The Time is Nigh: Finding Private Land to Deer Hunt
Are you tired of relying only on public land or one-off invitations from friends for hunting opportunities? Do you have access to a hunting property but yearn for grounds offering new scenery and big buck prospects? If the answer is “yes” to either question, don’t let your heart be troubled. With intentional action, finding a private hunting lease, club, or other hunting parcels for this fall can be easier than you think. If you haven’t already done so, the time to start is now. April and May are often the time when hunters begin to surrender their hunting digs. Don’t wait for the better properties to be gobbled up.
First off, there are usually draw and permit hunts available. Draw hunts involve hunters entering a lottery system, and the winners earn the right to hunt on specific sections of land. While they may take place on public lands, they’re sometimes located on attractive whitetail hunting grounds with little hunting pressure. However, often they’re not. States like Pennsylvania have public lands crawling with whitetail hunters, especially during rifle season. Depending on your desire to hunt public land, this alternative will vary from state to state. The same goes for permit hunting. For states that offer it, a licensed hunter can buy a permit to hunt a particular hunting space. While the fee is usually low, it will apply for each hunt, and time on the property will be limited.
The good news is that, with a proper approach and a little effort, you can find private acreage that gives you the latitude to hunt it effectively and with little or no human pressure.
It’s the Lease You Can Do
Whether they’re called hunting leases or clubs in your neck of the woods, leasing deer hunting land is big business these days. Securing a hunting lease through a land broker is a feasible option. In this case, a hunting lease company obtains a fee for managing a property’s lease. This alternative is popular for many hunters, and under the best of conditions, both parties are pleased with the arrangement.
Leased hunting land can also be procured through timber companies. Though I have no personal experience with this one, I know others who do. There are times when timber companies manage forest areas that are ripe for leasing. One way to inquire is to search foresters via the Association of Consulting Foresters of America’s website.
Finally, you can lease from individuals. There are several ways to go about it. While you can look at bulletin boards, classified ads, and internet forums, you can kick it up a notch by actively contacting prospective lessors. This is my favorite route. Ask friends, family, and even friends of friends who either lease hunting land or might be willing to do so. There are non-hunters that have a rural property with resident and shared deer populations. Also, you never know when you might come across a hunting party that can absorb another hunter into their mix.
Free Hunting Land?
Several states such as Kansas, Texas, and Wyoming have programs that designate private lands for free hunter access. In some cases, landowners are given compensation to do so. For example, North Dakota offers the Private Land Open to Sportsmen (PLOTS) program. These programs are typically for foot traffic only. In my mind, this is good. It negates pressure from motorized vehicles, and the properties can easily be scouted with online aerial photos and apps. While many of these areas are best suited for bird hunting, there is some pretty salty deer habitat out there as well. In addition to the free part, many of these properties have minimal deer hunting pressure.
Free Hunting Land the Old-Fashioned Way
When I was a youngster, I fondly remember the many area farmers and ranchers who would generously open up their property for bass fishing and hunting. Those were the days. A knock on a door, a handshake, and congenial banter were followed with a great day in the woods. Though it may still happen, it’s rare. At least in my world.
It’s still possible to gain access to private hunting land this way, albeit with a little more groundwork. If you have no connection to the owner or don’t even know who they are, a visit to the local tax assessor is a good bet. In any case, nothing beats initiating an in-person encounter with the landowner and simply asking. But when you do, use good form. There are a few things you can do to enhance your chances, such as being polite, asking well before the season starts, and offering to help with any chores or property management. For example, offer your hand at fence work or predator management. And don’t forget to provide the landowner with detailed contact information.
Not all landowners will say yes, but you can greatly increase your chances with a little common sense and courtesy. If the property is large enough, you can stick your toe in the water by asking for access to a smaller section of their place.
Another way to secure private hunting digs is to seek out “For Sale” signs along your local highways and country roads. Land that is for sale is often sitting vacant. Use the available contact information and ask for temporary access.
Finally, come prepared with a signed waiver emphasizing that you’re willing to waive your right to take any legal action if injured on their grounds. Remember, some landowners have had bad experiences or heard about them from others.
The Bowhunter Wins
It’s no longer a secret that some of the best deer hunting takes place on micro-properties, even suburban ones. This opens up a whole new world, particularly for bowhunters. These types of acreages and subdivisions usually lie outside the city, where it’s still legal to hunt. Not big enough to lease, there is likely nobody who’s even considered hunting them. Perhaps the best -part is, if you play your cards right, you can obtain hunting rights on several of these areas close to home.
Remember that in some of these instances, landowners may require payment. Still, there is a good chance you’ll get a favorable price.
Leverage Your Community
Hunters are part of a fraternal group. Lay the groundwork for hunting access by joining local hunting associations and clubs. Establish a presence on online forums – heck, even inquire on Craigslist. Go old school and put good old-fashioned paper requests on bulletin boards at your local deer processor, taxidermist, rifle range, and bow shop.
There is always private land out that’s not hunted. Put on a full-court press. Roll up your sleeves, put your best foot forward, and find your own slice of whitetail paradise now. Sure, it might require a little work. But once you’ve secured hunting rights, you can manage the deer and the habitat for the better. You’ll be glad you did come deer hunting season.
Based in Texas, Jerald Kopp is President of 1st Light Hunting Journal. His articles cover a variety of topics about hunting and the outdoor lifestyle. Jerald is an avid outdoorsman with deer hunting and whitetails being by far his greatest passion. He was introduced to hunting and fishing at an early age and has been enjoying it for 40+ years. In 2005, he established the Empowerment Outfitter Network (EON) – a faith-based non-profit organization that provides hunting opportunities for disabled and terminally-ill children and youth. When not hunting, he spends his time traveling and enjoying life with Amy, his wife of over 30 years. Jerald and Amy have two adult daughters and a son-in-law.