Maybe it’s because I am a lifelong Nebraskan with deep farm roots. Maybe it’s because I am a person with an outgoing, assertive personality who thoroughly enjoys interacting with people. Maybe it’s because of what I do for living and my employer. Maybe it’s because I am a legal hunter, an ethical hunter. I don’t know for sure.
But honestly, I have never had difficulty acquiring permission to hunt on private land. Over the years, I’ve developed numerous friendships with landowners that have gone far beyond my interest in hunting. These landowners have become “family!” While these friendships have allowed me to hunt their land again in subsequent years, I’ve also paid it forward in a variety of ways.
One of the biggest obstacles to hunters these days is getting permission to hunt private land. It certainly is not an easy task. A distant memory are the good ole’ days when weedy fence rows did not have ‘No Hunting’ signs posted and the leasing of property for hunting rights wasn’t considered other than for waterfowl.
Though daunting, it is not impossible to find a place to hunt game animals and birds on private property. Expect to put forth a great deal of effort. When analyzed, nearly all of the methods to obtain permission to hunt private land are based on one factor, you, and more specifically, your personality.
Here are my top tips for assisting you with gaining permission to hunt on private land:
- Connections to landowners. Knocking on doors randomly is a difficult way to get permission to hunt on private land. It is best to have some leads and references. Chances are someone in your family, among your friend group, in your circle of co-workers or conservation organization, knows a rural Nebraska landowner and may even call ahead to tell them that you will be contacting them!
- Face to face, no large groups. No phone calls, no emails, no letters, no Snapchat, no social network messaging. Find out who owns a particular piece of property through the local County Register of Deeds Office. Then, drive out, knock on the door, and meet that farmer or rancher face to face! These ‘salt of the earth’ folks want to meet and get to know you in person! Take youth along to be part of the experience but do not show up with more than a couple people, trucks, dogs etc. and expect to get hunting access. Most landowners don’t like big groups of hunters showing up on their property.
- Appropriate times. It’s generally not a good idea to show up during meal times, Sunday morning church time or during the fall harvest period. Approach landowners on a nice, sunny days. Folks tend to be in a better mood on sunny days, and may be more receptive to letting you hunt their land. Remember, go well in advance of your hunting season opening dates!
- Dress for success. Dress in clean, normal clothing, look presentable, but not formal (no hunting clothing either, please).
- ID card/hunter education certificate. Carry homemade index cards with your personal information on them to hand to the landowner as well as proof that you’ve successfully completed a firearm hunter or bowhunter education course.
- Discussion topics. When visiting with our Nebraska farmers and ranchers, be prepared to talk about topics such as weather, hay, crops, grain commodities, livestock (cattle) prices, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), wildlife, and yes, even some local issues and politics. Don’t forget that it is most important to be an active listener during these discussions.
- Gestures of appreciation. In many cases hunters may offer a service or assistance with farm or ranch chores, if needed. Help a farmer or rancher fix fence, put up hay, separate cattle, work on buildings, split firewood, etc. A fruit basket, box of beef steaks or even a one-year subscription to NEBRASKAland magazine are friendly gestures that many rural Nebraska landowners like. Also, consider offering to share some your game harvested. Bring a roll of venison summer sausage or a package of wild game jerky to give to the landowner. If he or she is not interested in receiving wild game like deer meat, tell him or her you will donate some or all of it to the Hunters Helping the Hungry program in their name. By the way, always include write a note of thanks for granting you a special day on their property with your gesture of appreciation.
- Be yourself. When visiting with the landowner, always be polite, honest and forthright with information, but most of all BE YOURSELF (don’t sugar coat things because Nebraska farmers and ranchers can smell “bull” from a mile away!). If a landowner says no to hunting, thank him or her for their time, and be on your way! Rejection is part of this process. Keep in mind, too, that first impressions matter! You may have only a couple of minutes to sell yourself, so know what you are going to say in advance of your conversation with that farmer, rancher or large acreage owner.
- Be flexible. The more flexible you are, the more flexible a landowner will be with allowing you to hunt. Perhaps you cannot hunt certain weekends when the landowner’s relatives will be in the field. Perhaps you cannot go in a certain area of the property because others already have permission to hunt it. Perhaps it is archery only.
- Leave the ATV at home. Never show up pulling an ATV on a trailer, because many farmers and ranchers don’t want them on their property. Once you gain a landowner’s confidence you might explore the use of an ATV.
- Help after bad weather. Do show up after a bad weather event to see if the landowner needs help with anything on his or her place with regard to clean up detail or assistance with repairs.
- Pertinent contact info. After acquiring permission to hunt from the landowner, make certain you know the best way to get a hold of him or her for future reference.
- What about paying to play? I personally do not pay to hunt, except for youth on licensed Controlled Shooting Areas. However, some hunters or groups of hunters do pay money to lease the hunting rights from a private landowner for free ranging game species. When money is exchanged, things change. They become more complicated, the Recreation Liability Act needs to be addressed and most likely you will need the services of an attorney regarding a contract.
Good luck! GW.