6 Tips for Obtaining Hunting Permission

A proper “thank you” can be critical in obtaining — and keeping — hunting permission on private property.

6 Tips for Obtaining Hunting Permission

Helping a landowner with land management or farm chores is a great way to say thanks for allowing you to hunt.

You opened a gate for hunting access to private land weeks, months or years prior. Preserving that open-gate privilege should be a top priority in a world increasingly shrinking to hunting access. What you do year-round as a “thank you” to that landowner maintains entrance for your future pursuits. Don’t neglect that relationship with a lack of appreciation. Pay it back with a meaningful “thank you” — or risk paying for it later with a loss of hunting privileges.

Nearly half of America falls under private land ownership. Even in the West, where large blocks of public lands exist, much of the big game cozies up to private land, forcing you to seek permission or hunting boundary perimeters hoping for a straggler to forget which side of the fence offers refuge.

You already know that accessing private land is becoming increasingly difficult at best. Southwick Associates’ research found that in a past survey 23 percent of hunters lost some access to private land in just 1 year. Another study by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and Responsive Management asked hunters if the shortage of hunting access had a direct cause for them not to hunt. Nearly half said “yes.” These are old studies and the situation has only gotten worse. Recently, I lost access to a deer hunting property my family and I hunted for more than a decade. The property was sold to an owner who didn’t allow hunting and it was recently divided to further cancel the chance of ever hunting it again. Every year you and I face a battle of finding high-quality areas for hunting.   

Most state game and fish agencies recognize this loss of access to private lands for hunting and as a result have developed several programs to pay private landowners for public access. This helps, but it is a big world out there, and one of these state access programs may not be in your backyard. Or, the land they lease has questionable hunting potential. Don’t neglect your own attempt at maintaining an open-gate policy if the gate currently swings your way. One or more of the following options could keep a private land gate open for you in the future.

The author had good hunting on a small property for several years and thanked the landowner by selling him a used truck well below its worth.
The author had good hunting on a small property for several years and thanked the landowner by selling him a used truck well below its worth.

1: Cash Is King

Let’s get this out of the way now: Cash is king, and if access to land is competitive, like it is in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas or name your state, it could be your only option as private wildlife management booms with more closed gates. Lease prices may start as low as $10 per acre in some states, but expect to pay $50 or more per acre in prime whitetail country. You may not have savings for that type of investment. Nevertheless, keep it in mind, especially if you have a group looking to invest together.

You might be able to reduce the price significantly if you personally know the landowner. They may cut you a deal just to get expenses back for crop damage, or enough money for them to take a long weekend escape from the farm. Even a gift card to Amazon, a restaurant or a feed store could be just enough spent to keep that gate from closing. Be creative with your dollars, but do not be stingy if money is the deciding factor for access in your area. For years I deer hunted a small ranch in South Dakota, but heard rumors of others wanting in on the access. I reluctantly discussed the situation with the landowner and eventually came to a paid lease agreement with expenses shared by my brother. Several years later some out-of-staters landed the lease with big dollars I couldn’t match, but money did keep me in hunting heaven for a few extra years.

2: Networking for a Price Reduction

Do you belong to a church, community organization, or involved in local politics? Do you coach youth sports, volunteer for youth 4-H events or other youth activities? Does your extended family live in the area with deeded land in their universe? Use your network of family, friends and acquaintances to access hunting land. You see these people out and about and share a friendly “hello” from time to time. That creates an easier environment to instigate a lead-in to ask for hunting permission.

You may not even realize they own land with hunting potential. Be investigative. Use your hunting app to snoop parcels for ownership information, and when you find a name you recognize, let the networking begin. Your sleuthing could reveal large farms or postage-stamp-sized parcels that seem barely worthy of a second look. Never underestimate access to a small property. In fact, owners of small tracts could be more partial to allowing access than owners to a large estate where others may already have a foothold. Networking can keep costs down and gates open.

One year I found myself scratching for hunting land after losing access to a property I held for years. A landowner I knew through community connections said I could hunt behind their house, adjacent to suburbia. Despite the family dog following me to my stand repeatedly and the squeals of kids playing 150 yards from my treestand, I tagged three good-sized bucks from the narrow sliver of timber behind their house over several seasons. Because of our volunteer association in the community, the family allowed me to hunt and I showed my appreciation with a genuine “thanks.”

3: Product Is a Nice Alternative

Although your bank account may not have enough zeros to afford a hunting lease, that doesn’t mean you cannot trade someone material goods of a worthy nature. Depending on your business or hoarding nature, you could be in possession of valuable products or objects deemed valuable by another. Your business could have an inventory of products a rancher or farmer might find beneficial to their bottom end such as hydraulic oil, tires or lumber. These materials will cost you, but you could remove them from inventory at cost or better yet even write them off in some creative manner (IRS disregard the previous). 

Not all product trades for hunting need to benefit the agricultural or land management objectives directly. Your gatekeeper may eye an antique of yours, firearm or even a vehicle you own. I once sold a used truck of mine for pennies on the dollar to hunt a property. On another occasion, I traded a set of shed elk antlers for hunting access. I even keep hunting access open on another property by equipping the landowner with hunting products, including a permanent blind I acquired for hunting access. Think creatively.

Trade your professional services, such as mechanic work, for hunting access.
Trade your professional services, such as mechanic work, for hunting access.

4: Offer Professional Services

In the same nature as offering products, consider offering your professional services or trade expertise. Almost everyone has something to offer in bartering whether you are an accountant, attorney, chef, carpenter or mechanic. Think creatively about a way to use your skills in trade for hunting. Example: My brother is a retired mechanic and has used his knowledge to fix a few tractors in exchange for hunting favors. I know a dentist who used to do dental work in swap for hunting access, and if you own a business, like a speedy oil change service, offer a year’s worth of oil changes in exchange for hunting access.

In the past I have traded photography, specifically photo shoots for graduating seniors and Christmas card sittings for whitetail hunting access. One year I even wrote an obituary for a family. We didn’t discuss any exchange because I was a friend of the family, but after the grieving subsided, they politely offered to let me hunt some ground for crafting a respectful memoir of their loved one.

5: Swap a Hunt

This idea has merit for those of you who hunt on ground owned by someone who also appreciates hunting. Instead of paying for access, you could offer to swap a hunt. The property you may have your eye on could be a whitetail nirvana, but your landowner connection could have eyes set on elk, mule deer, pronghorn or an upland extravaganza. During your discussions regarding access, subtly ask what hunting they enjoy and then begin scheming to find a hunt to swap for access to their slice of heaven. Your swap contact list could include a cousin who owns a ranch in Montana or a realtor with access to hunt properties currently listed. You may even own land in another state that has the dream hunt anyone would wish to swap for hunting access. 

My experience includes trading mainly for western big game opportunities. Years ago, I started swapping pronghorn hunts for whitetail hunts. A buddy of mine outfitted on a large trophy whitetail property. During our conversations, I discovered he had never shot a pronghorn. I had him apply for a unit I held access to, and a few months later he tagged his first pronghorn buck. I bowkilled a Pope and Young whitetail on a subsequent trip to his property. Everyone parted ways with a grin.

Sweat equity is an excellent way to pay back your landowner for hunting access.
Sweat equity is an excellent way to pay back your landowner for hunting access.

6: Blisters for Bucks

Maybe you don’t have the cash to lease a hunting property. Maybe you don’t specialize in a professional trade for bartering, or have a garage of products to swap. That said, you do have two hands, so cover them with leather gloves to avoid blisters as you work your way into a hunting property. Large farms, estates and ranches constantly need upkeep and maintenance. The list of chores has no end. Fences need upkeep, barns require paint, weeds need spraying, hay needs to be stacked, cattle necessitate gathering, and harvest chores demand all hands on deck. 

Some property owners may just enjoy country life and not have an arsenal of equipment to handle every detail of rural lifestyle. Some may even be too old to handle all the duties they used to a decade earlier. Be observant of those areas you could offer assistance. Think snow removal, garden preparation, yard work and other responsibilities that entail sweat equity. A buddy of mine hunts a rural property that includes a long, winding driveway ending at the home of a retired, elderly couple. In exchange for hunting, he runs his snowplow up the driveway after any major snow to make a snowless path for the couple to drive. 

Even if you did not grow up in an agricultural lifestyle, there are many simple “helping hands” duties you can attend to throughout the year. There may be a metal pile in need of a trip to the salvage yard. One of the undertakings I offered for a landowner was watching their dog while the couple vacationed. I would visit daily, check dog food and take the golden retriever for a hike to ensure it received exercise. 

Another landowner that I lived near asked me to keep an eye on their property year-round for trespassers. They understood I could not provide 24/7 security, but I pursued deer on the property in the fall, coyotes in the winter, looked for shed antlers in the spring, and took my kids horseback riding on the land in the summer. During every visit I looked for fresh truck tracks in the mud, open gates and any clues trespassers were up to no good.

Without question, there are more ways to thank landowners than the ideas above. I know many who simply drop off a bottle of holiday cheer right before Christmas. And even if the deed holder says you don’t need to give a thank you gift of any sort, I’ve seen smiles on their faces when they do see others, hunting or just hiking, and enjoying their property. When my kids were younger, I took them hiking on a large ranch where I hunted in the fall. We hiked off and on throughout the year, and I always remember the landowner saying it made him feel good watching others value the experience wild lands can offer. That was thanks enough for him.

Sidebar: Fingertip Property Research

You may be using the free version of HuntStand, but upgrade to HuntStand Pro to help you access more hunting land. Make the leap and you automatically receive access to nationwide Property data and advanced property search.

First, detailed property boundaries are shown for the United States and most of Canada. In America you receive detailed mapping information including the owner’s name displayed right on your map, plus specific boundaries. Tap the screen and expanded details flash in front of you, aiding in your search to track down a landowner. This feature helps you when trying to find the true owner and not a manager of a property. Use it to acquire access, negotiate a lease or even outright purchase a property. 

For the best in mapping imagery to rate a property, HuntStand offers features such as 3D Mapping. It includes a view of your Hunt Area illustrated by the terrain in 3D for a virtual flyover. Another mapping bonus you receive with the Pro upgrade is Monthly Satellite. Many systems use satellite imagery that might be updated every 2 years or even longer. HuntStand offers images that are updated monthly, and this is imperative to understand the day-to-day changes occurring on a property, especially if you don’t live near it. This layer is provided at a lower resolution, but ample clarity to see agricultural changes, timber management, wildfire damage and snow cover.

Finally, you won’t have cellular coverage everywhere. HuntStand provides a built-in platform to download offline maps to your phone to keep you going on your property access search. Contact: www.huntstand.com

Photos by Mark Kayser


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