Public Land in a Pandemic

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Image Vince Scott

 

Indiana’s turkey season is here! Like many of you, I will be taking to the woods and fields for the next few weeks in the hopes of calling in a cooperative long beard. In a world that is very different from the one we anticipated even a couple months ago, it’s a tremendous blessing that our access to outdoor opportunity remains mostly unchanged. As Hoosiers, we should count ourselves lucky as this is not the case across the country as a whole. The key now is to enjoy the outdoors safely so we can continue to do so.

At the time I am writing this, the Indiana DNR has stated that all their properties are still open. This includes state forests, fish and wildlife areas, state recreation areas, and wetland conservation areas. Hoosier National Forest also remains open for hunting and fishing. Muscatatuck and Patoka River National Wildlife Refuges are still allowing turkey hunting this season; however, the hunts at Big Oaks NWR are postponed. The draw hunts at Big Oaks require a safety briefing to participate which, due to social distancing guidelines, cannot be conducted. All that being said, it's a good decision to call ahead before you go to a specific property. A week is a long time these days, so it's important to keep your information current.
Since we are fortunate enough to be permitted to use our public hunting and fishing areas during a pandemic, we need to do so responsibly. If you recreate at any of these areas, there are some key concepts to keep in mind. The first and most important is to stay as far away as possible from people you don’t live with. This means solo outings or limiting your party to members of your household are the best options. If you encounter other people at your destination make sure they are far enough away that you can’t hit them with a fishing rod. Another important precaution is to keep your outdoor pursuits local. Extended travel exposes us to people and communities that we wouldn’t normally interact with, and us to them. If a trip involves an extra trip to a gas station or grocery store, it’s best to find a closer alternative.  Lastly, it should go without saying that the last place you want to be right now is a hospital. With that in mind do everything you can to avoid injury during your outdoor pursuits. Even when things are normal no turkey, crappie, or morel is worth a trip to the emergency room. Hospital staff share a disproportionate amount of risk in the world right now, by keeping yourself safe you do the same for them.

Every time we avoid sharing germs with someone new, we increase our chances of things being at least somewhat normal by the time the Fall hunting season rolls around. As hunters and anglers, we are old hands when it comes to risk mitigation. Safety harnesses, PFDs, blaze orange, and telling our family where we are going are just a few precautions we take while enjoying our hobbies. It’s all about making it home safe so we can keep hunting and fishing again and again. The extra steps we take during this pandemic are just another layer of mitigations in response to a world of increased risks. The good news is that the increased risk is temporary and the more we do now the sooner it will be a distant memory. One thing is for sure, none of us will take being able to cram into a truck together at 4AM for granted again.
            Besides its people, our country’s public lands and wild spaces are its greatest treasures. I don’t think I need to convince any of you of that. We are a group that understands the restorative power that time alone in nature provides. Given the present state of the world, we are fortunate that one of the few things that hasn’t changed much is our freedom to get outside. It’s my hope that more people will see the advantages of this land that we all own. I hope they take an interest in making sure it’s something we always have. Lastly, I hope we all stay safe, stay healthy, and stay away from each other!

About Indiana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers

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