September 28, 2021
For many deer hunters, this process can be a bit awkward or even intimidating. I’m going to say it now and will probably repeat it in this article, but always remember, the worst that can happen is a landowner says no to you. And that’s no big deal.
Even for someone like me, who has asked numerous landowners in my lifetime for hunting permission, the moment of truth can still raise the heart rate a bit. However, I’ve found the more I do it, the easier it gets. And with that, here are some things you should be thinking of to help your chances of walking away with a yes and a handshake.
First and foremost, keep your appearance clean. First impressions carry a lot of weight in life, and the same goes with acquiring hunting permission. After you identify a parcel you’d like to hunt, and you’ve mustered up the courage to go knock on the landowner’s door, dress for success. You may not get very far if your appearance isn’t up to par. Now, you don’t need to show up looking like you just got out of church, but there are a few particulars I like to stick to.
My main rule is not to wear camouflage, but that’s just personal preference. I choose to not show up looking like a hunter for the simple reason that it can turn some people off immediately. If that’s the case, that particular landowner probably won’t give you permission regardless of what you wear. But you just never know for sure.
I like to arrive well-groomed and wearing my usual presentable clothing, to show that I’m just a normal guy. Blue jeans and a flannel shirt (the classic) are my go to. I don’t want to have dirt all over me, or anything out of the ordinary. Imagine yourself as a door-to-door salesman. When the landowner looks at you out of their window as you’re headed up to the doorstep, you want to appear to be approachable and friendly.
Stick to a Script
I like to keep my messaging the same for every landowner I approach. In general, I like to open with a simple greeting and question, like: “How are you today sir/ma’am?” Then I’ll jump into my introduction. Remember to be friendly, but don’t take too long to get to your point, because someone showing up at your front door to just chat is weird, especially these days.
When it’s time to ask the magic question, know there are numerous ways to go about this. Explain that you’re searching for a property to deer hunt on, and that you’ve identified their property as a place of interest. Sometimes it’s helpful to ensure the landowner that you’re certified in hunter education training, and that you’re aware of and follow state and local game laws.
My favorite time of the year to ask for permission to hunt a property is in the off-season. Why? Because I’ve had less luck requesting to immediately hunt a property during the season. A landowner may not want to make a decision in the moment of you asking.
In contrast, it’s not as big of a deal to ask for permission to either shed hunt or turkey hunt a property. If you can strike a deal with the landowner to do either, you’ve earned yourself the opportunity to prove yourself.
For instance, accessing a property in the off-season gives you the chance to show that you’re respectful of the property. This could be as simple as making sure a gate is closed when you leave, parking in a certain spot or not leaving any trash behind when you come and go. You’ll begin to build trust and a rapport with the landowner.
Even if you don’t have reason to think deer are wintering on a particular property, it’s still wise to request permission to shed hunt, as it will allow you time to scout the property. This could provide valuable intel for determining if the property would be good for hunting in the fall.
When you do visit a new property, try to stop in and say thank you to the landowner when possible. In the past, I’ve stopped in to drop off donuts or baked goods to show landowners my appreciation. These simple acts can go a long way.
Once you feel the time is right, strike up a conversation and ask about the possibility of extending permission into deer hunting season. In a perfect scenario, the landowner says yes, and you’re off to the races. But it doesn’t always work out that way.
If you’re denied permission, accept that denial politely and courteously. You never know when a landowner will change their mind, so don’t give them a reason to not welcome you back.
In my opinion, a very strategic and smart move to gain hunting permission is to offer up some type of trade with the landowner. Exchanging labor, goods or services can be an excellent approach to receiving access to new hunting land.
Let’s say you’ve started a conversation with a landowner about deer hunting permission, and they haven’t shut you down, but you can tell they’re reluctant to say yes. This is where offering up some form of a trade can make the difference. Assess their situation, and determine what you believe the landowner could benefit from.
One simple service you can offer is lawn mowing and landscape work. Maybe the landowner could use some help chopping wood, stacking hay, tilling ground, etc. It could be a myriad of things, but showing the landowner you’re not afraid to work for their permission is a great way to immediately build that trust and help grant you permission.
One barter deal that has worked well for me in the past is an offer to share venison with the landowner. I try to make good on this offer regardless of whether or not I shoot a deer on that particular property. I make an effort to drop off venison brats and sticks to landowners often, and most of them really appreciate it.
You also can ask landowners if they have ever had trouble with trespassers. Unfortunately, it’s common for landowners to have trouble with people sneaking onto their property. In turn, many landowners think that denying hunting permission is one way to keep more people off the land.
I like to mention to landowners that I run trail cameras and spend a lot of time in the woods, so I’d essentially be a second set of eyes for them. I ensure all landowners that I’ll clue them in immediately if I capture a photo of a trespasser or have reason to believe a trespasser is on the property.
This particular method worked great for me on a piece of property in North Dakota a few years back. The landowner granted me permission, but said he had a ton of trouble with people trespassing on his land (which was about a 1/2 mile from his house). The landowner asked that, if I came across anyone, to tell him right away.
So, I ran a trail camera on the main road into the property, and every time I got a trail camera picture of someone driving on the road, I’d send it over to the landowner. He ended up being very happy I was there, and since then the problem has gone away.
A Few More Tips
When asking a landowner for permission, be sure to make your goal known. If you’re strictly a bowhunter, let them know you’ll only be bowhunting. If you just ask about deer hunting, they might assume you hunt with firearms, and they might not want guns being shot on their property. Be clear and precise about your intentions.
If you’re having trouble finding properties to hunt, or landowners to talk with, it’s smart to immerse yourself in the local community. Even if you’re travelling to hunt out of state, there are things you can do to meet landowners and strike up a casual conversation.
For example, if a lot of local farmers go to the same diner, café or bar, I’ll make stops there to eat and hopefully chat. Some of the best hunting permission deals are made over a cup of coffee or a sandwich. And this approach can be less intrusive than knocking on someone’s door out of the blue.
The last small tip I wanted to cover is networking. Remember, most landowners know other folks in the area. Instead of just saying thanks after one landowner refuses you permission, think about politely asking if they know of anyone in the area who might allow hunting. The landowner might be able to point you in the right direction, which can save you a lot of time.
There’s an art to gaining hunting permission on new properties. Along the way, you’ll almost certainly be told no. Have thick skin; don’t tuck tail and run when someone denies you at first. Just think of each refusal as one step closer to permission. Keep your head up, and move on to the next property with an open mind.
Sometimes all it takes is for one landowner to say yes for your whitetail hunting dreams to come true. As long as you keep working toward your goal, chances are you’ll master the art of asking. Best of luck!