In most cases, hunting location trumps technique. These four steps will put you in the right place.
If you want to kill quality animals, you have to hunt where they live. For most of us, that means gaining access to properties that have good habitat, great genetics, and little to no hunting pressure. Getting permission to hunt these kinds of places is easier than you might think -- if you go about it the right way. The following four options have worked for me, and I'm sure they will open the door to some fantastic hunting grounds for you, too.
Throughout the summer, I spent weekends mending fence and posting property. Come fall, the landowner paid me handsomely.
OPTION 1: The Old-Fashioned Way
Nothing beats the old-fashioned method of pounding the pavement and knocking on doors for you to gain hunting access. Most landowners don't mind your asking for permission to hunt. Landowners may have valid reasons for denying you permission, but they could still be your biggest allies in finding properties that do allow hunting. Bottom line -- you won't know until you ask.
Proper etiquette can mean the difference between a landowner's saying yes or no to your request. For starters, don't show up during archery season, bow in hand, hoping to gain access. Do this well in advance of the season.
Timing is also important. Don't make an appearance during a landowner's busiest time of the year and assume he will eagerly grant you permission. NEVER take an owner for granted. Be sure to clarify with the owner where you can park, whether you can drive on the property to retrieve downed game, whether you need to call before coming, and if you can bring a friend. Nothing irritates a landowner more than granting a hunter permission and then watching three or four of his uninvited buddies show up for the hunt.
Offering to help out with chores on the property is an excellent way to swing the tide in your favor. If you have specific trade skills that may be useful to a landowner, offer to work on a project for free.
I used this tactic to get on to some prime riverbottom habitat last year, which resulted in my arrowing a nice Pope and Young-class whitetail. Initially I contacted the landowner to see about permission, knowing he allowed extremely limited access. I offered to fix fence and post the property for him. He conceded to the idea, and since then we have worked hard on his property together and formed a great friendship. I can't wait to get in there again this year.
Some landowners solicit help. For example, this past summer I found a flyer at the local hardware store that read: "Wanted: Six to seven hardworking people to work 60 hours each, painting, weeding, planting, building fence, fixing roofs, digging, and general lifting chores around small ranch. Owner will trade for exclusive access to 1,600 acres for entire hunting season. Please contact€¦" Always keep your eyes open for such opportunities.
OPTION 2: Lease
Leasing is usually a win-win situation for all parties involved. The owner knows who is accessing his property and he's getting paid for it, while the lessee gets to enjoy some prime hunting real estate.
To find a lease, take a tip from Option 1 and start by talking to landowners. Usually, if a property owner is not interested in leasing, he may know of a neighbor who is. The Internet is also a great resource. Google "hunting lease" and you will be amazed at the amount of information you'll get. Other Internet options are www.nationalhuntingleases.com and www.nationalhuntingleasenetwork.com. Lastly, check the classified section of your local newspaper for "land for lease" ads.
Before spending dollar one of your hard-earned money, always consider the following: Are you going to lease a property by yourself or with other people? If you are going to lease with other people, how well do you know them and their hunting goals and ethics?
Are the landowner's expectations clear? Can you bring on other guests who are not part of the lease? Getting the right answers to these questions will save you a lot of headaches come hunting season. Trust me.
OPTION 3: Buying Property
Take a close look at what you are currently spending on hunting each year. Do you pay dues to a hunt club? Do you pay for a lease? Do you travel somewhere each year to hunt quality animals? This money could just as well be used to make payments on your own hunting property.
Many landowners will trade you a little of your sweat for access to their property. I'm getting pretty good at building fence.
There is buying power in numbers. Sure, you might not be able to afford a sizable chunk of hunting acreage by yourself, but if you put together the right group of people, you could have that perfect piece of hunting ground you've always dreamed of. Here's an example of what I mean.
Fifteen years ago a group of 12 passionate bowhunters I know got together and decided to buy a hunting property. After a thorough search, they finally located a 350-acre timbered tract close to their homes. A lawyer drew up a contract, and each member had to sign it. This contract established guidelines for the property's management and set up the purchase as a Land Trust.
Each member owned one share. If any individual wanted to sell his share, he had to offer it to the other 11 members at the original market value. If none of the other members wished to buy the share, it could be sold to an outsider for current market value. The only other way a share could change hands was to pass it on to a family member.
Over the years, members have harvested timber off certain sections of the property and used profits from the timber sales to pay for taxes, insurance, road maintenance, gates, and food plots. Any extra money was divided equally among the members. Now, 15 years later, they have the property paid for and have money in the bank to cover all expenses. The greatest success about the purchase is that they have secured a place for their future generations to hunt.
OPTION 4: Public Access
Nothing beats the satisfaction gained from a successful do-it-yourself hunt on public land. Sure this type of hunting can be tough, but don't think for one minute you cannot find quality animals on public lands. Research materials on public land are virtually infinite. Start by looking online at state wildlife agency websites.
Some states fund programs that allow public access to
private lands. In the Midwest, for example, Kansas has a walk-in access program that opens up over one million acres of private property to hunters. Colorado has Ranching for Wildlife, which allows residents to gain access to private acreage. Here in my home state of Montana, Fish, Wildlife & Parks initiated the Block Management Program. This program pays landowners to open their gates to hunters. Currently, Montana has over eight million acres enrolled in this program. Your particular state wildlife agency can tell you if this type of program exists.
Units with limited access or limited harvest offer other possibilities for quality public hunting. Many state game agencies have designated specific units for quality game management by limiting the number of animals harvested, either by limiting the number of tags issued or through antler-point restrictions. Study state regulations online to uncover quality management opportunities in each state. Also, consider using a resource like Carter's Hunter Service (435/865-1020, www.huntinfool.com) to research high-quality public hunting options.
I do all of my bear and elk hunting on public lands in Montana. This past spring my hunting partner and I eased into a remote drainage on National Forest property where we figured a good bear would be gorging on fresh grass shoots. After a couple of hours of sneak-and-peek hunting, I rounded a small stand of timber and was pleasantly surprised to see a Pope and Young-class bruin feeding less than 40 yards away. I waited for him to quarter away slightly before making a deadly shot.
The author lives in Sand Coulee, Montana.