Every fall we all hear some fellow hunters lamenting the lack of places they have to hunt. They mention public land being too crowded, all the good spots being leased, and not being able to afford their own land to hunt on. It doesn’t have to be this way. Things have certainly tightened up a bit and it is harder to find free places to hunt, but it’s not impossible. I am willing to bet that if someone put in the work now to line up a spot to hunt for the fall they could find at least one new piece of private land to hunt—without having to pay for it.
Finding Pieces of Private Land
The old-school method was going to the county or state office and getting copies of plat books. These laid out property boundaries and gave ownership information for a specific piece of land. The good news is that with modern technology this part of the process can be performed much more efficiently.
Using an app like onX can quickly streamline your search for potential properties. A year subscription for the service is $20 for one state, and I can confidently say it will be the best money you have spent on hunting besides your tag in a long time. The mapping software on the app allows you to zoom in to a very detailed level on any piece of land in the state. It tells you if it is public or private, gives you the property boundaries, and for private land includes the name and address of the owner of the property.
Start finding 60-200 acre parcels of land in your county that look like good places to hunt. Make a list of 50 of these including the addresses and names of the owners. Many times, the owner of a piece of land will not live on the property so having their legal home address helps. If you are savvy with Google you can easily find most people’s phone numbers or email addresses and can always try calling or sending them a message, though knocking on doors is historically the best policy.
You may find that some people are less responsive to in-person visits. In this case sending a letter, trying them on the phone, or emailing the property owner are all viable options. In any case, stay safe and be respectful of the individual’s boundaries.
Asking For Permission
First of all, you want to start this process in the late spring or early summer. If you wait to ask for permission on a piece of land until October, odds are it will not be available. Start contacting landowner’s in May or June and you will increase your chances of a parcel still being available.
However you choose to communicate with the owner, there are several points you will want to convey:
- You are a respectful and ethical hunter who follows all game laws and believes in hunting as a source of naturally sourced food. If you start talking about wanting to kill a trophy deer with large antlers to put on your wall you may not convey the right message. Focus on the fact that you believe in the North American model of wildlife conservation and management. You are hunting to take part in this system and provide food for your family.
- If you go in person do not wear your hunting clothes or show up holding a bow or shotgun. You want to be dressed nicely, but not so nice that you are mistaken for a door to door salesman. Also, be conscious of the time you contact the property owner. Whether calling or knocking on the door, you want to shoot for a time when the owner is likely to be home and your query won’t be considered intrusive.
- Be clear about what you would like to do while on their property: What dates you want to hunt, what species, and what method of hunting (bow or firearm). You may find that landowners are generally more receptive to someone hunting with a bow or crossbow than they are to a stranger using firearms on their property.
- Offer to share some of your harvest if you are successful. On a couple of the properties I hunt deer on, I like to bring one of the backstraps back and offer it to the property owner. People who own land love being able to share in the natural resources of their property and even if they decline to accept the offer the gesture usually goes a long way.
- Offer to sign a liability waiver. In this day and age of frivolous lawsuits one of the main reasons a landowner may hesitate to let people hunt their property is the chance of being sued if someone is injured. Here is a link to one of the many great hunter liability release templates available on the web.
- Make sure and let the owner know if you are planning on bringing anyone else with you to hunt. I would generally advise against this unless it is a family member. Focus on getting permission for yourself to hunt and proving that you can be respectful and follow the rules for a season or so before broaching the subject of bringing a buddy out with you. If you are planning to hunt with your wife or one of your children that is a different story, and may increase the chances of you getting permission.
- If the owner turns you down accept it and be respectful. It is reasonable to politely ask for a reason, but don’t expect one. It is their property and they can do as they wish. You want to keep the door open for future seasons instead of burning bridges.
- Finally, if they grant you permission be thankful. Cover any rules they may have about property access, times you can hunt, and any other rules they may have. Be sure and follow them. Many hunters have gained permission on a great property only to lose it by breaking a simple rule like not driving in a certain field, for example. If you would like to pre-scout the property before the season starts or hang up trail cameras cover this ahead of time as well.
- One last note: After gaining permission don’t stop trying to impress the owner. Offer to come in and help with chores like picking up trash in the woods or chopping firewood. Towards the end of the season make sure and thank them again for sharing their property with you and inquire if it might be available again the next season.
If you put in the work now and contact landowners for the fall, odds are good that you will find somewhere new to hunt. You may get 49 people saying no before 1 person gives you permission, but it will be well worth it. Don’t be the guy who waits until the last minute and then complains about not having anywhere good to hunt. The land is out there and you just need to work hard to find it.