Public Access Programs Open 30M Acres of Private Land to Hunters Every Year

A new report from onX highlights the vitality of voluntary public access programs nationwide

onX, a pioneer in outdoor navigation and industry leader in recreation analysis, today released its annual access report, Private Land, Public Access. The report analyzes more than 40 voluntary public access programs–where willing private landowners open their properties to hunters–across 27 US states, revealing a combined 30 million acres of hunting opportunity.

In the continental United States, roughly 443 million acres of huntable public land fuel outdoor pursuits and provide wildlife habitat. But over the years, those lands have seen increased pressure from development and a pandemic-fueled boom in outdoor recreation participation. While it’s possible for states and federal entities to obtain new public lands, 60% of our country is privately owned. As a result, public land is feeling more crowded than ever and these private acres constitute land that hunters can’t afford to lose.

Every year, private landowners across the country voluntarily open up access to their land. Together, they provide an additional 30 million acres of hunting opportunity and wildlife habitat–an area equivalent to the size of Pennsylvania.

Private land acreage enrolled in public access programs varies by state, but their impact is significant. For example, in Kansas, home to one of the country’s oldest private access agreements, a program called Walk-In Access more than quadruples the state’s huntable land acreage. Nearly a quarter of Michigan’s total hunting acreage exists thanks to the state’s Commercial Forest Program. And in Utah, the Corporate Wildlife Management and Walk-In Access programs provide an extra 9 acres of hunting ground per licensed hunter.

These programs, according to private landowners and program managers, are threatened by hunter misbehavior and funding uncertainty. Hunter respect and consideration on these private lands is critical to keeping landowners enrolled and maintaining access into the future.

“onX conducted this analysis to understand how vital voluntary public access programs are to hunters,” said onX Hunt General Manager, Cliff Cancelosi. “Our report also explores what challenges face these 30 million acres, and topping the list is enrollment. Every year, landowners can choose to unenroll–and some opt out. While various reasons contribute to this churn, a leading cause is frustration over hunters who lack respect for their land or who don’t follow the rules. As a collective group, we must do better–there’s a lot of opportunity on the line.”

Additionally, these programs face unique funding challenges. Funding comes in part from Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPR-HIP), a provision of the Farm Bill, which is up for reauthorization every five years. General tax revenue allocated via the Farm Bill to keep these programs active averages out to less than a dollar per acre per year for the American taxpayer.

“While hunters pay into these programs through their license sales and other state initiatives, federal funding, earmarked by the Farm Bill, also helps keep these programs afloat,” explains Cancelosi. “For taxpayers, that averages out to pennies per acre per year, which just might be the best value in American conservation. But unlike other conservation programs, the Farm Bill is up for debate this fall–and its outcome is uncertain.”

Whether these programs provide hunters with more opportunity or an undeveloped habitat for wildlife, they require a delicate balance of participation, incentivization, and maintenance. To better understand these perspectives and read interviews from landowners and program managers, read the Private Land, Public Access report here:

About onX

Founded in 2009, onX is a pioneer in digital outdoor navigation, developing software that helps inform, inspire, and empower outdoor recreationists. onX Backcountry, onX Offroad, and onX Hunt make up the company’s suite of apps, and are built by explorers for explorers. Because off-the-beaten-path experiences are at the heart of what onX does, the company also leads initiatives to protect and expand access to public land. Since 2017, onX has worked with various partners to secure and improve public land access through direct funding, and by supporting key legislation with data analysis and research. Learn more:


Molly Stoecklein

Growing up in the east, Molly’s first claim to fame was a 1998 New York State Ski Ballet Championship title. Since, she’s never lived far from the mountains and now calls Bozeman home. When she’s not heading up PR and Communications for onX, she’s out exploring on skis or bike, or with fly rod in hand.