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2020 is coming to a close and many hunters and anglers are looking forward into 2021 to plan their next hunting and fishing trips. While planning, do not overlook various military installations around the U.S. Many of these installations are open to hunting and fishing for active duty members, veterans, and sometimes even civilians. I have been researching Elk hunts at Fort Sill and Oryx hunts at White Sands Missile Range as part of my 2021 planning, so I have been digging deep into the world of base hunting access.
The Sikes Act of 1960, as explained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, recognizes the importance and value of military lands to natural resources. It seeks to ensure that these ecosystems are protected and enhanced while allowing the military lands to continue to meet the needs of military operations. Dept of Defense installations are required to have management plans that are prepared with the cooperation of state and federal wildlife agencies. These type of management plans are required at almost 380 military installations across the Nation, and direct the management and use of the lands on these installations.
A result of these management plans are the availability of some lands to be hunted and fished when not in use for operations. A prime example is Avon Park Air Force Range here in central Florida. The range offers two hunting areas totaling 160,000 acres designated for military public recreation. Each week the front office publishes a list of closures, based on operations, for areas of the range. You may have to take some extra safety briefs and pay additional access fees, but you get access to a good amount of land for hunting and fishing.
As a starting point, I would recommend looking at a map of your state to locate any military installations. Once located, you can check with the corresponding Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Office to see if the particular installation has any access to hunting and fishing. If you are active duty, then base access may be much easier than if you are a civilian. Many installations have a tag drawing or permit system that may involve you getting a background check to even enter the installation. Some bases also have strict rules about bringing firearms on base so make sure you have a clear understanding of the processes.
Another great point of information is a website called iSportsman which provides a list of installations, their websites, and contact numbers. As each installation is different, be sure to explore the website and ask as many questions as needed to get clarification before setting out to visit. Many of these same installations use iSportsman as a way to check hunters and anglers in and out of the areas.
Many active military members are not always from the area where they are stationed and may not be familiar with hunting and fishing opportunities outside the base gates. Getting to know active duty members in your area is a great way to create friendships, become a mentor/mentee, and get access to recreational activities on base. Some installations will allow you to hunt or fish on their property while accompanied by someone who already has access to the base. As always, check their regulations first. It can be a good trade off if you know the local area and can provide some off-base opportunities in trade for trips onto installation land or water. If you are member of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers then connecting with local vets and active duty members is easier than you may think.
In 2019, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers launched their Armed Forces Initiative which strives to ensure that veterans and active duty military personnel continue to take active roles as public land owners while providing a constructive outlet for current or transitioning service members to continue selfless service and enjoy the camaraderie of likeminded individuals. Since then, they have founded chapters at several installations around the US with many plans of expansion. Check out our podcast episode with Morgan Mason talking more about the program.
If you are not an active duty military member, access may not be as simple as a state owned walk-in area, but with a little work you could get access to prime hunting and fishing land.