By: Andrew Blair
Growing up hunting, I have been spoiled in a way. When I was young, I recall going deer hunting with my dad on some amazing chunks of private land in Southern Michigan. We’d go out hunting and see loads of deer, and usually have a pretty high success rate each year. As I grew older, and closer to hunting age myself, my dad lost access to a few different pieces of private land that he had been hunting for years. Thankfully, a family member of ours allowed us to hunt their property. I harvested my first deer from this land, and that one deer flipped a switch in my soul, that has had me obsessed with deer hunting ever since.
As I have grown, I have hunted more and more public land, and as most of you know, this can be a struggle. There is no limit on the amount of things that you can not control while hunting public lands. You think you have found the perfect spot, only to discover a treestand 30 yards away. Maybe you walk back in a mile, well before daylight, only to see a headlamp bouncing your way just before daybreak.
I have the utmost respect for all of you public land warriors, the guys that consistently get it done on land that anyone and their brother can access. With that being said, I have grown to dislike hunting public land very much, and spend many hours each year trying to gain access to private hunting land, and I am going to share a few tips with you that have worked for me over the years. I have never paid money to hunt someone’s land, but I have paid in manual labor, sharing my harvests, and being a steward of the land.
Step One: Find the land you’re requesting to hunt on OnX or another reputable service
This allows you to know ahead of time where land boundaries are, how much acreage the property consists of, the different terrain features on the land, but most importantly, the landowners name! I will always try to find out the land owner’s name before ever making contact with them. This allows the conversation to begin at a more personal level, and softens them up a bit more than a random stranger asking them for permission to run rampant over their land.
Step Two: Look Presentable
I don’t mean dressing in your Sunday best and making sure your shoes are shined. But don’t knock on a stranger’s door with dirty jeans, a tattered t-shirt, scruffy facial hair, and dirty boots. It immediately puts the wrong impression in the land owner’s head, and makes them think that you do not care. I try to make sure the vehicle I pull up in is washed, that my clothes aren’t dirty, and that I am well groomed. By going these extra steps, it shows that you put forth effort and that you’ll do the same for their land.
Step Three: Knock on the door, and step back
When I approach a landowner for the first time, I will knock on the door or ring the doorbell, and then step back away from the door. If possible, I will step off of the front steps. This allows the person that answers the door to see you well before they are face to face, and comes off less intimidating. You must remember that you are on their property, and want them to feel secure.
Step Four: Be polite, make eye contact, shake their hand, and introduce yourself
When asking someone for permission to hunt their land, you are essentially asking them for permission to intrude on their personal property. It is important to be as professional as possible. Greet them with a smile while introducing yourself, and be sure to offer to shake their hand. Again, this comes off as less intimidating and shows that you have manners. I like to make small talk before I jump directly into “can I hunt your land?”.
Step Five: Try to be as politically correct as possible
I am the first to admit that sometimes I can come off a bit abrasive. So I need to sit back and rehearse what I am going to say. I’ll usually lead with something like “Hi! My name is Andrew and I live just down the road. I travel by your place quite often, and have noticed how beautiful of a place you guys have. The reason for me stopping today is because I am an avid deer hunter, and can not help but notice how many deer are in this area. Do you hunt? Does anyone hunt here? Would you be interested in letting me hunt here by chance?”
Step Six: No matter the answer, shake their hand and thank them for their time
You are bound to get many more “no” answers than you are “yes” answers when asking for permission to hunt. But, as they say, first impressions are everything! You may have gotten a no from the land owner, but maybe they refer you to a neighbor or another friend that also has land to hunt on. You may also circle back the following year to ask again, and if they remember you, and how respectful you were, the answer may change!
The Cheat Codes:
A few things that I have learned to give me an upper hand…
Bring a child with you
Landowners typically have a soft spot for kids. If you have a child that is hunting age, or close to it, bring them along! Open the conversation as normal, but mix in something like “I am really looking to get my kids out in the woods hunting with me, and unfortunately public land can be a bit tough.”
If they say they are hunters as well, do not just say okay, and turn and leave.
I try to get them to talk about hunting with me! This has worked to gain me permission more than once! As long as the person you’re speaking with can tell that you are a respectful person, they will sometimes agree to share their hunting land with you.
If you see a landowner outside doing chores, stop and talk to them, and offer to help.
Most of the time, land owners don’t need your money. But everyone can use a helping hand! I have raked leaves, painted fences, shoveled snow, and cut firewood for access to hunting land.
Once you have gained access to hunt private land, you do not want to lose it, so make sure that you let the landowner know how much you appreciate their generosity allowing you on their land!
I will routinely drop off deer meat to landowners or give them Christmas cards with gift cards to go out to dinner.
I will make sure the property is left better than I found it. That may mean fixing a down fence, clearing fallen trees from driveways/ paths, and picking up any trash I see.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article, and hopefully it assists you in securing private land to hunt!