What is Backcountry?

By Ben Long

Wilderness Hiker

Backcountry” is our first name. It’s the natural resource our organization works to conserve. So what does it mean? First, it’s obvious that the appeal of “backcountry” strikes a cord across North America and beyond. BHA was born in Oregon, but now has members in over 40 states. Our members come from all regions of the United States and several Canadian provinces. Just about everywhere there are hunters and anglers, it seems, there are folks concerned about conserving the backcountry. Minnesota. Pennsylvania. The South. The Southwest. California. Idaho. British Columbia. Alaska. It all, evidently, has backcountry well worth fighting for. But what the heck are we talking about?

In Home Ground; Language for an American Landscape, Elizabeth Cox writes “Backcountry, typically defined as ‘any remote or undeveloped area’ is in some regions called the backwoods, boondocks or hinterlands … backcountry life is now considered a uniquely American experience that began to define the values of the American character.” Backcountry, it seems to me, is relative. A backcountry area in Pennsylvania may be small enough to bushwhack across in a day or two. In Alaska, entire mountain ranges may be the backcountry, accessible only by boat or bush plane. In Idaho or Montana, backcountry might be some thing in between: The Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area is certainly backcountry, but so are those little hidden ravines and rugged cirques that have no fancy title.But no matter where you find it, backcountry areas share common traits. Those characteristics are highly valued by a certain segment of today’s hunters and anglers.

Here are a few:

Opportunities for solitude

Aldo Leopold said wilderness was a land large enough to absorb a two-week horsepacking trip. Backcountry needs not live up to the gold standard of Wilderness Area. A roadless area can provide a chance to shake off civilization’s shackles for a day or two. Overall, backcountry is a place we leave crowds, machines, noise, advertising and pollution behind.

Physical challenge

Backcountry ain’t easy. Backcountry demands huffing and puffing. It may be steep, it may be wet or thick or it may be remote. In the backcountry, you earn your kill by the sweat of the brow. By its nature, the backcountry has no road-hunters and fair chase is the only option. One does not have to be a super athlete to explore the backcountry, but the lazy best stay home.

Native fish and wildlife

North Carolina brook trout and black bear. Minnesota whitetails and northern pike. Alaska caribou and grayling. California blacktail deer and golden trout. Desert bighorn and Gambel’s quail in Arizona. Montana cutthroat trout and muley bucks. There is place in backcountry for exotics like chuckar partridge in an arid canyon or rainbows planted in an alpine tarn, but hunting and angling in the backcountry means natives, dipping into the stream of evolution that dates back to creation. 

There’s nothing wrong with hunting cornrow pheasants or casting for bass in a reservoir. Many of us enjoy that, too. But there is something special, magic and endangered about the backcountry experience. Backcountry is a special part of life. It’s a place that is threatened by the mere fact there are 8 billion of us hungry, materialistic, motorized Homo sapiens on Earth.

Backcountry has been around forever. Backcountry Hunters and Anglers exists to make sure backcountry – and those who love it -- have a place in the future.

© 2007, by Ben Long

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Backcountry Hunters & Anglers seeks to ensure North America's outdoor heritage of hunting and fishing in a natural setting, through education and work on behalf of wild public lands and waters.

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