Being active duty in the military, one might think that hunting opportunities to be limited at best, but on the contrary.
With a copy of their current orders, the service members and their families are eligible for resident licenses which can offer
unique hunting experiences from state to state that they might otherwise not have been able to enjoy. Throughout his 22 years
in the US Army, my husband has always taken advantage of this opportunity. Of course, when you are only in one place for a
couple of years before you have to re-locate to another duty station, it is hard to find good hunting areas. Usually by the
time you find a place and scout it out, its time to pack up and move to the next station...unless you are near a military
base that allows hunting. Most of the bases that my husband has been stationed at has allowed hunting of some kind. This allowed
him to go scouting after work. During waterfowl and rabbit season it wasn't unusual for him to take his shotgun to work in
the morning so he could actually hunt during his lunch break. One thing that is not widely known though is that civilians
are allowed to hunt on many of these military installations as well.
Hunting on a military base is much the same as hunting on private property with a few extra twists. You can't just drive in
there, shoot an animal and drive out. First you have to get permission to hunt on the installation, and then you have to get
a permit to hunt on the particular area. All firearms brought on to the installation have to be registered with the Military
Police, and with each different installation and each different post commander comes a different set of rules.
Many of the installations use a sign-out system that requires hunters to sign up in advance to hunt on a particular day.
For instance, in order to hunt on the weekend, you would need to sign out on Friday. Since the sign-outs were usually first
come, first served, it was not unusual to see ambitious hunters in line on Thursday to sign out on Friday so they could hunt
on Saturday and Sunday. That always seemed ridiculous to me, and I always enjoyed teasing my husband and his friends, even
to the point of making a home video of them standing in the "Idiot line" one cold rainy night.... Funny, they never
complained. It would take several years before I understood why.
One of the more frustrating rules on post is what is known as "white light restrictions," which means that after
a certain point you cannot drive your vehicle with your headlights on. In areas where military units are training with NVG
or night vision goggles; the light from a vehicle's headlights can be blinding and very painful. Driving without the use of
headlights is fine during the daylight hours, but in the early morning hours before sunrise, and then in the evening after
the sun goes down, it proves to be tricky navigating the dirt roads and tank trails with just amber parking lights. For most
it is slow going, but my husband, who has natural night vision, barely even notices. That should be a comfort, but if the
truth were known, my husband is a lousy driver (too busy looking at the scenery), so when he goes barreling down the trail
at 40 mph in complete darkness, his passengers are usually saying all kinds of prayers with their eyes tightly shut and hanging
on for dear life. Another factor we have to deal with is the presence of DOW and Federal Wildlife enforcers on hand, but that
is viewed as an asset. In most cases the officers become part of the hunting family. They take their jobs seriously, though,
and strictly enforce all Installation, state and federal laws.
With the 9/11 attacks last fall, security on military posts has tightened and hunting opportunities are limited. In some
places only people affiliated with the military are allowed on post, which prevents civilians from hunting there. The risk
is in having strangers with firearms on a military installation during a heightened security period, but some posts have found
ways to allow the civilian hunters to access the installation during the hunting season. Unfortunately the elevated risk nationwide
means that there is more money needed to support the increased security, which in turn limits the budget for other expenses,
such as wildlife management. This causes a ripple effect. Where I hunt, this means that the wildlife personnel are not allowed
overtime during the hunting season. As a result, we cannot check out until sunrise, which is long after we normally like to
be in position for the hunt, and we have to be checked back in by sunset, which means having to cut the hunt short if you
are in an area that requires a long hike back to your vehicle or a long drive back to the check-out point.
Still, with all the new and pre-existing rules and restrictions, hunting on a military base provides some superior opportunities.
Over the years I have seen many trophy deer and elk come out of the bases. Wild turkey, quail, dove, geese, ducks... these
are some of the game we hunt every year on post with great success. The greatest attraction for many is the proximity; for
me it's just a 10-minute drive from my house. I have never had to use my vacation time from work; I just hunt on the weekends
and go home at night. We may miss an annual "deer camp" get away, but we make up for it while standing in the '"idiot
line." By the way, we no longer need to stand in line overnight since they use a lottery system now, but we still show
up hours in advance just to stand around and talk with old friends, telling new stories, and new variations of old stories.