A few years ago I had dinner with several hunting industry insiders. The conversation turned to hunting recruitment and a lack of access to hunting land. One of the members of our party casually mentioned that 'you simply can't knock on doors to get a place to hunt these days.' He also mentioned that public land is a zoo and not worth hunting.
While it's not easier than it was twenty years ago, finding a place to hunt isn't impossible. What really rubbed me wrong about what he said was that I know for a fact he hasn't had to knock on any doors in a long, long time and he sure isn't grinding away on public land with the common hunters. His statements were a symptom of how out of touch with the hunting public many of the industry folks are.
The last two spots I secured for hunting around my house in the Twin Cities, where there is no shortage of competition for deer ground, occurred completely randomly. The first was a nice lady at a grocery store who gave me permission to bowhunt her acreage, the second was a guy I ran into at my local gym. We started chatting in the weight room and he mentioned he lives on 40 acres that no one hunts. Now, I technically didn't knock on doors to get those spots, but in a broader sense I'm always listening for an opening. Also, I'm not five, so I'm not scared to talk to strangers.
There are opportunities out there to find places to hunt. Any interaction can result in a lead, and any lead might result in that oh-so-special privilage of being able to hunt someone's property. Make sure anyone who is flirting with the idea of giving you a green light knows that you view it as a true gift and will treat it as such.
If you get the thumbs-up, deliver on your promise.
All of us dream of owning our own ground and here's the thing — more of us can do it than we think. You just have to lower your stands and buckle down. I bought my first property in north-central Wisconsin when I was 31 years old. It's a 28-acre patch of marginal deer ground that will probably never produce a Pope & Young caliber buck for me. I don't care, because the price was stupid cheap due to the fact that half of it is swamp and it's an irregular shape. It's not a dreamy place that delivers incredible hunts, but it is a place to hunt.
I've since bought two more small properties. I've never spent more than $27,000 or had a payment of more than $400/month for land. But, to do this I've had to split two properties with hunting partners and again, buy less desirable ground. Two of the properties are just over two hours from my house in a place where people aren't dying to hunt deer (or live), so the land is inexpensive. I realize that not everyone lives in a place where they can find this, but if you don't look, you'll never know.
I've talked to a lot of bowhunters who will toss out a blanket statement like, 'Deer ground around here is always $3000/acre.' That's never true. Some farmer might break off a wooded hillside for 2/3 of that price, or you might run into a spot of low land that isn't good for much other than hiding critters in it. Ideal high ground with good soil and mature trees is going to be expensive no matter where you look. Other ground, that simply isn't as desirable might be financially feasible.
I look at buying hunting land like getting in shape or going on that once-in-a-lifetime elk hunt. We all talk a big game, but most of us will never do any of them even though we could probably do all of them somehow. The first step is to get over our mental hangups about each and then make a plan. After that, it's a matter of sticking to it, which without doubt, is the difficult part.
I've never leased a piece of ground in my life. I was always somewhat opposed to it, likely because I live in a place where I've been able to either get permission to hunt private ground, or hunt decent public land. These days, I'm more interested in the idea than ever.
Last fall, one of my hunting buddies and his cousin leased a farm near where I hunt in southeastern Minnesota. They had a crazy good season, and it got my wheels turning. I ended up joining Basecamp Leasing and have started seriously checking out hunting leases in several states.
I haven't pulled the trigger yet because I'm dead-set on finding the right parcel, but I have a feeling it's only a matter of time. Basecamp sends me e-mails a couple of times a week with their new listings and I can't look them over quickly enough.
Leasing is the wave of the future for whitetails, and while it still doesn't make me overly excited to write a good-sized check for land I'll never own, I'm not opposed to it like I use to be. I think it's going to be a larger part of the game for many of us, and the idea of getting exclusive use of decent ground is not nothing.
If you're in a place where the land prices are cost prohibitive and you don't have access to decent public land, leasing might be the option. If you do, and you split it with a couple of hunting partners, make sure they are the right partners. You don't want to get involved in a lease with someone who is shady.
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm big into public-land hunting and access, but that doesn't stop me from wanting a few private spots to roam.
Most of us are in a similar boat, and while finding access to new ground might not come easy, it won't come at all if you don't try. Figure out your best option, whether that's networking, buying, leasing, or something else, and get after it because worse than any of those could be is not hunting at all. None of us want that.