Keep Elk Country Wild
by PJ DelHomme
Getting outdoors more than most, hunters need to know how to keep elk country as good or better than we find it.
At times, I hunt places where it feels I am the first human to see that spot in a very long time. Other times, I find a place with a fire ring, cans thrown in the pit and cigarette butts scattered about. I much prefer the former. Since hunters spend so much time outdoors in faraway spots, it only makes sense that we help keep the woods the way we find them, or in other words, to “leave no trace.”
The Leave No Trace movement started back in the 1960s when more and more adventurers were getting outside and into wild places thanks in large part to advances in what was then considered lightweight gear. While Leave No Trace refers to non-motorized users, the tenets of the philosophy teach outdoor enthusiasts how to minimize their disturbance to the landscape. We hunters—whether on foot, horseback or vehicle—are no exception.
“One of the best things you can do is go through the regulations and know what rules are in place for a particular area: fire bans, travel restrictions, things like that,” says Sara Evans Kirol, trails coordinator for Wyoming’s Bighorn National Forest.
Kirol urges both horse‑packers and those using motorized vehicles to stay on established trails to avoid degrading wildlife habitat and security. She also cautions that, “People easily lose their way when they go off on a different trail created by other users.”
“Our forest is heavily motorized,” says Kirol. “Hunters should choose the proper-sized vehicle for the road and resist going cross-country on non-established routes altogether.”
She encourages those on foot who want to travel cross-country to minimize their impacts by spreading out and not walking single-file.
Packers should use a highline when tying up their stock, rather than hitching them to a tree, which horses tend to destroy. Hobbling also helps as it allows the stock to move around, but not too far or fast.
Maybe it’s human nature, but Kirol says that once a place is already trashed with litter, fire rings or both, it’s going to continue to be trashed. When it comes to fire ring, though, sometimes it’s best to leave things like you find them.
“Cleaning out a fire ring, and then dispersing the ring will go a long way to keeping the area primitive,” says Kirol. “But sometimes leaving the fire ring is the best choice to encourage people to camp there if it’s in an ideal spot and not too close water.”
When possible, leave your special hunting spots even better than you found them. Don’t be afraid to pack out the trash left by others; think of it as good karma. On your GPS, note places of weed infestation and report it to the land manager.
“We all like to recreate and enjoy wild places,” Kirol says. “People want to get away from city life, and if we don’t take care of those wild places, they just aren’t going to be the same.”
Other Tenets of Leave No Trace Include:
- Place vehicles, camp kitchen, tents and stock on areas where obvious signs of prior use exist.
- Camp at least 200 feet from springs, lakes and streams.
- Adhere to ‘Pack It In, Pack It Out’ principles, including spent brass
- Properly dispose of human waste by digging a cathole 4 to 8 inches deep well away from water and camp
- Don’t use signs for target practice
- Minimize use and impact of fires. Stoves are often the best option. For those camping out of their vehicles or on horses, portable fire pans greatly reduce the impact, leave no burn scars and make it simple to ensure that campfires are completely out.