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.