How to Gain Hunting Access to Private Land: It’s Not As Hard as You Think
By Rachel Bush, Pheasants Forever North Dakota State Coordinator
Hunting on private lands.
Although I am no expert on this subject matter, and do not know any silver bullet for gaining access to private lands, I would like to offer you some perspective, and some ideas.
In the state where I live, 94 percent of the land is privately owned. Through success and failure, I have developed the confidence to simply ask to hunt… Although I consider myself fairly comfortable with asking permission, many of the standard guidelines regarding the ask seem intimidating. And if it intimidates me, how would that list of guidelines make someone new to hunting feel?
We live in reality. We have busy schedules and young kids, we’re a generation or more away from the farm or disconnected completely. We live in urban settings and have no rural connections. All those factors considered, building relationships with private landowners and asking for permission to hunt private lands shouldn’t be discounted. My hope is to share my experiences and some guidelines that will make the process more digestible, less intimidating, and open up the opportunity to build relationships.
So where do you start?
First, it has to start with you and your willingness to ask. If you allow it, doubt and intimidation will stop you before you even try.
I used to struggle to ask permission, opting instead for easier access, more convenience … and more heavily pressured public lands. There were great-looking spots of habitat that I wouldn’t even consider because I convinced myself I couldn’t walk up to a door or pick up the phone. I spend a lot of my fall waterfowl hunting, and you cannot always predict where the birds will be. If I was lucky enough to find a prime spot, I’d sometimes feel less timid and get up the gumption to make a phone call and ask with a shaky voice if I could hunt, but there was always a lot of anxiety that preceded that conversation.
I’m not sure where the tipping point was. I think I finally recognized that because hunting meant so much to me, I just needed to get over that self-imposed barrier. I was ready to take the occasional “no” with a smile and offer a “thanks for your time” over not having the chance. When the “Yes” does happen, it feels good, and I know the hunt to follow and the landowner relationship I am building will be rewarding.
This is where I sway from the standard guidelines and adapt.
Of course, be respectful and courteous. If time permits, try and make the first introduction in person. However, being unable to locate the landowner is often a reality. Depending on the situation, consider knocking on a neighbor’s door and ask if they know how to reach the landowner.
Sometimes it comes down to relationships. I’ve had neighbors pass along cell numbers or make a call for me as I try to connect with the landowner. If I do get a phone number whether it be from a neighbor or the local white pages, I’ll make a call.
Don’t be discouraged if there’s no answer, and don’t be afraid to leave a voicemail, because (gasp for dramatic effect here), callbacks are not unheard of.
Introduce yourself and be open about who you are and what you are asking for. It’s ok to say you’re new to hunting, you only get the chance to hunt one day a week, you’d like to get your kid out for a hunt, or you’re working hard to get your new dog on some birds.
Know where you want to hunt. With the OnX Hunt App, I often have the map pulled up and can show the landowner exactly where I am asking to hunt. During this time, I explain what I am hoping to hunt, my intentions as a ethical and respectful hunter, and who will be hunting with me.
This is typically the point where you will get your answer, “yes”, “no” or “not today” on permission. Regardless of their answer, make sure to thank them for their time. If you don’t get the answer you’ve hoped for, don’t be too intimidated to ask if another time might work better. For example, here in North Dakota, as in many other places, deer season is a long-held family tradition and I’m not likely to get permission to pheasant hunt during deer season. I may if I ask to come back after the season closes, though.
With a “yes” I will follow up regarding when I plan to hunt, along with the length of time I plan to be there. It’s also wise to let the landowner know what vehicle to look out for, where I plan to park and ask if there are any areas I should avoid.
If you’re hoping to drive across the property, make this a secondary ask. Never assume that permission to hunt gives you access to drive willy-nilly where ever you choose. I usually offer to stop by the shop, text, or call the landowner when I’m done hunting. Trading cell numbers serve two purposes: It allows you to follow up after the hunt to say thank the landowner again, while it also provides a way to contact that landowner in the future to build a longer-term relationship.
Last but not least is the art of a hand-written thank you note and accompanying offer to help out on the farm, ranch or land. A small gift never hurts. This is one more step in building a long-term relationship.
In North Dakota, my home state, there are just under 1.2 million acres of national grassland, nearly 800,000 acres of public access enrolled in our walk-in program (PLOTS), and around 263,000 acres of state-owned wildlife management areas. I can find public land to hunt, but the opportunities on private lands should not be forgotten. The art of building landowner-sportsmen relationships should not be lost regardless of where you live.
Rachel Bush is a hunter, mother, wife, bird dog owner and unapologetic asker of access.