GetOut! Game for a ‘Wild’ adventure?

Game lands? Aren’t those for hunting and fishing? 

They are. But they’re also for all kinds of exploring, including hiking. And that’s from someone who would like to see more folks hiking the state’s game lands: Brian McRae, Division Chief for Land and Water Access for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

A game land trail at the R. Wayne Bailey-Caswell Game Land

McRae is quick to note that hiking North Carolina’s 530,000 acres of game lands — about the size of either the Pisgah National Forest or Nantahala National Forest — may not be for everyone. 

“We don’t have restrooms, we don’t have picnic areas, we don’t have visitor centers or onsite staff,” says McRae. “We just offer a very different and unique experience.” 

For starters, most of the “trails” are dirt roads used by hunters to gain access. Some of those roads are accessible to vehicles, more are open only to foot travel.

Another key component of exploring game lands is figuring out when hunting is allowed.

“What I typically tell folks,” says McRae, “is that September 1 through February, then again April 1 through the middle of May, if you’re on a game land you should expect to interact with, and see hunters out there. Definitely wear blaze orange during that time.” You can drill down and get more specific info on specific game lands on the WRC website. 

McRae says the WRC is working on more hiker-friendly maps for their properties. Until then, your best bets are one of two apps: onX, a hunting-specific map, and Avenza, a trail app that allows users with GPS-equipped mobile devices to track their location. 

You can learn more about hiking North Carolina’s game lands, including some recommended locations, in an interview we did with McRae for the GetHiking! Southeast podcast; find it here. 

Curious about exploring game lands but reluctant to explore them on your own? Our GetHiking! Winter Wild program visits one such game land, the R. Wayne Bailey-Caswell Game Land, this Saturday. See “An Intro to Game Lands,” below.

Two other options for this weekend:

  • Winter Wildlife, Saturday, Jan. 8, 3 p.m., Pilot Mountain State Park, Pinnacle. Even if you’ve done this program before at Pilot Mountain, it’s likely to have a different focus this time around. The wildfire that burned 1,050 acres a month ago has transformed the mountain — and the wildlife that lives there. Learn more about the fire’s impact on this hike. More info here.
  • Night Sky Observing Session, Saturday, Jan. 8, 6:30 – 9:30 p.m., Haw River State Park, Greensboro. The forecast couldn’t be much better for this viewing of the night sky: cold, low humidity, cloudless skies. Join the Greensboro Astronomy Club and their telescopes to check out the heavens in this 3-hour program. Learn more here.

Weatherwise, Saturday (cold and dry) looks better than Sunday (warmer but wet), for getting out. Plan accordingly.

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An Introduction to N.C. Game Lands

Saturday, our monthly GetHiking! Winter Wild program hike takes us to the Caswell game lands near Yanceyville for about 7 miles of exploring on trail and on old roadbeds. It’s a surprisingly diverse parcel of this 18,000-acre tract near the Virginia border, including an old farm pond, a mountain-like creek and a little more elevation than you might expect. There is a $45 fee for this hike, which includes a guide for the property, including a map and detailed description of our route. Enter the code WinterWildCaswell at checkout for the $45 fee. Learn more and register for the hike here.

Learn more about game lands

Learn more about exploring North Carolina’s game lands in our GetHiking! Southeast Podcast interview with Brian McRae, Division Chief for Land and Water Access for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Give a listen here.

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