Public land presents great opportunities and often great frustrations for hunters. I can’t count on both hands how many times I have walked several miles in to hunt an area only to have an atv putt by and wave. In the more popular areas, I’ll hear occasional road noise as other hunters drive down the gravel road all morning looking for a parking space like it’s the mall. There has to be a better way!
Ok, so it isn’t a big secret that private property often presents private privileges when it comes to bagging a good buck. There are also cases where overly friendly small property owners let too many people hunt and the advantage is all used up. All private property is not created equal. I recommend scouting areas for private land hunting much the same as you would for public access areas. After you find an area there are several ways to go about gaining access.
Every landowner has differing incentives and values. Some don’t allow hunting at all as a policy. Never take someone else’s word for this though. Many hunters, neighbors and renters have ulterior motives if they tell you no hunting is allowed! Make it a point to talk directly with the landowner and or leaseholder. Ownership can be both obvious or rather hard to figure out when there are several houses that could be associated with a given property. A trip to the county land use office or website can do a lot to help simplify the matter, but don’t hesitate to knock on a few doors and inquire in a friendly manner.
Once you do talk to the owner, uncommon courtesy is the rule. The other rule is LISTEN to what drives them. Have they had a bad experience in the past? Would they prefer you to call each time before hunting? If you listen carefully and make acceptable arrangements you will get to hunt more than if you ask a simple yes or no question. Once you have permission, value it and do what you can to show appreciation. Ranch help is hugely appreciated, and Christmas cards, a package of venison, jerky, or other appropriate gift can go a long ways towards being an owner’s friend instead of an imposition.
There are several other options to obtain private hunting rights. The simplest is chosen more than you might guess. Buy the land. If land ownership fits in with your investment strategy or you can lease farming rights, this can be an attractive option. Do all your homework as this is a long term commitment. Leasing hunting rights is always an option and has become popular with some landowners because of the income and also because the leaseholder often buys insurance to release the landowner from liability. Pay per use and guided options also exist. Many hunters pay guides who have taken the time to lease good properties and make arrangements with owners for their clients. If you choose this option, it’s buyer beware! There are many reputable guides but check references if you don’t have personal experience or firsthand information. Nothing burns more than being put on a property without game or property that has been over hunted when you are paying money for the opposite privilege.
Lastly network with everyone, other hunters, friends, ranchers, and even the guy at the feed store or country market. Every once in a while you will get amazing opportunities because of who you know. Quite often this is what comes through when other options don’t pan out. Several of my friends use a combination of leases, friends and networking with amazing results. I haven’t leased land yet although I may in the future. So far knocking on doors and a few phone calls have gotten me permission for some world class hunting. Don’t be discouraged by a few negative responses. Not everyone is receptive, but with a good attitude and communication, you can enjoy some of the benefits of private hunting property.