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For many years I was content to hunt the few pieces of private land that I had access to through friends and family and I supplemented this with trips to our local public hunting spaces.
Then I started getting serious about goose hunting and quickly realized that in order to take the pressure off of the main property I hunted I would need to cultivate some backup spots which could be used sporadically throughout the season.
So my hunting partners and I began discussing something we dreaded: cold calls to landowners. One morning in the blind one of my friends said it best, "It makes me more nervous than asking a girl out on a date."
Talking to landowners can be a scary proposition, but fear not, there is hope. With careful preparation and the right attitude, talking to land owners can be an enjoyable and successful undertaking.
Planning should start with scouting first. It doesn't do you much good to get permission to hunt on land that isn't going to be productive. That's where satellite images and time spent driving roads is important. Once you locate properties that have potential the time has come to talk to the landowner. Here are some tips that I have learned through personal experience.
Dress to Impress
You don't have to wear your Sunday best but khaki pants and a button-down shirt are a good choice. Treat this like an interview and first impressions are important.
- A simple business card with my name, phone number and email address. I also added a tasteful wildlife scene so they remember me.
- A blank liability waiver. These are easy to find on the internet and can be adapted for your use.
- A copy of my state's landowner protection law. Many states have laws on the books that protect landowners who give hunters permission to use their property. This offers a second layer of protection.
This should be obvious but some people need to be reminded. You are asking for an enormous favor and your attitude should reflect that. Introduce yourself, give a firm handshake and never, ever make the mistake of asking someone's wife if you can talk to their husband. Always assume the lady of the house has the decision-making powers as well. I like to call people by their last names with a Mr. or Mrs. in front of it. It's a sign of respect that is often over-looked.
Avoid Talking About Farming
Most hunters know a little bit about farming because we spend so much time in rural areas. It's tempting to try to talk shop with the landowner but they can smell BS a mile away, especially if you vehicle has city plates on it. Keep the discussion on the topic at hand and they will appreciate it.
The 'No Pressure' Ask
My strategy is to present my request to the landowner and if they seem hesitant reassure them by telling them you would be happy to let them think about it and maybe you could call back in a few days. I've done this many times and it often turns a maybe into a yes right there on the spot. Also, don't show up the day before you want to hunt. I try to do my meetings in the pre-season but if we see an opportunity while the season is in, we ask them if we can hunt there in a week or two.
Don't Be Greedy
I usually ask to hunt one or two days, never for an entire season. This is also a smart strategy because it helps build trust. I hunted a farm for one day in 2011 and now I have year-round access because I developed a relationship with the landowner over time.
Everything Besides Deer is Easier
Deer hunters with high-powered rifles terrify landowners. They worry about a bullet coming through their kitchen window or killing their livestock. Asking to hunt waterfowl or turkey makes them feel much more safe because shotguns don't shoot far. Nevertheless, stress that everyone in your party is a safe shooter.
So you secured permission to hunt. Now what? Iron out the rules with the landowner. If possible, ask them to walk with you to the exact spot you are hunting. Be observant of cattle gates or any other areas that should treated with care. Make a note of what directions are safe to shoot and agree on the specifics. What time will you be arriving and leaving? If multiple game animals are in season, are they okay with you taking a quail during a rabbit hunt or shooting a passing duck during a goose hunt? Never assume anything.
After the hunt, police the area for any spent shells, trash or other debris. When wing-shooting crippled birds are common. Take the time to find them and if you can't locate them, notify the landowner because sooner or later he will find them himself.
The most important item in making all of this work is gratitude. Be generous at Christmas. Offer some of your game to the landowner. I have roughly 1/3 of my deer meat turned into sausage every year just so I have landowner gifts. If you find out they like wine, leave a nice bottle on their porch at the end of the season. Offer to work for a day or two during the summer. Maintain the relationship throughout the year and don't just use them when it benefits you.
If you are smart about your strategies and are willing to play the numbers game, talking to landowners can really expand your hunting resources. If it is done right there is also a good chance you will make some lifelong friends in the process.