Explore hiking trails, environmental issues, recreational funding challenges and trail maintenance in Central Pennsylvania with Jim Foster.
It's late November, 1965, in rural Warren County, northwestern Pennsylvania. A man and a twelve year old boy are out together on the first day of buck season. A medium sized four pointer appears. The man lets the boy take the first shots. The boy's shots with his .30-40 Krag go wildly high. Then the man takes one shot with his .270 Winchester to down the deer, straight through the heart.
The man was my wonderful Dad, who bagged at least thirty deer in his lifetime. The half-scared boy was me, on my first deer hunt. I remember those days in the woods with Dad so very clearly. I also remember running to the mailbox for the latest edition of the Pennsylvania Game News. I especially enjoyed the art of Ned Smith, and his wonderful journal: "Gone For The Day". These experiences are indeed what gave me my lifelong love of the outdoors. This love drove me to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in 2007, and later to do the John Muir Trail, the Long Trail, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and some other notable treks. I haven't hunted in many years, but hunting began for me the path that led directly to hiking and maintaining trails. Things came full circle in 2006, when I led my 98 year old Dad on a hike on the section of the Appalachian Trail that I personally maintain in Cumberland County.
For some reason, hunters and hikers are often cast as adversaries. Why is this? It may be because some of us let generalizations overcome what should be natural alliances. Hunters are sometimes called insensitive rednecks who blast indiscriminately at everything that moves. Hikers are sometimes cast as ultraliberal flower children who want to take away everyone's guns. Both characterizations are, for the most part, ridiculous and patently false. The fact is that we share much more in common than our differences. We need to work together to preserve our precious wild spaces.
Here are some things hikers may not know about hunters. The vast majority of hunters are fanatical about safety in the woods. By law, all first-time hunters, regardless of age, must successfully complete Hunter Education training before they can buy a Pennsylvania hunting license. Hunting license fees provide much of the support for the PA Game Commission and the State Game Lands (SGLs). Other support comes from Pittman-Robertson funds, which are an excise tax on guns, ammunition and related hunting equipment. SGLs are not the same as State Parks and State Forest lands. SGLs are administered by the Game Commission, primarily for the purposes of managing wild birds and mammals and to promote recreational hunting and furtaking. The Game Commission receives nothing from the state's general funds to carry out these efforts.
Here are some things hunters may not know about hikers. The vast majority of hikers have no problem with hunting. Most hikers do their best to respect the rights of hunters, and to stay safe by wearing blaze orange on lands where hunting is allowed. Hikers appreciate being able to hike on SGLs. Hunters actually benefit from hiking, because hikers maintain countless miles of trails within State Game Lands. In doing this, hikers receive no funding from the Game Commission or other funding streams relating to hunting. Some of the better known trails within SGLs are the Appalachian Trail, Tuscarora Trail, Laurel Highlands Trail and Horse Shoe Trail. Sportsmen use these very trails while hunting on SGLs. Hikers realize that most SGLs were acquired from sportsman related revenues like license fees and Pittman Robertson excise taxes. But, it's also true that tens of thousands of acres of SGLs came from other sources, including conservation and hiking groups.
I think our two groups are similar in another respect. There is a very small group of hikers and hunters who don't follow the rules and make things miserable for the vast majority of us. A few hikers don't respect the rights of hunters and don't wear blaze orange when they should. A few hunters don't always hunt safely and sometimes tell hikers they shouldn't be out on "their" game lands. We all know there are a few jerks out there. What can we do about it? Hikers - if you hear other hikers say that most hunters don't hunt safely, correct them. If you see hikers on a SGL not wearing blaze orange during hunting season, correct them. Point them to the Game Commission regulations on wearing blaze orange. Hunters- if you see other hunters who aren't following safe hunting practices, correct them. If you hear hunters say that most hikers want to take away your guns, correct them. Let's police our own ranks and make things better for everyone.
Oh, by the way, to my hunter friends - if you have any venison steak or sausage that you don't need, feel free to send it my way. Good luck out there and be safe.