Aim to "Leave No Trace" this (and every) Hunting Season
Michigan's preeminent hunting event - firearm whitetail deer season - is in full swing, meaning that generations of hunters are making their annual pilgrimage to the woods. With the spotlight of the outdoor community on us, we as hunters must especially align with Leave No Trace's "Seven Principles" as we aim to set a positive example of conservation in action.
On first glance, the title of this article may jump out as a blatant contradiction. A union of two concepts that have historically been at odds with each other. Hunter vs. Bird Watcher, the “REI crowd” vs. the “Cabelas crowd,” Angler vs. Paddler, and so on.
That being acknowledged, we confidently advocate that these two "camps" of recreationists have a lot more in common than what may appear on surface level. Casual hunters and hikers share a broad range of interests across the spectrum of outdoor enthusiasts - an unquenchable love for pristine wilderness, preservation of habitat, conservation of endangered species, and most importantly, an authentic and primal connection to the natural world.
Another similarity between these groups, unfortunately, includes their immense capacity to damage our natural environment if careless or apathetic towards the impact of their recreation. This is where hunting especially is a double-edged sword; the recreational activity constitutes Michigan's foremost tool for conservation at its best, while simultaneously representing a source of irreparable environmental harm at its worst.
What can hunters do to align their actions with the former, constructive description rather than the latter? Well, allow us to introduce Leave No Trace ("LNT") and its universally-acclaimed Seven Principles.
What is Leave No Trace?
For the uninitiated, LNT is a nonprofit whose mission is to “ensure a sustainable future for the outdoors and the planet.” While LNT provides several valuable resources and services, such as important research regarding human waste and its impact on wild lands, LNT’s most prominent objective includes educating the general public on its Seven Principles for minimizing one’s impact while enjoying the outdoors. LNT also provides its own “Leave No Trace Certification,” which is a common hiring requirement for wilderness guides and similar outdoor employment opportunities.
Here are LNT’s Seven Principles:
1. Plan Ahead & Prepare. Adequate planning and preparation helps backcountry travelers accomplish trip goals safely and enjoyably, while simultaneously minimizing environmental damage. Poor planning results in miserable experiences and unnecessary damage to natural and cultural resources.
2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces. Travel damage occurs when surface vegetation or communities of organisms are trampled beyond recovery. The resulting barren area leads to soil erosion and the development of undesirable trails.
3. Dispose of Waste Properly. “Pack it in, Pack it out” is the mantra to remember. Any visitor to the outdoors has a responsibility to clean up before they leave. Proper disposal of human waste is also important for avoiding pollution of water sources and minimizing the spread of disease.
4. Leave What You Find. Leave all rocks, plants, archaeological artifacts and other objects of interest exactly as you found them.
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts. Use a stove if available, and otherwise use only dead and down wood in existing fire rings. Camp in areas where wood is abundant if building a fire. Don’t make a fire in areas where there is little wood at higher elevations, in heavily used areas, or in desert settings. Put out all fires with water until thoroughly extinguished.
6. Respect Wildlife. Learn about wildlife through quiet observation. Do not disturb wildlife or plants just for a “better look.” Observe wildlife from a distance so they are not scared or forced to flee.
7. Be Considerate of Others. Always follow the “Golden Rule” of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Excessive noise, uncontrolled pets, and damaged surroundings take away from the natural appeal of the outdoors for everyone.
Is Hunting Compatible with Leave No Trace?
Spoiler alert, the answer is a definitive “Yes,” but with several, reasonable contingencies. LNT has affirmed that hunting is a “great American pastime that helped shape many of our first public lands.” Nonetheless, LNT noted that hunting has “the potential to be very impactful on the environment if individuals are careless with their actions.”
Any outdoor experience can quickly violate the Seven Principles if completed irresponsibly. We agree that hunting is no different, especially given the severe consequences that result from irresponsible hunting in the woods. For that reason, LNT provided a tailored version of the Seven Principles for every ethical hunter to adhere to as reverently as basic gun safety principles.
Here are the principles that a “Leave No Trace Hunter” should incorporate into every hunt:
1. Plan Ahead & Prepare. Take a hunter safety course and familiarize yourself with your firearm. Read and follow all hunting regulations. Obtain and display proper tags and licenses. Obey bag and possession limits. Gather information about or scout your hunt area before heading into the field with your firearm. Get permission to hunt on private lands. Respect all road closures.
2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces. Protect private and public property and livestock. Leave gates as found.
3. Dispose of Waste Properly. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and spent brass and shells. Drag any gut piles away from trails, water sources, and highly-visited areas.
4. Leave What You Find. Do not use rocks, signs, trees, or non-game animals for target practice. Use manufactured blinds rather than constructing them out of tree branches or other native vegetation.
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts. Use established fire rings and do not burn trash within them.
6. Respect Wildlife. Hunt only in-season animals. Show respect for wildlife by taking only clean, killing shots, followed by retrieving and properly handling game. Protect other wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
7. Be Considerate of Others. Be aware of your “field of fire.” Do not shoot near developed areas, campsites, or roads. Yield to other users on the trail. Always be conscientious of your firearm, especially around non-hunters.