If the overall challenge of hunting wasn't enough in and of itself, add onto that the challenge of finding a quality hunting spot on private property, while then gaining permission from the land owner, and it takes things to another level. Sure, there are plenty of opportunities on public ground across the state, and across the country for that matter. I've taken both fowl and fur from public grounds and will always continue to do so. In fact, some of my most memorable hunts have been on public grounds, but these public spots get pounded with pressure at times, and the closer to a major metro area the land is, the higher the pressure becomes. That's where having access to some private property, with a little lighter load of foot traffic, can provide a nice balance to the honey hole mix in your hunting rotation.
It's been said that nothing in life worth a damn comes to you easily. The harder you work for things, the more rewarding the experience at the end of the day. That certainly applies to any kind of hunting you're involved with, and searching for quality places to hunt. Its hard to imagine just how many hours I have invested in trying to find new places to hunt because I just embrace it as part of the process. What follows in the next few paragraphs is a brief overview of the approach that I currently take with things. Every year this process seems to evolve into something slightly better than the year before, and it's certainly not a magic solution that guarantees success. In fact it's far from it. But, hopefully some of the things I've learned through reading, talking to other successful hunters, along with my own trials and errors can help you out along the way.
The first step I take is always based in research. Like most hunters, my head is always on a swivel when I'm driving down the road. In a way I'm always scouting, looking for game as I go back and forth to work, running errands, going to little league games, what ever I'm doing, I'm scouting. Once I find a spot that shows promise I make a note of the location, and hit the computer. The county auditor website usually contains the property owner contact information along with a map of the property. Some auditor websites are easier to navigate than others, so a phone call to the auditor's office sometimes comes into play if help is needed. If everything looks promising from a bird's eye view on the computer screen, meaning I can hunt with good entry & exit routes, prevailing winds should be in my favor, surrounding properties or habitat look to funnel game, etc, then I move on to step two.
Step two is personalizing an information packet that I take with me when I knock on a door. The first page is a professional cover letter addressed to the particular property owner I'm going to see. My cover letters are specific, in that I state my intentions, whether I'm looking to bow hunt deer, field hunt Canada geese, or call coyotes. I spell it all out. The property address or location is also mentioned in the body of the letter so that it quickly allows the land owner to see that I've done my research and know about the land I'm seeking permission on. Often times you'll find a property in which the actual owner lives elsewhere, or owns multiple parcels. This helps provide clarification as to which piece of ground you're hoping to gain access to.
Moving on past the cover letter, I also include an aerial map of the property with the boundary outlined as my second page in the information packet. Again, this reinforces that I've done the background work, and I'm approaching them in a prepared fashion. I also try to show the land owner the map. Often times they're surprised that this information is being presented to them, and it allows further conversation about the property. On those rare occasions when the land owner grants permission, the map usually becomes a focal point of conversation. I ask basic questions like where they would like me to park, what have been the game movements that they've noticed, or is there anything particular I should know about the parcel before stepping foot onto it?
Page three is a basic, single page hunting resume. Included are points of interest, types of game pursued, and any specific training or accomplishments that will demonstrate responsibility. For example, the completion of a hunter safety course, a bow hunter safety course, additional outdoor education programs that I've participated in, controller hunt qualifications such as archery tests. Do you donate deer to food pantries, or share venison with land owners? Include that in the resume. Extra labor around the farm to help earn the permission? State that clearly in the resume. References available from other land owners? Member of a local conservation club? Let the resume tell the story. You get the point here. The overall goal is for me to condense as much positive information about who I am, and what I've done throughout my hunting pursuits as possible.
In the final portion of my information packet, I include a completed copy of the permission slip. The only lines I leave empty are the date, and the land owner signature area. Everything else is filled out, and ready to go. I refer to the permission slip in the cover letter, making certain to point out that this is a requirement by the state for me to have, as well as a liability release for the land owner. My reason for addressing the liability concern in the opening cover letter is because over the years, that has single handily, got to be the most frequently used reason I've heard for people not allowing hunting. "Oh, I can't help you there. We just don't allow hunting because of the liability." You can provide a quick bit of education right up front should that come up, and hopefully be able to over come any concerns.
Of course, the land owner can, and often will, still say "no thank you" despite all of this effort that you've just put in. As frustrating as hearing that "no" can be, and believe me, I've been there time and time again. That's still OK. You've done everything in a very cordial and prepared fashion, which not only holds you in a positive light, but hopefully reflects a positive image of a "hunter" in their eye. That in itself is a very good thing when it comes to dealing with the non-hunting population who may only have a stereotypical view of hunters from what they've heard or seen on television. Plus you've also just put together a great packet to leave behind.
When I'm told "no" by a land owner, my response is simply to smile, say that I understand, thank them for their time, and ask if I could leave the packet behind for them to hold onto and review if something should ever change. 99% of the time they say "yes" to leaving the packet and hold onto my information. And actually, I have received one or two calls back over the years where permission was denied at first, but then granted once people have read though all of the information. In my mind that makes it worth it to have that packet each and every time I knock on a door. Plus, you can always follow back up with them next spring, who knows, maybe the second, or even third time around will be the charm.
Lastly, for those truly wonderful and amazing land owners who have been gracious enough to allow me permission to go out and hunt on their properties, I make darn sure to show my appreciation throughout the year. Quick phone calls every once and a while to check in and let them know that I've been hunting, or if I've had some success. The offering of venison is always extended for any deer that I'm fortunate enough to take on private property is a given. Christmas cards are sent, and after the season I always make sure to take a gift of some sorts. I'm blessed to have a wife who is gifted with just about any and all baked goods, so most often we make our own gift baskets with home made cookies, brownies, and bread with a thank you card that I personally deliver in February or March. This is a nice time of the year to visit with people, show your gratitude, and even re-establish permission for the following season!
You see, the process is always on going. We're already back to the early part of spring now when you're taking gifts out to land owners, and it's time to start looking for next season's new spots to hunt, while hopefully securing the places you currently have. It's all done in the effort to combine a few private property spots, with a mixture of public ground if any exists nearby, in order to build up your list of hunting ground options. Which at the end of the season can prove to be a very rewarding endeavour.