Hunter access was identified as one of the largest issues impacting the future of hunting at the 2013 North American Whitetail Summit. East of the Rocky Mountains, most hunting occurs on private land, and this is especially true in states like Alabama, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Texas where 97 to 98 percent of the land is in private ownership. Add in development, anti-hunting sentiment among some landowners, and competition from other hunters, and it can be downright difficult finding a place to hunt.
In decades past, many hunters could walk out the back door, cross several boundary lines during the course of a hunt, and never worry about upsetting the landowners or being arrested for trespassing. Unfortunately those days are long gone. There may be a few remote areas like this left, but for the vast majority of hunters this isn’t the case.
The reality for many hunters today is they must seek land to hunt on. Some own land, some lease land, and most seek the opportunity to hunt on someone else’s land by receiving permission from the landowner. A few are good with “the ask” but most are not, so here are 10 tips to help you secure a spot to hunt.
1. Ask permission well in advance of the season. Don’t show up the week before opening day and expect a positive response. It may happen, but increase your odds by asking weeks or months in advance.
2. Make a good first impression. Don’t show up dirty from work or in hunting attire. A shower and clean (non-camo) clothes can go a long way toward receiving permission.
3. Be polite and respectable. Your language and behavior can be the deciding factor, so don’t blow it before you even make the ask. Continue being polite and respectable even if the answer is no. Thank the landowner for his/her time and leave on good terms. Doing so can turn a “no” today into a “yes” in the future. Being impolite or disrespectful is a guaranteed continual “no.”
4. Take a child with you. It’s amazing how a well-behaved child can help create a great first impression or enhance an existing relationship with the landowner. Some landowners are also far more likely to allow you to hunt if they feel they’re helping a child.
5. Offer to help the landowner. Let them know you’re willing to help them for the opportunity to hunt. You can offer to help cut wood, fix fences, pick up trash, or anything else they may need help with. I have personally secured permission to hunt by offering each of these tasks as well as helping ranchers work their cows and even just keeping an eye on their land for them. You can also offer to help plant trees, pick rocks, and mark or paint boundary lines. If you’re not willing to help the landowner, don’t expect them to be willing to help you.
6. Start small. Small game, that is. Many landowners who wouldn’t let you hunt deer on their land may let you hunt squirrels and rabbits. Use this opportunity to mentor a child and develop a positive relationship with the landowner. Doing so could be your ticket to a future deer stand on his/her property.
7. Give them your information. Hand them a business card or note card with your name and contact information. Landowners like to know who is on their property and how to contact them if necessary. This is also important if the landowner initially declines your request but reconsiders at a later time or knows another landowner that he/she can pass your information to.
8. Offer to provide and pay for insurance. For as little as a few cents per acre you can get hunting land liability insurance through NDA that covers you, any guests, and the landowner. Many landowners deny permission to hunt for fear of liability. Offering to provide this insurance policy can make all the difference with your request.
These last two items pertain to situations where you receive permission to hunt.
9. Get details on where, when and how. Be sure to ask the landowner where you can and cannot park, when you can and cannot hunt, and how you may hunt. Some landowners don’t like rifles. Some may not want you there on a special weekend their son and daughter-in-law visit to hunt. Oblige them and just hunt with your bow or hunt elsewhere when their family is in town. Follow their wishes. Be sure to close each gate you go through and pick up any litter you find on their property.
10. Give back. Hunting on someone’s land is a big privilege, so give something back to the landowner to show your appreciation. I’ve shared turkey and venison with generous landowners. Thank-you cards, Christmas cards, and other tokens of appreciation go a long way toward receiving permission again in the future.
I hope this information helps you gain permission to hunt new land this fall. Be sure to mentor a youth or new hunter this year, and good luck in the woods,