to get locked into just one spot, it’s a lot more fun to find a bunch of places to have adventures on this fall. I’d encourage folks who are coming to VT to pick up a hunting license and check out a Wildlife Management Area, there are lots of them spread around the state.
Check out https://vtfishandwildlife.com/find-a-wildlife-management-area
Reprinted with permission, https://www.mainesportsman.com/