It’s coming up on that time of year again—when we spend more time in a treestand than we do at a desk (or at least wish that we did). I don’t know about you, but last year was not that great for me when it came to deer hunting. I had deer around, but they just didn’t ever seem to cooperate. Don’t they want to just hop right in the freezer?
This year I’ve decided to expand my hunting opportunities by securing some new hunting land. There’s a few ways to go about doing this, and I’ve got my work cut out for me. Do you want to gain access to more hunting land, too? Sure you do! Who wouldn’t? Here’s some surefire ways to go about doing just that.
Step one: research
So you have been seeing deer, geese, or other critters on a chunk of land and you’re just itching to hunt it. I feel you. Been there, done that. Sometimes you can just go knocking on doors, but it’s best to do your research and know who you’re looking for. It’s a sign of respect, and respect is the most important tool we have to use as hunters.
First, check out who owns the land. A plat book is an awesome tool. What I’ve been using lately is the Hunt Maps GPS. Using paper maps, GPS software for your Garmin GPS, or software for your computer, you can plot a chunk of land, and immediately know the owner’s name and contact info. The company offers updates for a fee.
Step two: plan your approach
It’s kind of like asking a hot girl out on a date. You can’t just do it, you need to have a plan. Learn when it would be a good time to approach a property owner. If you’re going to a farmer, right when he’s busiest might not be a good time to waltz on up and ask to hunt his fields. Dinner time is also a no-no.
I had a farm that always had a ton of geese landing in the fields to the east of the barn. I knew who owned the farm, but ended up driving by several times until I saw an opportunity to stop and ask permission. It’s a judgment call as to when the best time to stop and ask will be.
I’ve made it no secret that I’ll often send my wife in to ask, too, especially if I think the answer is going to be closer to “no” if I go to the door. She’s yet to be turned down!
Step three: dress for success
I’m sure you’ve read articles saying you should never ever walk up to a door wearing camo and asking to hunt. That can be true, depending on what you’re doing. When asking about deer hunting, I’ve never once gone knocking on a door wearing camo. A polo shirt and jeans always seems to work best. The reason I like to dress up a little goes back to the respect thing—you don’t want to appear overly eager.
For waterfowl, I’ve occasionally gone up wearing camo after a morning hunt. Usually I explain what I’m doing and why I’m wearing camo. I’ll be honest, the most common response I get is, “You hunt those things? Sure. Have at it!”
Step four: explain yourself
I always offer my name first and after discussing exactly what I want to do, I also offer my phone number and other contact information. In fact, I prefer that they accept my info, just in case there is any question as to who I am and what I’m doing.
Also, make sure you ask where they’d like you to be, where you should park, and so on. Remember it’s not your land. Do as the landowner requests. A few years ago, when I was living away from my family farm, we allowed a couple of people access for hunting. It was a nightmare, as they ended up acting like they could do whatever they wanted. It was a quick way to lose permission.
Step five: be grateful
I know everyone says it is good form to send thank you notes or offer game meat to the landowner. I do that, too, but I also take a moment to say thank you after each hunt. I’ve found, especially with some of the older folks that I’ve dealt with, that they appreciate me stopping by to say thank you for the day’s hunt and to just chat for a few moments.
We used to hunt a small farm in Wisconsin and would stop by the elderly couple’s home after each hunt to say thanks and let them know how we did. The gentleman would always start chatting about when he hunted as a youth and his wife would ask about our kids, who were with my wife and I when we stopped to ask permission. It evolved into a nice relationship and expanded hunting opportunities. Turns out he had friends with land, too!
If all else fails, there’s other ways to get more land, but be ready to spend some money.
The easiest way to obtain some new hunting land is to just buy it. If you own it, you don’t need to gain permission. The real estate market goes up and down as wildly as a roller coaster, but there are good deals to be had. You just have to know where to look.
I’m sorry to say that the best deals on land are often at the expense of other’s misfortunes. Bank foreclosures and property seizure sell-offs are often a good way to find a smoking deal on a chunk of land. A scan of local bank websites and real estate company listings show a wealth of land available for some pretty decent prices. If you’ve got the money, buy land. It’s not only a great way to ensure a place to hunt season after season, but it’s also a great investment. After all, land is the only thing we really can’t make more of, right?
There are a few real estate companies that specialize is hunting properties. Sports Afield now runs what was Cabela’s Trophy Properties, and they have listings for most of North America.
I’m not the biggest fan of leases, to be totally honest. But they are a huge part of the hunting landscape now and we’re stuck with them. For the landowners, it’s a great deal to have someone else pay to use your land.
The way most leases work is to pay a landowner for the rights to hunt on their land, and sometimes manage it and plant food plots and the like. In exchange for these rights, the landowner agrees to not allow anyone else access to the land.
There are quite a few lease brokers out there if you have a hard time finding land to lease. I know a feeding frenzy often ensues when a lease opens up in a desirable spot. I remember a few years back when a spot opened up for lease on the North Platte River near Nebraska and Wyoming for waterfowl hunting. I was the first guy to contact the landowner and was going to give him the $500 he was asking. I ended up backing out due to my son’s birth—and the fact that bidding jumped up to over $2,500!
Craigslist can be a good source, too, but you have to be very weary of scammers. The key, as you can see by my example, is to jump on a lease early. Be ready to go as soon as you see it available. Waiting will cost you more money—or the chance at the lease at all.