Hunting on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton is a crucial element in preserving the delicate balance of wildlife. Since the 1950s, the base has maintained a well-regulated hunting program to preserve the ecosystem. Throughout the years, this program has typically relied on individual hunter participation. It is the responsibility of all on-base hunters to take the time to attend required hunter education courses to be able to purchase a license and obtain an on-base permit.
Units aboard Camp Pendleton have started a new trend in helping their Marines become involved in hunting on base. Working with the Game Warden’s Office, several units have been able to help Marines that are interested in hunting. Through hunter education, Marine are presented with opportunities that they may have otherwise not known about.
“Camp Pendleton’s hunts maintain the balance of the food web. Our hunters provide an ecological service to the base by preventing the overpopulation of mule deer or coyotes, for example.” Michael Tucker, chief game warden, MCB Camp Pendleton
“Instead of coordinating with individuals to receive hunter education, the unit is doing some of that coordination on behalf of the hunters,” stated Tucker.
Beginning with the hunter education courses conducted by the Game Warden’s Office and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, new hunters learn tenants of responsible and ethical hunting practices. This new knowledge exposes them to the world of conservation practices that are vital to maintaining the environment.
“The base hunters become very aware of the ecosystem and the natural processes on base,” stated Tucker. “Greater awareness means greater appreciation for the environment and adherence to environmental regulations.”
Units with the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, have orchestrated hunter education courses with the game wardens to begin the process of organizing unit hunts and different training events. The skills required to become a good hunter parallel the skills that a Marine must harness. These similarities allow a chance for the Marines to use their hunter education out in the field and remain mission ready.
“For the guys that are doing it right, hunting starts months in advance,” stated GySgt Mark Rawson, training chief, Force Recon Company, 1st MARDIV, I MEF, MCB Camp Pendleton. “They are orienting themselves to the terrain, developing their situation by identifying key terrain, likely avenues of approach, talking to locals for situational updates on movement patterns, and establishing a pattern of life for their intended target, all to accomplish a mission: harvest an animal.”
They are applying this knowledge to the training that they have become accustomed to in the field. At the same time, hunting develops these new hunters in ways that were previously unknown to them. Being able to understand an environment and the animals that live in it is essential to field operations. Through learning the nuances of hunting, the Marines learn how to adapt with the environment and its patterns.
“Most of the Marines were not even aware that there was a hunting program on base,” stated GySgt Rawson. “The fact that they were being given the opportunity to get their hunters safety course knocked out and given the opportunity to hunt was pretty epic for them.”
Due to COVID-19, hunting and hunter education courses have been postponed. These closures have put a delay on future unit sponsored programs. However, hunting activities are still being coordinated in anticipation of these restrictions being lifted. On-base hunting is scheduled to reopen on May 23, 2020. The units with 1st Reconnaissance Battalion have scheduled a special unit hunt to take place on May 22, 2020.
“Exposure to life as a hunter I think is the biggest benefit,” stated GySgt Rawson. “For some of the Marines with kids, it opened up the world of hunting to their entire family that they might not have ever had.”
Continuing to implement these unit sponsored hunting programs aids in maintaining the base’s environment as well as the mission readiness of the Marines that live and train here. Revenue generation through the sport of hunting allows for continued conservation efforts. The hunters that participate serve as stewards to the environment across the installation. Sharing the traditions of hunting with new hunters is vital Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton’s wildlife.
“The money they spend on licenses, permits, or tags goes back to the wildlife,” stated Tucker. “Also, a special tax on recreational firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment also funds conservation… our most avid volunteers for habitat work are hunters.”