We go into the woods and onto the water to get away from the so-called real world.
We go outside to get away from the news blasting out of our TV sets inside. But thanks to schoolyard-style bickering in Washington, even something as simple as hunting has been sucked into the ugly realm of politics.
The government is shut down. For more than a week now, all non-essential business has been halted. That means the gates leading into our national parks are closed. For hunters who planned to head west for what many consider the hunt of a lifetime, better luck next year.
From Alaska, where bear hunters are locked out of the famed Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, to the legendary elk-hunting opportunities in Yellowstone, tax-paying hunters have lost access to prime land during the height of the season. In nearby Delaware, waterfowl hunters can't access the popular Bombay Hook Refuge. If something doesn't change soon, hunters could lose the heart of the season because the two sides in Washington refuse to budge.
Even here in Pennsylvania, where archery season is in high gear, hunters have lost opportunities. The Keystone State is home to just one national forest, the Allegheny National Forest. It's closed, of course -- all 517,000 acres of it. There's no hiking, no camping, no fishing and no hunting allowed.
It's against the law to enter public lands that are closed and any game that is harvested on closed lands could be considered illegally taken and seized. In other words, if you have plans, you'd better change them.
Fortunately, there are options. The Pennsylvania Game Commission is doing its best to remind hunters that its game lands remain open for business. The federal shutdown has nothing to do with the land owned by Pennsylvania's hunters.
"For hunters who made plans that might change because of the shutdown, it could be a blessing in disguise," Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe said. "We have in the Commonwealth more than 1.4 million acres of state game lands that hold good public-hunting opportunities and remain open, so fate could still work in the favor of any hunters who are affected by the shutdown."
Despite the headache of the closure and the countless memories that will never be made because of the political stalemate, the season will go on. Pennsylvania has plenty of public land that won't become a pawn in this childish game of political chess.
My hope is this stalemate comes to an end soon. But my wish is that hunters remember these closures the next time we take to the polls. Our national lands are not a congressional bargaining tool. Our national parks are owned by the people and are for enjoyment of the people. That includes hunters.
Keep Washington out of our woods.
-- Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sports@york dispatch.com.