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Feel free to hunt land yields trophy bull elk

HUNTING — A Walla Walla hunter has a fresh respect for Washington's Feel Free to Hunt land access program.
So do I after seeing the trophy bull elk he bagged on Sept. 26 on Blue Mountains foothills farm open for any licensed hunter to walk in and hunt.
Scott Rasley, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife conflict specialist for the Blue Mountains area says the 8-by-8 point bull was killed on a farm posted Feel Free To Hunt in the Blue Creek Unit.
"We issue only one rifle tag for this hunt and thanks to the farm being signed up in one our hunter access programs, the hunter was able to harvest a bull of a lifetime," he said.
After 17 years of plying the state for permits and the Blues for bulls, and 27 straight days devoted to scouting and following this bull, Jim Eggart scored the trophy with a green gross score of 392 points, reports the Walla Walla Untion Bulletin.
“It took eight guys to load him into the back of the truck,” Eggart said.
Next dilemma:  Is there a wall in the house big enough for the rack?

Montana House votes down “cutting corners” public land access bill

PUBLIC LANDS — Led by Republicans, the Montana House has rejected a plan to give hunters and others access at "corner crossings" to public land that is intermingled with private land in a checkerboard pattern.

The measure was championed by sportsmen and House Democrats to ensure public access to more than 800,000 acres of landlocked public parcels in the state.

Hunters and advocacy groups packed the chamber in support of the measure, seeking access to patches of government land that meet at corners. Supporters of House Bill 235 said denying access at such corners ensures that mega-land owners like Ted Turner can lock up blocks of public land.

"This law would no longer criminalize a Montana sportsman from jumping from one corner of public land to another corner of public land," said Rep. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula. "We are talking about hopscotch, folks, leaping from one corner of public property without touching any private land."

Republican critics argued that there is no way to cross at the corners without trespassing, even if a person knows exactly where the property lines intersect. They argued that a person's hips and shoulders would cross the airspace at the intersection of the four corners while hopping between parcels.

In Washington, a hunter would be legal in crossing a corner if he didn't stray onto private lands, state Fish and Wildlife police say.

"As far as I'm aware, where four sections come together at a single point, no Washington officer would cite a person who went right over the corner. It seems like Montana is cutting hairs pretty close to cite somebody for trespassing in that instance."

Capt. Dan Rahn, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Region 1 enforcement coordinator.

Hunters losing access to land at alarming rate

HUNTING — Nearly 23 percent of hunters polled said places they tried to hunt in the past year had been restricted or placed off limits to them, according to HunterSurvey.com

Compared with the previous year’s results to the same question, hunters who lost land access grew by less than 1 percent, a statistically insignificant bump. But their numbers still reveal that nearly one in four sportsmen nationwide is potentially affected by losing access to hunting land.

“Finding a place to hunt remains one of the biggest challenges to hunters and hunter recruitment” says Rob Southwick, president of Southwick Associates, which designs and conducts the surveys at HunterSurvey.com.

“As available lands for hunting diminish or change ownership, some hunters will inevitably grow frustrated and pursue other activities.”

More than half (52 percent) of those respondents who lost access to a hunting location said their time spent hunting last year was reduced as a result—a 7 percent increase over the previous year—while 11 percent said the lost land kept them from hunting altogether.

Only 7 percent of those respondents said they acquired access to another property where they were able to hunt more than planned.

Southwick pointed to the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), which was part of the 2008 Farm Bill, as a key example of programs designed to improve access to hunting and fishing lands and waters.

VPA-HIP was intended to provide three years of funding to augment state land access programs that provide incentives for private landowners to open their lands to hunting and fishing. The program ended prematurely, however, due to federal budget cuts.

With slashes in government funding and private properties increasingly restricted, land access will continue to be an issue for many sportsmen.

Federal grant to boost hunter access in Washignton

HUNTING — A federal grant of nearly $1 million will be used to give private landowners in Eastern Washington an incentive to open their lands to fishing and hunting, the Washington  thanks to to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reports.

The federal Farm Bill-authorized grant is the second awarded to Washington in as many years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Last year, WDFW received $1.5 million to increase recreational access to private lands around the state.

Don Larsen, the agency's private lands coordinator, said the $993,231 grant will be used in three ways:

  • Provide incentives to private landowners to allow hunting on forested properties in Kittitas, Klickitat, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens and Yakima counties.
  • Work with landowners in Columbia, Garfield, Lincoln, Walla Walla and Whitman counties to improve habitat enrolled in both the federal Conservation Reserve Program and WDFW access programs.
  • Initiate a “Feel Free to Fish” program in southeast Washington, paying  private landowners for shoreline access to river fisheries.

Read on for more details.