When seeking permission to hunt on private land, it’s never too early to start. The things you do this summer could gain you access to prime hunting lands that would be off limits otherwise.

The First Step: Be a Friend

Knocking on a landowner’s door and asking permission to hunt each time you visit is common courtesy. But what makes you different from others who come to his or her door each year asking the same favor? The answer to that question may determine whether or not you’re granted access for hunting.

In my experience, you must show the property owner you’re a friend and not just someone asking a favor. Too often, hunters show up with no previous introductions or at inopportune times. Worse yet, many don’t show up at all, choosing instead the impersonal phone call as a means for asking permission.

Put yourself in the landowner’s place. You’ve worked hard and spent lots of money to manage wildlife on your property. Now, a stranger shows up (or calls) and asks permission to hunt the game on your land. You’ve never met the person before, don’t know anything about them and here they are wanting to walk around on your property carrying a gun. What would you do?

Now, imagine another scenario.

You’re the landowner, and you’re on the back forty stacking brush you’ve cut to make cover for cottontails and quail. Your friend Tom drives up with a stranger in the seat beside him.

“John, I’d like you to meet Jerry,” Tom says. “We attend the same church, and Jerry told me he’s been looking for a place to hunt rabbits. I told him you have lots of cottontails on your property, and if the two of you got acquainted, maybe you’d let him hunt on your place.”

Following the introductions, Tom and Jerry pitch in to help you with the brush piles. You chat for several hours as you work, getting better acquainted with Jerry. At quitting time, Jerry asks if you and your wife might let him treat you to dinner sometime.

In this situation, don’t you imagine you’d be more inclined to grant hunting permission to Jerry than you would if he just showed up on your doorstep?

Always take time to say thank you after your hunt on private land, and offer the landowner a share of the game you’ve taken.

Related: 4 Tips to Get Permission For Spring Predator Hunts

Here’s another one.

You’re working under your combine when you hear this voice. A stranger hunkers down next to you, tells you his name and where he lives, and mentions he enjoys hunting quail. “How ‘bout you, sir? You ever hunt quail?” the man asks.

“Uh-huh,” you say, in a voice that shows your distraction. “Hand me that crescent wrench, would you?”

The man complies with your request, then compliments you on the beautiful bird habitat you’ve worked so hard to create. You really don’t have much time for all this chatter right now though. The combine has to be fixed today.

Then, to your surprise, the man crawls under the combine and asks if he might lend a hand breaking loose that stubborn bolt you’ve been working on.

When the two of you finally crawl out three hours later, you offer a greasy handshake and invite the man to join you and your wife for lunch. He agrees and seems genuinely pleased to see your combine working again.

“Looks like that fence around your hog pen needs some mending,” he says as you walk to the house. “I could come back Saturday and give you a hand if you like.”

Are you starting to get the picture yet?

The true sportsman becomes a real friend to the landowner and not just a beggar hoping for a handout. In some cases, your contribution might be nothing more than a willingness to spend time visiting or an invitation to join you for a meal. In other instances, it may be something more concrete, like helping build a new fence or even offering to pay for the privilege to hunt.

It’s important to remember, though, that you won’t gain hunting permission every time you ask, even if you are a friend. Some people still worry about liability. Some reserve hunting privileges for family and close friends. Some prefer not to allow hunting on their land at all; they manage their property so wildlife can be seen, but not killed.

The ethical outdoorsman realizes this may happen, and takes it in stride, remaining polite and showing gratefulness for the landowner’s time. Leaving a good impression is important, no matter what happens, because word travels fast through the grapevine. Rude or inconsiderate people may find themselves blacklisted with no place to hunt. The thoughtful, polite individual, on the other hand, may find himself receiving hunting invitations from people he hasn’t even met. 

Related: A DIY Gould’s Turkey Hunt in Old Mexico

Step Two: Show Your Appreciation

A hand-written thank-you note mailed to a landowner who granted hunting permission is one simple way to show you’re a true friend.

If you are given an opportunity to hunt on someone else’s property, it’s important to show you’re appreciative of that gesture.

The first way to do that is to show respect for the landowner’s property. Always pick up spent shells and litter, including items left by other visitors. Hunt only where the landowner wants you to, keeping safely away from his house, barns, crops and livestock. Don’t stretch or break fences you cross, and latch gates securely when you pass through. Leave everything as you found it, and follow any special guidelines the property owner gives you. For example, some landowners might request that you avoid shooting quail you see while hunting other game. You should assure the owner you’ll follow all the guidelines you are given, then keep that promise.

As important as everything else is what you do after you hunt. Never leave without stopping back by and saying thanks. Offer to share any game you killed, and ask the owner if you could come back to help around the place sometime in the near future. Let your good manners show.

When you get home, find ways to show the landowner you’re not just a hunting-season friend. Send a gift at Christmas and for birthdays. Write a letter now and then, or phone to say hello. Invite your host to eat at your home and meet your family. Ask them to a special event. Stay in touch year-round, and show that you really are a friend.

Finally, send a thank-you note, and do so every time you visit. You’ll be surprised how much such a simple gesture means to people. And you’ll be pleased when you have a new friend who enjoys your visits as much as you.

Featured photo: John Hafner Photography