On Your Own Hunting; Finding a Place to Hunt

Randy Newberg is the host and producer of Federal Premium’s Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg, making him the voice of self-guided public land hunters in America; where he shows the common hunter uncommon experiences available on our western public lands.  You can catch his show on Thursday nights, only on Sportsman Channel and you can get more details about his hunts on his forum www.HuntTalk.com

I think back to when I moved west, thirty years ago.  I was clueless about how you find public land and how you know what was public or what was private.  It was very intimidating, albeit, 20 years before the proliferation of hunting information being so easy to acquire on Al Gore’s internet.

Thankfully, finding your way around the hunting hills of the west is easier today than it has ever been.  Yet, that doesn’t mean you won’t have to invest some time.

I remember wondering, “Who is the BLM, USFS; what is a NWR, a WMA?” and a lot of other terminology that seemed foreign to me.  It took years of map study to understand all of this and learn what properties I could hunt.

Once I figured it out, I was amazed at how many millions of acres were open to my pursuits.  To know what public areas you can hunt, you need to know which agency owns the land, and whether that is a Federal or State agency.  Here is a quick primer to help you over some of the hurdles I faced.

Federal agencies that will provide you the greatest hunting access.  These lands encompass most of the public hunting lands of the west.

Overview of Checkerboard Area

Overview of Checkerboard Area

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages over 260 millions of acres of land in the western states.  Most of the BLM lands are range lands.  Even if those lands are leased by others for grazing, minerals, etc., these Federal lands are open to public hunting.

United States Forest Service (USFS) manages over 160 million acres in the western states.  Those lands may also be leased for grazing, timber, minerals, etc.  And like the BLM lands, these lands are open to public hunting, even if leased for those purposes.

Checkerboard State Land

Checkerboard State Land

States own large amounts of properties in the western states.  In exchange for their statehood, the western states were granted land to use for funding of their school systems.  Each state has different rules related to public access to these properties.

Most states, with the exception of Colorado, allow public hunting on the millions of acres held by the states.  Some of the best state lands have been converted to Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) which are usually open to hunting, though may close during wintering or migratory seasons.

If you look at a surface map of western states, you will see they are all consistent in what color is used to mark the land owned by the agencies.

Yellow is BLM.  Green is USFS.  White is private.  Blue is usually state lands.  If you look at any surface ownership map, these colors are consistently used.  Thank goodness for that.

So, now that you have a tag, and you have found some public areas you might want to hunt, there are some other things you need to know.  Mostly, what type of access is allowed on those properties; foot, horseback, motorized, or a combination.  Make sure you know what access is allowed, as if you shoot a big animal like an elk in a non-motorized area, you’ll need a plan to get all that tasty meat to the trailhead, without spoilage.

I bring this up, as many people show up for a western hunt and then are disappointed that some areas are open only to foot or horseback.  Most often that is designed to protect wildlife values that might be disturbed by motorized traffic, or by the large amount of hunting pressure and landscape disruption that can come when access is made easier by motorized travel.



I’m still an old map guy, buying a Tyvek map for every unit I hunt.  Just a habit of mine, and not necessary if you are comfortable using an electronic device.  The biggest game changer in my western hunting has come in the form of surface map chips that you can load into your GPS or that you can download to the newer smart phones.  For years, I have been using the maps by OnXMaps.  They are not only the first to design these maps for hunters, but make the best maps I know of for hunters.

With these applications, you know exactly where the public and private lands are, giving you comfort that you will not trespass.  I would suggest every western hunter invest in this new map technology, whether they are an old hand at navigating these landscapes, or a newcomer fresh to the world of western hunting.

Federal Premium’s Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg airs on Sportsman Channel every Thursday night at 9:30 PM (ET).