A successful hunting trip begins with access to prime hunting land. It’s that simple. While our nation still holds vast tracts of public land open to all of us, the truth is unless you can draw a tag for a limited-entry hunt, the odds are your chances are pretty mediocre when it comes to finding top-end critters. That means you need access to private ground — something that is harder and harder for “Joe Lunchbucket” to come by.
However, such access can still be had. Now — not days before the season opens — is the time to begin searching out permission to hunt. Here are 10 tips that have proven successful for me, and many others, in unlocking the key to the gate.
1. Get Going NOW!
The early bird gets the worm — and, often, is the one who gains permission to hunt a new piece of ground. If you wait until right before the season opens or, even worse, during the season, the odds of getting a “Yes” drop dramatically.
If you can call or visit somebody for the first time and call them by name, you will be ahead of the game. Learn as much as you can about the landowner. How long have they been there? Have they ever allowed hunting? What business are they in? Do they have family members that are serious hunters? Like a good lawyer, it’s always best to never ask a question you do not know the answer to beforehand.
3. No Shame in Sucking Up
Is the landowner a woman? When you come calling, act like it is your first date. Also, never show up unannounced. Try this: Send a letter with your request, and include a self-addressed stamped envelope and small note card for a reply. Include your cell number and email address. Make it easy for them to respond to you. Then, when you call ahead to schedule a face-to-face meeting, nobody is surprised.
4. References Will Be Checked
Think of your meeting as a job interview. Dress in clean clothes — not grubby hunting duds — and present yourself professionally. Show up in a vehicle that has been recently washed. I always bring along a small resume that includes my place of employment, personal interests, charities with which I am active and, most important of all, references from other landowners that have granted me hunting permission in the past. I encourage the new landowner to contact these references and check me out.
5. Up Close And Personal
First impressions mean everything. When the door is opened, introduce yourself and try and find something you have in common. Sports, hunting, church, community involvement, whatever the case may be. This will help break the ice and make them more comfortable with you.
6. Be Flexible
It is possible somebody else hunts the land, so be prepared to be flexible. Offer to only hunt when they are not there, or only hunt a portion of the land and not all of it. If they only want you to hunt during the week and not weekends, cool. If you are a bowhunter, offer to only hunt archery season and not during the more popular gun season. Let them know you will respect any and all rules they may lay down — no hunting near livestock, close all gates, pick up garbage, etc. You are trying to get a foot in the door now, with the hopes of expanding your privileges later.
7. Sweat Equity
Perhaps the biggest carrot you can offer a landowner is your willingness to help them with some work. Volunteer to help during harvest time, or in summer to do some repair work to fences, etc. One friend of mine noticed that the landowner’s yard was something of a mess. When the conversation touched on that and the owner said he just didn’t have time to keep things up the way he’d like. She volunteered to cut the man’s lawn every weekend during spring and summer in exchange for hunting privileges. Worked like a charm.
8. A Taste of Honey
You should always offer to share any and all game taken on the landowner’s property with them. If they say yes, when you kill a deer do not just leave a quarter hanging — get it processed and bring back meat that’s cut and wrapped and ready for the freezer.
9. Predator Control
Few landowners like coyotes, and few things are more fun than shooting them. Volunteer to spend some time calling predators and helping thin their numbers. The same may be true for pesky ground squirrels. How can you lose on that deal?
10. The Papers, Please
Without question, you need to offer to sign a document that states unequivocally that you will not sue or in any way hold the landowner liable for anything that happens to you while hunting their property. I always bring such a document with me. I want the landowner to be comfortable with me on their property and know that not only will I never hold them responsible for anything I do, that I will also leave his or her land in better condition than when I found it. I also want them to know I will never bring anyone else with me without their express permission, will only park my vehicles where they ask me to, never drive on wet fields or over young crops, harass their livestock or in any way disrespect them or their property.
Got any tips on how to get a foot in the door? Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know!
Photo by John Hafner