Each morning now, I go somewhere I haven’t been before. It’s an easy, solo routine that asks no one for permission, checks in with no authorities, goes where it wants to go. I have a hunting license and I’m American, camping on American soil owned by every damned one of us.
There are but two limitations: obey the state’s hunting laws and no camping in the same spot for more than sixteen days . . . as if I’d want to stay in one spot that long. I can live with those two rules.
The other rules are my own. Get up when I want, go when I want, shoot only a few birds out of each covey, treat my dogs well, leave enough for next time.
It has been this way for ten weeks now as I swing into the last two weeks of a three-month sabbatical from my real job. I have hunted five states, nine species of upland game birds, a dozen national forests, and thousands of acres of BLM ground. I asked no one for permission to go there and I checked with myself to see if it was okay to go. It was. No one is more free.
It’s a rare honor owned by only four percent of the world’s population, we U.S. citizens. And were I less fortunate and had less than this chunk of time, I could still have gone. Gone for a weekend camping trip or an hour-long picnic with my family. It is as free a choice as deciding what side of the bed to sleep on.
In the evenings, I sit by the sharp clean burn of a hardwood campfire, smelling that good smoke, grilling my dinner. I sip corn liquor and pat my canine companions. I listen to coyotes talking from a near ridge and far off on the skyline, I can see the lights of the city to the north. I read good books by flashlight and I stretch, take a few aspirin for middle-aged aches, and turn in. Then I do it all over again.
This is my liberty. Rise in the morning in the camper parked on American ground. Coffee, bacon, eggs. Breakfast done. Put the gun and the dogs in the truck. Load up on water and food for the day. Pull out the forest map and decide where I want to go. In a few weeks, my family will join me and we’ll celebrate Christmas here. An outdoor Christmas with a nearby scraggly alligator juniper as our tree.
I’m only a few miles north of the border. Sometimes I wonder if anyone gets to hunt those beautiful oak slopes down in Mexico. I suspect not. It is likely owned by only one person while the ridge I’m standing alone on is owned by 320 million of us. Ironic that it feels in this moment as if I’m the only owner. Therein is the beauty of it.
I follow my little setter up onto benches of Spanish dagger and live oak. I drop into arroyos of granite and mesquite. I turn toward good looking bird habitat when I see it. No one knows I’m out here. I’m free. Sometimes, I stop and rest against a boulder and I watch contrails in the sky and listen to Mabel’s panting and think how damned fortunate I am to live in this country, with all of this American public land to hunt. Mostly, I just rest and think about nothing at all, which in this day and age is a good thing for someone who loves freedom and liberty. It is a good thing to get away from the raspy blather of the greedy.
I heard smatters of drivel coming from someone who has eyes on taking our American soil and turning it over to outside interests, claiming, incredulously, a constitutional right to such a theft from our people. “What price liberty?” asked the man with city-soft hands and never-seen-the-sun skin.
Try and take mine and you’ll find out, I think, and I pick up my shotgun and follow my bird dog into another covey.
19 thoughts on “Liberty”
Reblogged this on The Fish and Wildlife Report and commented:
This post tugs at my very soul. #keepitpublic and fight for public lands and your rights to enjoy them now, and protect them for the next generation. Thanks Tom!
Thanks Tom for a great read as always but more than any other topic, one that requires all our attention and desire to keep our lands public! Let us all fight to keep these lands available for future generations
It’s the biggest, most important battle of our lives. Those of us who live in the west and recreate on public land need to be ever vigilant. No mater who becomes president in this next election there are certain politicians out there that are pushing for privatization of our public lands and we must stop them at any cost !
Man, what a great perspective! And as a guy living in the SE, where public land isn’t quite a plentiful or as wide as it is in the West, it’s an enviable sense of freedom!
I have enjoyed reading your words, the picture it creates, the traditions and that as I grow older I can relate to your stories, camping out and hunting with a dog. Your photo by the campfire speaks a thousand words.
Glad I stopped by to read.
We also have issues in Australia of public land access in Australia.
About time someone spoke some with reason to this subject! Our public lands are a treasure!
Good essay Tom. This public lands fight is a important as the Pinchot and Roosevelt fought to establish much of our public lands. We cannot let them down.
Someday I’ll be able to do that…someday,as long as the land hasn’t been sold away to the highest bidder.
I too have enjoyed this very freedom, I celebrate it, thank the vets that made this possible, and see my maker in the twilight. The GOP has lost its way, far to many are clueless to the fact that our nation is just the White House away from losing the greatest gift a person can have, freedom to hike, hunt, camp and roam as free men in wild places! They just don’t realize the joy of life in the stillness of public lands! I have developed nothing but contempt for those simple fools that won’t see our public lands is just under Federal Stewardship, and we own this land! It’s a scheme being won by energy sector billionaires that are runing out of places to invest!
You can probably hear the collective sigh from those of us envious! Lovely sentiments, Tom!
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Just as our founding fathers wanted.
Roosevelt couldn’t have said it any better himself. You, sir, know what it means to be an American man. Happy hunting, brother.
Very well done, Tom. You captured the tone perfectly. My sentiments exactly.
You nailed it. That’s exactly what the principals of America were built on
Very well put. It is definitely great that it is possible for any man to go hunting.