Live (HUNT) Free or Die in New Hampshire
Every four years the political limelight is cast on New Hampshire for the presidential primary season. Yup, New Hampshire is different. It is a place where small towns continue to exist filled with regular people like you and me. Politicians seem to want to be "connected" to regular people like you and me, at least for a few months every four years or so.
Yup, New Hampshire is special AND regular. It's the regular part I like best, as a hunter. In fact I regularly hunt on my neighbors land and other neighbors' lands all over the state. All for free! You see, New Hampshire is not just a state, but a state of mind.
In the "live free or die" state you can hunt anyplace you want as long as the land is not posted otherwise. It is indeed a free state. Sure there is posted land. But not a lot of it compared to the open lands. Hunters are welcome all across the state. As you'd expect the closer you are to the more urbanized towns in the southeast section of the state, the more likely you are to see posted land.
But even here, simply introducing yourself to the landowner will often gain you access to their property for free. And like any polite hunter you should seek out the owner and ask permission to hunt on their land whether posted or not. It's the right thing to do, even when you don't need to.
Don't get me wrong, hunting is not a right in New Hampshire, but a privilege just like everywhere else. A privilege granted to those who respect the rights of the landowner. In New Hampshire the privilege to hunt on someone's property is an understood favor granted to hunters in a Yankee tradition centuries old.
New Hampshire has other traditions I like as well including: Sunday hunting- yup, no local or town regulations preempting the states' set seasons, bag limits or where you can hunt-yup; hunting stories or pictures of game taken in the local newspapers, or, heaven forbid, on TV!-yup; people talking about hunting at the local breakfast eatery-yup. Yup New Hampshire is a regular place with regular people. Kind of like the way your place used to be if you don't live here.
While millions of acres of private property are open to free access by hunters, it should also be noted that nearly all public land, nearly 25 percent of the state, is open to hunting for free as well. The White Mountain National Forest encompassing nearly one million acres, primarily in New Hampshire, has opportunities to hunt a wide variety of game species from squirrels to moose. There's even a fisher, locally called fisher cats, season that extends from the first of December to the end of January. Fisher are common in the Whites as they are elsewhere. Bears abound in the National Forest, in fact the season was extended in the White Mountain Region a couple of years ago to help curb an over abundant population of the bruins living there. Here the bear season runs from September first until early December. Please check the annual season regulation guide for specific dates or check the NH Fish and Game Departments' web site at www.wildlife.state.nh.us for season dates by region or wildlife management unit (WMU).
Nearly all state parks and state forests are open to hunting as well as land owned or managed by the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. This adds another few hundred thousand acres of free open lands. In fact in the spring of 2003 an additional 171,000 acres of forest land in the Great North Woods, near Canada, was protected and declared open to hunter access in perpetuity by a state held conservation easement. There are thousands of acres of state owned lands open to hunting in every county.
Lastly it should be noted that in the early 1990's over 30 million dollars in state funding was used to permanently protect large tracks of lands throughout the state by buying the development rights on the lands and securing them forever with conservation easements. Under this LCIP program nearly 200,000 acres of private land was permanently protected. Because it was a state funded program, public access was guaranteed, even to hunters, forever. Chances are there are hundreds of acres of these lands in your community.
Luckily there is an easy way to discover all these open lands with free access to hunters. Simply purchase a New Hampshire Atlas and Gazetteer published by DeLorme to find these areas. Public lands including the National Forest boundaries, state parks, forest and Fish and Game Wildlife Management Areas are well marked. Even the local LCIP conservation lands are noted by green shading on these maps. Right in front of the Gazetteer you will find a whole list of nearly one hundred state lands open to hunting including: acres, species found on the site and the location within the Gazetteer.
Remember, New Hampshire is not just a state but a state of mind. Please be mindful and respect the rights of others, especially the landowners. Hunt safely and keep the traditions going including unposted private property. Pick up after yourself and others if need be. Please don't leave empty shell casings on the ground. Do your part to keep New Hampshire a special place to hunt for regular people like you and me. More information on hunting in New Hampshire can be found at www.nhfishandwildlife.com.
Eric P. Orff