Have you ever driven by a tract of land and thought, man, I'd like to have the opportunity to hunt there? I'm sure most of us know of property we'd like to be able to hunt, but can't because it's privately owned. In reality, the only thing standing between you and potentially new hunting opportunities is asking permission. I'm going to provide a few pointers that can help make that process a bit easier.
You might be thinking, uh, Brian, deer season just closed recently and the next season is several months away. Why are you talking about this now? Well, seeking permission to hunt on private property is a bit like scouting - if you want to be ready for the upcoming season, you really need to start working now. Approaching a landowner right before the season is about to open is kinda like studying for a big test the night before. It's not the best way to go. Plus, this applies to any kind of hunting - not just deer hunting. Spring turkey will be opening in many states before too long. Now is the time to get on it.
Here are a few tips that can help increase your odds of receiving permission...
Start now and leave the camo at home. You should start making contact with landowners early in the year. It might seem like a minor thing, but asking several months in advance shows that you're thinking ahead and is more respectful than knocking on somebody's door two days before the season opens. This also gives a landowner time to think it over, if necessary, and get to know you better. Some people might be more open to the idea of letting you hunt on their land if they're not being asked to make a spur-of-the-moment decision.
If you ask early and receive permission, this gives you time to scout and get to know the area well ahead of the season. It also allows you to set up stands or blinds depending on what you've discussed with the landowner. If you ask early and are denied permission, you can then move on to other prospects as opposed to wasting time right before the season opens.
When knocking on a stranger's door for the first time, I highly recommend leaving the camo attire at home. I like wearing it as much as the next person and I'm not saying you should be ashamed to dress like a hunter. However, since you are meeting a landowner for the first time, I believe it's best to dress in your regular street clothes. Some folks are put off by camo attire and others may have had bad experiences in the past with hunters or poachers. You don't know how a particular landowner feels about hunting. If you show up in camo, it has the potential to create a wall before the person has a chance to hear what you have to say. The idea is to stack the odds in your favor and looking like an average Joe can be helpful for that initial contact.
Always be polite and respectful. This really goes without saying. Your request should be made politely. Using "sir" and "ma'am" never hurt anyone even though it is less common now. If you are turned down it is very important to remain polite. Remember, you are representing hunters in general and you want to leave a good impression no matter what answer you receive. It has the potential to open doors later. If you receive a definite "no", don't argue or keep going back to ask again. It's part of being respectful.
Being respectful also means be mindful of the landowner's time and activities. Avoid knocking on the door during traditional dinner hours. None of us like to be interrupted during a meal. Try not to disrupt a landowner's work, particularly if they are a farmer or rancher. Time is money for these folks. If it's obvious the landowner is busy in the field or with livestock, think about coming back another time.
Be prepared to give some information. In some ways, getting permission to hunt private property is a bit like a job interview. At least you should think of it in those terms. You may be asked what you do for a living, where you live, how long you've been hunting, if you've taken a hunter safety course, or possibly even for personal references. If you don't receive permission during that initial contact, ask if it would be okay to leave your name and number. This is especially important if the landowner is going to consider your request.
Bowhunters can have an advantage. You may talk with landowners who are hesitant to allow gun hunting on their property. Maybe they have concerns about livestock, pets, or just don't want guns being fired on their land. If you are also a bowhunter, you may be able to secure permission to hunt that way. Some people don't have the same concerns about bows that they do with guns.
It's not a one-way street. If you do get permission to hunt on private property, don't just be a taker. One of the nicest things you can do is offer to assist with work on the land. This is especially true with farmers and ranchers. I don't mean you have to be there every weekend, but maybe there is fence to be repaired or wood to be cut or painting to be done. Offer to donate some of your time in exchange for the hunting privilege. When I was in school, my brother and I helped a farmer bale his hay during the summer as our way of thanking him for allowing us to hunt on his land. It was hot, nasty work, but worth it. Even if the landowner doesn't need or want your help, you can still offer to give them part of your meat. For those who enjoy wild game, this is a nice gesture.
Make it a point to stop by during the off-season and see if there's anything you can do and just to say hi. This shows consideration for the landowner and helps develop a stronger relationship.
Some definite no-no's. If you get permission for yourself, do NOT show up with a couple of hunting buddies in tow. Nothing will annoy a landowner faster than you presuming you have the authority to invite others. If you want to bring another person along, you need to discuss that up front and have it worked out from the get-go.
Don't litter or otherwise trash the property. Don't drive where you don't have explicit permission to do so. Don't leave equipment behind unless this has been worked out with the landowner. Don't endanger livestock or pets. And don't assume the permission automatically extends from season to season. Always check with the landowner and make sure you can hunt again the following season.
Final thoughts. If you receive permission, make sure you obey all game laws. The last thing you want is to create problems for a landowner. We should all obey the laws no matter where we hunt, but don't do something stupid on another person's property.
If you show respect toward the landowner and abide by their requests, you will likely develop a good relationship over time as you get to know each other. This helps secure your ongoing hunting privilege.
Remember, there are people who simply don't want anyone hunting on their land. It could be they don't allow it period or they hunt it themselves. Getting permission is not a guarantee no matter how respectfully you approach it. If you are denied permission, scratch that location off the list and move on to another. Above all, represent hunting and your fellow hunters in the proper manner no matter what answer you receive.