Vanishing land may doom hunting

Pastoral scenes like this are dwindling across the state.

The rural Sumner County cornfield in which a world-record buck was killed three years ago is now a bustling housing development.

It's a familiar scenario in most Middle Tennessee counties, including rapidly-growing Wilson. Bramble fields once home to rabbits and quail are now landscaped lawns. Woods that used to teem with squirrels and other wildlife are now are traffic-congested strip malls.

Some prime deer and turkey habitat on the Plateau where I hunted as kid is today a sprawling multi-use development known as Fairfield Glade. Decades ago, I saw my first wild turkey in a meadow that is now a golf course.

Back then if you wanted to go hunting you simply shouldered your rifle or scattergun and stepped out the back door. A field or forest was a bobwhite-whistle away.

Today most hunters have to make a long drive to reach property to which they have access. And they are the lucky ones. More and more hunters have no place to hunt, no matter how far they are willing to travel.

Granted, there are Wildlife Management Areas which are open to the public. But they tend to be crowded and inconvenient. Another option is a hunting club or land lease, but both are prohibitively expensive for the average weekend hunter.

The way things are going, it won't be animal-rights extremists and the gun-control gang that will kill hunting. It will die quietly from lack of accessible hunting land.

Out-of-control development is doing more to doom hunting than all the PETA protests in history. And it's only going to get worse.

When most government officials look at an expanse of open land, they don't see deer grazing. They see dollar signs.

A rolling pasture produces only a few dollars of tax revenue. A housing development on that same land will generate millions. Which do you think government officials will opt for when a developer requests re-zoning?

We can't pin all the greed on the government. Many private land-owners -- especially Generation Xers and millennials -- are of the same ilk.

All across the state, farms that have been in a family for generations are going on the auction block. The youngsters have no nostalgic attachment to the land. They take the money and run.

Their great-great grandparents hacked the homestead out of the wilderness, the next generation tamed it, and their descendants continued to tend it and nurture it. The land wasn't just their livelihood, it was their life. Now it goes to the highest bidder, with developers salivating in the background.

I don't see any solution. You can't force young people to love the land and want to protect and preserve it. And elected officials seem powerless -- or unwilling -- to rein in rampant development.

And once it's gone, it's gone forever.

I've been writing about the outdoors for over a half-century, and the most-asked question I get from readers is, "Where can I take my kid to hunt?''

The answer becomes harder every year, as bulldozers growl where quail once whistled, and pristine pastures are paved over and turned into traffic-clogged shopping malls.

Over the roar and the snarl, the fumes and the clutter, we're told it's the sign of "progress."

Larry Woody is The Democrat's outdoors writer. Email him at larrywoody@gmail.com.

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