Passport to private-lands hunting

Keith Sutton/Contributing Writer Published December 8, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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Keith Sutton/Contributing Photographer

After helping the landowner with some chores around the farm and gaining permission to hunt, be sure to stop by again to offer part of the game you’ve killed.

Thirty years ago, I rarely encountered problems when I wanted to hunt on private land. I learned early that it was proper etiquette to gain permission before hunting on another person’s property, which I always did. It was rare then to see a “No Trespassing” or “No Hunting” sign, and most of us figured it would always be that way.

It’s not that way now, however. Today, it’s hard to find private property with good hunting opportunities that’s not posted. A landowner willing to talk usually does so just to say that hunting isn’t allowed.

Despite the reluctance of many landowners to allow hunting on their property, however, I still hunt mostly on private lands. Usually, I’m on land owned by someone who’s known me for years. But sometimes I’ve received permission to hunt in woods and fields owned by people I’ve only recently met. The types of game I’ve been allowed to pursue include everything from cottontails and bobwhites to deer and snipe. But this only happened when I befriended the landowner and gained his trust.

Step 1: Be a friend

Knocking on a landowner’s door and asking permission to hunt each time you visit is common courtesy. But what makes you different from the many other people who come to his door each year asking the same favor? The answer may determine whether or not you’re granted hunting access.

In my experience, you must show the property owner you’re a friend, and not just someone asking a favor. Too often, hunters show up with no previous introductions or at inopportune times. Worse yet, many don’t show up at all, choosing instead the impersonal phone call as a means for asking permission.

Put yourself in the landowner’s place. You’ve worked hard to manage wildlife on your property and invested lots of time and money doing so. Now, a stranger shows up, or calls, and asks permission to hunt the game on your land. You’ve never met the person, don’t know anything about him, and he’s wanting to walk around on your property carrying a gun. What would you do?

Now, imagine another scenario.

You’re the landowner, and you’re on the back 40 one morning stacking brush you’ve cut to make cover for cottontails and quail. Your friend Tom drives up with a stranger in the seat beside him.

“John, I’d like you to meet Jerry,” your friend says. “We attend the same church, and Jerry told me he’s been looking for a place to hunt rabbits. I told him you had quite a few cottontails on your property, and if the two of you got acquainted, maybe you’d let him hunt on your place.”

Following introductions, Tom and Jerry pitch in to help you with the brush piles. You chat as you work, getting better acquainted with Jerry. When it’s time to quit, Jerry asks if you and your wife might join him for dinner at the local restaurant sometime.

In this situation, don’t you imagine you’d be more inclined to grant hunting permission to Jerry?

Here’s another one.

You’re working under your combine when you hear a voice. A stranger squats beside you, tells you his name and where he lives, and mentions he enjoys hunting quail. “How ’bout you, sir? You ever hunt quail?” the man asks.

“Uh-huh,” you say, in a voice that shows your distraction. “Hand me that crescent wrench, would you?”

The man complies, then compliments you on the beautiful bird habitat you’ve worked so hard to create. But you don’t have time for all this chatter right now. The combine must be fixed today.

Then, to your surprise, the man crawls under the combine and asks if he might lend a hand breaking loose that stubborn bolt you’ve been working on.

When the two of you crawl out three hours later, you offer a greasy handshake. He seems genuinely pleased to see your combine working again.

“Looks like that fence around your hog pen needs some mending,” he says as you walk outside. “I could come back Saturday and give you a hand if you like.”

Are you starting to get the picture?

The true sportsman becomes a true friend to the landowner. In some cases, your contribution might be a willingness to spend time visiting or an invitation to join you for a meal. It could be something more concrete, like helping build a new fence or offering to pay for the privilege to hunt.

You won’t gain permission every time you ask, even if you are a friend. Some people still worry about liability. Some reserve hunting privileges for family and friends. Some prefer not to allow hunting at all; they manage wildlife to be seen but not killed.

The ethical outdoorsman realizes this may happen and takes it in stride, remaining polite and showing gratefulness for the landowner’s time. Leaving a good impression is important, no matter what happens, because word travels fast. Rude or inconsiderate people will find themselves blacklisted, with no place to hunt. The thoughtful, polite individual, on the other hand, may receive hunting invitations from people he hasn’t even met.

Step 2: Show your appreciation

If you gain permission to hunt on someone else’s property, it’s important to show you’re appreciative of that gesture.

The first way to do that is to show respect for the landowner’s property. Always pick up spent shells and litter. Hunt only where the landowner allows, keeping safely away from his house, barns and livestock, and respecting his crops. Don’t stretch or break fences you cross. Latch gates securely when you pass through. Leave everything as you found it, and follow any guidelines the landowner gives you. For example, some might request that you avoid shooting quail while hunting other game. You should assure the owner you’ll follow his guidelines; then keep that promise.

Also important is what you do after you hunt. Never leave without stopping back by and saying thanks. Offer to share game you killed, and ask the owner if you could come back to help around the place in the near future. Let your good manners show.

When you get home, find ways to show the landowner you’re not just a hunting-season friend. Send a gift at Christmas. Write a letter now and then, or phone to say hello. Invite your host to eat at your home and meet your family. Ask them to a special event. Stay in touch year-round, and show you really are a friend.

Finally, send a thank-you note, and do so every time you visit. You’ll be surprised how much such a simple gesture means to people. And you’ll be pleased when you have a new friend who enjoys your visits as much as you.

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