It’s a feeling we try to guard against, but is unfortunately all too familiar for most of us. Before you know it, it’s just a few weeks before opening day and you don’t have anywhere promising to hunt. It’s kind of a sad, lonely feeling, isn’t it? I spent many years as a waterfowl hunter, and for those of you who spend their fall chasing geese, you understand how much land you must have permission to access in order to have a successful season. Growing up on a Dairy farm, and meeting countless people trying to gain permission to hunt, I have had an opportunity to see both sides of the situation.
If you find yourself among the crowd looking for a place to go, all is not lost as there are some effective ways to solve the problem. First let me touch on the power of Google Maps. Google Maps is an amazing resource. You have all the land you would love to hunt at your fingertips. Using the 2D feature, you can see the terrain almost as if you were walking in the woods. Also, it has various tools that allow you to mark points, and measures distances. This is especially helpful for land with lots of features and a variation of elevation. You can realistically find a spot to hang your deer stand or set up a ground blind while sitting on your couch. Google Maps is a great way to locate a few properties that you might be interested in hunting before you ever leave the house to seek permission.
Once you find a piece of land that peaks your interest, whether it be a river bottom or a small secluded corn field, the real work begins. Farmers in particular can be shy about sharing their land with strangers, but show them respect and go the extra mile and the return could be great. Keep in mind that dairy farmers have daily chores to do morning and night, usually between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., and again about 12 hours later. Needless to say, 5 a.m. is probably not the best time to try to visit a dairy farmer to ask him to hunt his property. Finding a time that he is outside doing miscellaneous farm tasks is the perfect time for a quick conversation, as opposed to 7 a.m. while he is in the middle of milking cows. Remember, the primary reason for the farm is to produce food, not prime deer hunting ground.
When I approach a farmer, I tend to try to catch him outside while he’s operating equipment because you know he is there. While that may seem odd, most of the time they will drive up to your truck to talk to you considering there is an unfamiliar vehicle parked on the property. If the first question you ask him is for permission to hunt his land, more times than not you won’t be granted access. I have found that it is beneficial to approach the farmer long before opening day. In some cases six to eight months, or even more. Through conversation I try to talk about things directly related to the farm. While it’s okay to make it known what your ultimate intention is, you will likely get further by stating that you want him to get to know you first, and that you’d like to have an opportunity to help around the farm if possible to prove yourself. Trust will go a long way toward your chances of getting hunting permission.
As a farm kid, I can tell you that one of the first things that you should do is offer to help with whatever the landowner needs. If I had a dollar for every time I have cut wood or helped to bale hay, I could probably buy my own land to hunt. Farmers are very busy and the farm always comes first. If they see a benefit in letting you hunt their land, you will find yourself more consistently getting access. Keep in mind that despite your best effort, some landowners won’t grant you hunting permission. Don’t take it personally. There are a number of factors that may be involved ranging from reserving hunting access for friends and family to already leasing the land to an outfitter.
Once you have access to the land, it’s a good idea to go over a set of “rules” with the landowner. Some questions I like to ask are, “Where do you want me to park? Do you want me to call you a day in advanced before I come to your land? Is it ok if a buddy hunts with me?” All of these are important and establishing clear expectations right away will avoid confusion. Also, I always tell the landowner when I plan to hunt, what vehicle I am driving, and when I anticipate leaving. There are many benefits to extending this simple courtesy, including safety.
Now that you found your piece of land, it’s time to get boots on the ground. Hopefully you have set multiple points on Google Maps that you can now investigate in person, and see if they are actually good spots to hunt. I like to tell the farmer exactly where I hang tree stands and trail cameras. The more information you tell him, the better he will feel about letting you hunt his land. Also, I hike all my properties because I think the farmer respects the fact that I park my truck in the same exact spot each time I am there. Even if the ground is dry and there are no crops in the field yet, I still walk to all my spots.
Something that I do that I think many people overlook is talking with the neighboring landowners and simply letting them know that you will be hunting nearby. Building trust is critical. I like to ask the neighbors if they have any hunters that hunt their land. If they do, I will try to collaborate with them and potentially build a new friendship with a fellow hunter. Of course, there’s always a chance this gesture may lead to you getting more land to hunt as well.
As the season goes on, I like to talk with the landowner on occasion just to maintain regular communication and to keep building the relationship. At the end of the season, I always make it a point to thank the landowner again. When doing this, I offer venison from a deer harvested that year, even if it wasn’t from his property. If I have a bad year and don’t shoot a deer, I will spend money buying gift cards or even cuts of meat from a local butcher shop. You can never say thank you too much.
The relationship with the landowner shouldn’t only exist during hunting season. Every so often I like to call each of them who have given me permission to hunt just to catch up. I make it a point to mention to them that they can call me if they need any help with anything. I also pay attention when damaging storms come through, which might lead to trees being down. Nothing will impress a landowner more than you showing up to offer help, even if there is nothing to do. It’s never a bad time to demonstrate the value you bring to the farmer or other landowner for that coveted permission slip.
Growing up as a hunter and a dairy farmer, it’s hard to write about a topic like this without my passion for the outdoors showing through. I am a firm believer that hard work pays off, no matter what you do. Imagine how many times a farmer gets asked throughout the year for hunting permission. Coming from experience, I assure you that it’s likely way more than you think. While it might seem like common sense, it’s my opinion that regular communication and willingness to go the extra mile are the two biggest factors in not only securing your next deer hunting honey hole, but keeping it for years to come as well.
Guest writer Justin Mueller is an outdoors vidographer and photographer in the hunting industry. He enjoys filming other people’s hunts, because it gives him the opportunity to see their true love and passion of the outdoors, and then express it as creatively as he can. A Minnesota native, Justin is a lifelong waterfolwer and deer hunter.
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