Hunt on Military Installations
More and more hunters are finding out about unexpected opportunities close to home
By Tony Mandile
The United States military services control more than 25 million acres on bases and training areas in the lower 48 states. Spread out across the nation, much of this land encompasses prime wildlife habitat for various species that might include upland birds, waterfowl, deer, elk, black bear, turkey and wild pigs. Fortunately, a vast majority of the military installations are open to hunting in one form or another.
Nearly every base allows hunting by active or retired military members, Department of Defense employees, other military-connected types and their guests. Now, however, many hunters who do not fit into those listed are finding out that they too can hunt the military bases, especially those run by the U.S. Army.
The hunting programs for civilians on the myriad bases are generally run on an individual basis. Thus, the rules and regulations will vary somewhat among the installations. In general, each base will normally adhere to the game laws of the state where the base is located. That said, most will perhaps have a paperwork maze to negotiate and unique regulations. These might include special permits for firearms and vehicles; access limitations for certain days or even hours; and travel restrictions to some parts of the base and others that are designed keep hunters from interfering with military operations. Some of the special rules might affect only civilians, and active duty or retired military members will be exempt. Regardless of the rules, though, hunters who are patient and follow them will get rewarded with some excellent hunting.
The ideal way to get information on hunting at a particular military installation is by contacting the base directly. Although each one is like a small state in terms of bureaucracy, most have some sort of recreation office or rod and gun club that will handle questions from those wanting to hunt.
The ideal place to start a search would be the Internet. Almost every military base now has a general website, and some of these even have links to their hunting information pages. If nothing else, the main base phone number should put one in touch with the public information office for direction.
These are just a few of the choices available from around the country:
Bordered by the Los Padres National Forest, Fort Hunter Liggett consists of 165,000 acres in Monterey County, Calif. This vast expanse of oak savanna and brush along the central coast of California offers good blacktail deer and tule elk hunting and some of the best wild hog hunting in the state. Fort Hunter Liggett is open almost every weekend and on federal holidays, although it is occasionally closed for military operations. The access fee is $25 per weekend, and annual permits are also available. Access is first come, first served until 700 hunters have entered the area, although this limit is rarely reached.
Located in central Louisiana near the town of Leesville, the 144,343-acre Fort Polk Army base offers hunts for whitetail deer and wild hogs in addition to small game and birds. Approximately 126,300 acres of the base are open to hunting, although during a training exercise, many acres are off-limits to hunters. Big-game hunting gets underway here with either-sex archery season in mid-October, followed by gun season, which starts in late October and continues through February of the following year.
The 15,000-acre Blue Grass Army Depot near Richmond, Ky., offers hunts for deer, dove, turkey, waterfowl and rabbit. The area is managed for trophy deer, with a 15-inch minimum width restriction for bucks. Anyone who wishes to apply for a hunt must do so online. Application fees are $10 for the first hunt and $2 for each additional hunt, payable online only.
The U.S. Army's Yakima Training Center northeast of Yakima, Wash., covers 330,000 acres. The drawing card here is the high success rate for trophy-quality mule deer. Hunters must apply through the state lottery for Unit 371. There are rifle permits for the November season, muzzleloader permits for the October season and archery permits for the September season. The chances of drawing a rifle permit are about one in six.
Fort Riley, a 101,683-acre Army base in northeastern Kansas, offers limited-entry hunts for whitetail deer and elk. Approximately 67,000 acres of the base are open to hunting. The elk herd on Fort Riley numbers between 200 and 225 head, and hunting is currently offered only to Kansas residents. Deer hunting is offered to both residents and nonresidents, although the number of permits issued to nonresidents is currently very limited. The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks issues the controlled-hunt permits for all of the above hunts, which occur in Unit 8A, a special unit that only encompasses Fort Riley.
The southernmost portion 1.1 million-acre Fort Bliss lies in northwestern Texas near El Paso, but the vast majority is located across the border in southern New Mexico (New Mexico Game and Fish Region M, Unit 28). The New Mexico portion of the base provides good hunting for mountain lion. Bliss also offers a youth-only deer hunt in New Mexico and an occasional fall deer hunt (depending on herd conditions) with a very limited number of tags that must be applied for in person on the Texas side of the base.
Fort Drum, a 107,265-acre Army base near Watertown, N.Y., offers hunting for whitetail deer and black bear on most of its property. Fort Drum lies in New York Game Management Area 6H, where hunting gets underway with an archery season beginning in late September, followed by a one-week muzzleloader season for antlerless deer in mid-October. The regular season for Area 6H runs from late October into early December. During this season, hunters may use rifles, shotguns, handguns, muzzleloaders and bows. Hunters must purchase a $10 annual Fort Drum hunting permit, which is good from October 1 to September 30 of the following year.
The 16,000-acre United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., has a diverse hunting program that includes uplands birds, waterfowl, whitetail deer and turkey. The hunts are generally open to both military personnel and civilians and run in conjunction with the NY state regulations.
Follow up by contacting military installations near you. You may discover a new hunting opportunity close to home.