Sunday, April 5, 2020


Photo Courtesy of Paul Turcke

*As some of you know, Paul Turcke is ending his private law practice.  It has been my privilege to work with Paul over the last 25 years on many legal efforts throughout the country to defend good travel management decisions or challenge bad travel management decisions.  Turcke’s prowess on federal recreation access issues is unmatched. There will be plenty of time for me to write on many of those court battles, but I wanted to make sure that folks knew about Turcke’s passion for hunting and fishing on public lands.   His commitment to conservation and resource management is captured below in an article that he wrote about his outdoor experience on Wilderness hunts.  QWR wishes Turcke all the best at his new post and thanks him for his service in support of sustainable OHV recreation on designated roads, trails, and areas.
--  Don Amador  

By Paul A. Turcke

A colleague emailed me, saying only that he wanted to talk. We worked for a long time in the same building for organizations usually at odds over public lands issues, but I always enjoyed bumping into him, pretty much in the way of Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog in the Looney Tunes. So I accepted his invitation over a cup of coffee.  He asked if I wanted to write a piece on hunting in Wilderness, which evoked a reaction of equal parts flattery and fear.  I accepted, mindful of our backgrounds and differing professional roles. This piece will not emphasize Wilderness as religion, but more a practical perspective on what Wilderness is, and what it is not.

Photo Courtesy of Paul Turcke

I’ve sought opportunities in Wilderness, including a DIY Grand Canyon float trip in 1986 and other similar “whitewater Wilderness” experiences. My assignment here is to talk about hunting in Wilderness, and I have done a share of that. It’s often not exactly “fun” to be in Wilderness. It’s a lot of work. Apparently there are people who backpack camp for “fun” and I don’t get it. But any aversion I have to sleeping in a 24 ounce tent gets overshadowed by the force of an unpunched tag for some elusive ungulate and the prospect of an unparalleled peak experience.

Each Wilderness can offer a unique, dynamic experience. One should be careful to recognize differences across the broad diversity of areas, or different times in the same area. As the Act states, we are ”visitors” who do not remain, catching a momentary and individualized glimpse into any Wilderness. Even within this diversity, Wilderness is rarely an idyllic place where everything is perfect. Classic “rock and ice” Wilderness can be pretty stark, where wildlife is often far less abundant than in successional habitats. So what is the attraction of hunting in an area where one will almost certainly work harder while likely seeing less game?

Photo Courtesy of Paul Turcke

The ultimate goal offers one explanation. Certain species exist primarily in Wilderness, like sheep or goat. For more common species like deer or elk, Wilderness can offer opportunities that may not exist in more accessible areas. The preoccupation with trophy score can sometimes raise concerns, but experienced hunters seek the challenge of locating, studying and taking mature animals. Escapement is a key contributor, facilitated by the vastness and challenges of Wilderness.

There is also something to be said for the constancy and ethos of Wilderness hunting. There are rules, stated and thus locked in by the Act itself. It feels good to understand and devise methods of complying with these standards. One must recognize and solve numerous logistical challenges to thrive during, or even survive, an overnight trip in Wilderness. Quality hunting can be a matter of avoiding competition, and the challenges of Wilderness help limit hunting pressure. The remoteness, distance and difficulty of the terrain demand good fitness, gear and decision making. Those who appreciate and invest in this culture gain deep satisfaction and will help share it and instill a similar appreciation in others.

Hunting connects us with reality. You can’t talk your way out of being upwind of a mature buck. Wilderness intensifies this reality. Planning a stalk and pulling the trigger can have significant consequences, causing one to spend, or squander, many hours or even days reckoning the outcome of the choices made.

These factors all point to a core attribute of Wilderness: Solitude.  Some prefer more of a social or group experience, which is possible in Wilderness, such as the “classic” hunt facilitated by a string of packhorses. But many seek a solitary experience on foot. There is little denying this is in some form escapism. Such escapism is a justifiable if not healthy response to our society’s present trajectory. Connecting with primitive and sometimes harsh simplicity of Wilderness provides insight and perspective on the developed world.

After about 20 years of resident applications, the word “selected” appeared on my 2018 Idaho California bighorn sheep draw result. The sheep in that unit live primarily within Owyhee Canyonlands Wilderness designated in 2009. This is not impenetrable “rock and ice” Wilderness, but sagebrush-steppe punctuated by 300 meter deep canyons. Out here one will find cherrystemmed access, fences, livestock and F-15s overhead, reflecting the version of Wilderness that can even hope to gain traction in today’s Congress. I have been drawn to this area for over 25 years by hunting, botany, archeology, photography and management issues involving water, livestock grazing and recreation. My knowledge and appreciation grew exponentially through this hunt.

Unlike the hours long treks from a trailhead and backpack camping suggested above, this area offers huntable access about 90 minutes from Boise. I made six scouting trips and hunted a total of seven days throughout the season. I did encounter other hunters along the roads, who were on different hunts and throughout the season. I did encounter other hunters along the roads, who were on different hunts and excited to hear that bighorns roamed this country and to live vicariously through the quest of us lucky enough to hunt them. I never saw another human while afield.

Photo Courtesy of Paul Turcke

Hunting provides an impetus for visiting Wilderness but much of what we experience while there comes simply from being. Equal to the memories of shots successfully taken are those of relict rangelands, fledgling burrowing owls, pediocactus sites and scurrying short-horned lizards.

Beyond one’s own experiental benefits, being in Wilderness allows us to recognize and contribute to the broader custodial effort. In places like the Owyhees agency staff face daunting responsibilities and can be aided by good behavior and feedback from users. Sometimes we see evidence of even light touch management, like boundary signage or efforts to restore the Parker Road to single track after decades of being a vehicle-traveled way. It’s satisfying to recognize or be part of a collective effort. We should all be building karma through respect and better care for our public lands.

Wilderness is one position in our portfolio of public land ownership. There is nothing inherently “good” or “bad” about Wilderness and there is a limit to the lands that qualify, making it ever more important that we know and appreciate these places. Hunting is a recognized and historical use in Wilderness that can provide top quality visitor experiences while enhancing Wilderness ethos and management. For many, including hunters, Wilderness can provide unique challenges and commensurate rewards.

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