Have you, or someone you know, lost permission to hunt private land after killing a big buck from that very property? As if the landowner forgot to mention, “You can hunt here, just don’t kill anything.”
What about the property owner who gives you permission to hunt and is surprised by your success? They confess they had no idea there were so many deer on their land, and the following season you learn their co-worker, or relative, has since claimed your favorite tree, and by the way, you are no longer welcome.
With the explosion of interest in bowhunting over the last twenty-five years, the opportunity to hunt private lands by permission has become harder to come by. The more hunters there are, the more land that’s needed to spread out. With limited supply and an ever-increasing demand to hunt private land, property owners can quickly earn extra income by generating a competitive market amongst hunters willing to pay a pretty penny for their own slice of heaven away from the masses.
If you don’t sign above the dotted line, worry innately comes with the territory – how long do I have before my luck runs out? Chances are someone who owns land and doesn’t hunt likely knows someone who does, whether it’s a co-worker, friend, or relative. In other words, you might consider the adage, “loose lips sink ships”, before boasting about the great hunting you’re experiencing out there.
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For years I’ve put the internet to good use by accessing GIS maps and using the Whitepages.com to look up phone numbers of parcel owners. To this day I keep a notebook filled with pages of parcel information, including acreage, owners name, owners phone number and respective age (according to Whitepages.com), along with some geographical hints to remind me where the land is. On my drive home from work I would call several of the phone numbers from my list, and if I was lucky enough to reach someone on the other end, I would ask to hunt.
In 2010, I was lucky enough to reach a landowner who agreed to let me hunt. I had become so familiar with the digital voices behind various brands of answering machines I had even begun to name them, so hearing a live voice on the other end was already a quick win. The woman I had spoken to was sweet, she invited me to her home to formally meet and even offered me a beer. We had struck a deal, in exchange for hunting rights we would split the meat from any deer I harvested on her land.
To strengthen the relationship between myself and the landowner, I delivered care packages of wine, select cuts of venison and summer sausage, and even treats for her dogs every Christmas and Thanksgiving. I posted the land on her behalf, and I did my best to keep the land clean along the roadways and respected it as if I owned it.
The first few seasons went tremendously well. Beyond the cost of meat processing for summer sausage, I butchered my kills at home so there was very little cost out-of-pocket. I believe we felt mutually good about our deal. I had one hundred and twenty-five acres all to myself and the hunting was great, but I kept the details quiet and she rarely asked.
Eventually, word got out where I was hunting. I was filming with Wisconsin Whitetail Pursuit at the time and certain landscape scenes from the films were recognized by a few local hunters who contacted the landowner inquiring about hunting rights of their own. What started as a permission seeking inquiry eventually turned into a suggested land lease by the other hunters. Money changes everything and the landowner called to explain the pickle she was in.
Some good things only last so long, and for the first time, I wrote a check to hunt private land.
Sadly, the days my father has told stories of his younger years are remnants of the past. Back then it was nothing to stop and ask permission to hunt someone’s back forty. The answer was mostly “yes”, and they’d even whistle a tune while lending you a hand getting your deer back to your vehicle.
Today, it’s not a bad idea to bring your kids along and leave the camouflage at home when you knock on doors seeking permission to hunt private lands. You might consider leaving your truck with the hunting decals parked in your driveway and take the minivan, too.