Larry Woody: Free hunting day: Good idea, bad timing

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s annual Free Hunting Day is Saturday.
Aug 22, 2014
(Photo courtesy of Larry Woody) Roy Denney bagged this squirrel duirng an early-season hunt last year. Squirrel season opens Saturday, along with Free Hunting Day.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s annual Free Hunting Day is Saturday.

It’s good idea, but the timing is bad.

The Free Hunting Day is self-explanatory: residents can hunt for free, no license required. It coincides with the opening of squirrel season, and is intended to encourage hunter participation.

It’s well-intended, but wouldn’t it be better to wait until the weather cools off a bit? After all, the purpose of going hunting – especially squirrel hunting – is not to fill the larder with meat, but to enjoy the outdoors experience.

It’s hard to enjoy it when the temperature is simmering in the 90s and the skeeters and chiggers are fighting over which gets to chow down on you.

That’s not to say I won’t go squirrel hunting in August – I probably will, just to get in the woods after a long layoff – but it’s certainly not as pleasant as it will be a month or so later.

One of the TWRA’s main objectives in recent years is to get more youngsters interested and involved in the outdoors, especially hunting and fishing. That’s a big part of Free Hunting Day – encouraging a dad (or mom) to take a youngster hunting without the expense and hassel of buying a license.

But I’m not sure that’s going to accomplish the TWRA’s objective. In fact, it could be just the opposite.

If a kid’s first hunting experience consists of being sweat-soaked, parched and skeeter-bitten, is he or she going to want to go back for more? As they say, there’s only one chance to make a first impression, and that goes for a kid’s hunting experience.

If they like it they’ll want to go again. If they don’t like it, they’ll balk at a return trip.

Wouldn’t it be better to have the Free Hunting Day in say, mid-October, when the mornings are crisp, the leaves are turning crimson and amber, and there’s a hint of wood-smoke in the air? And after the first frost most of the skeeters and chiggers have packed it in.

It’s pleasant and enjoyable to be outdoors that time of year. Bagging a few squirrels only enhances the experience.

If that first squirrel hunt is fun, chances are they youngster will want to go again.

I don’t see any drawback to moving the Free Hunting Day from August to October if its limited to small game. Oh, some bow hunters may grip about having to share the woods with a few more hunters, but it’s for one day. Besides, squirrel season is open in October anyway, so there would be little if any added intrusion.

The same goes for the fall turkey season, Oct. 11-24. Having a few more hunters afield for one day -- especially youngsters -- won’t mess up any turkey hunts.

The biggest threat to the future of  hunting is not radical animal-rights activists but a lack of participation, by the public in general and by youngsters in particular.

Any program, like Free Hunting Day, that encourages more participation is worthwhile. However, the objective should not be to simply get folks outdoors, but to try to make sure they enjoy the experience.

A crisp October morning would be perfect.


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