Many years ago a friend and I decided to do a last minute hunt for some antelope does. He was a local and I was from a town about an hour down the road. In those days doe/fawn tags were much easier to come by and it was a bit easier to knock on doors in season for access. We put on our most polite attitudes and found a rancher who needed a bit of help himself. He was an outfitter but was short of help that day and needed a couple of pieces of his property checked for bucks for his morning hunt. We had doe tags and he allowed us access only asking us to report back what the numbers were after our hunt on a separate piece of property past where he asked us to look. Sure enough a few bucks were on the property he asked us to check and we brought home meat for the freezer. It was a win for everyone.
- Start early and have your plan in place well before hunting season. The days of door knocking in season are over as many places now post “No Hunting” signs just to limit the number of people knocking on the doors. The best bet is to make arrangements as soon as you draw a tag and be prepared that a trespass fee might be asked. If you are from out of state this is simply a land owner wanting to make sure you are serious, and people with skin in the game tend to make the best guests.
- Follow the rules and pay attention to details. Leaving the wrong gate open can damage a relationship and really hurt the land owner’s pocket book. One cow hit in the road can turn into a long line of repercussions, including access to the property being denied for years to come just to avoid headaches. A land owner would rather have you ask a few questions, pull up a map and get the details right than have a mess on their hands.
- When in doubt on road conditions, just walk. Climbing that slick hill and tearing up the two track with chains just to cut 400 yards off your hike isn’t worth it. More Hunter Management Areas have been lost due to vehicle abuse of rules than any other reason. Use common sense, if you wouldn’t want somebody to do it on your property then use your better judgment and don’t do it.
- Last but not least, and perhaps the most important thing, express gratitude. Thank you cards at the end of the season go a long way or even a pre-arranged stop in after season just to say thank you can make the difference for access the next season.
At the end of the day most of this boils down to treating people and property the way you’d like to be treated or have your land treated. State game and fish departments work hard to secure land owner access for state programs like walk in areas or HMAs. It’s up to us, sportsmen and women to make sure we don’t abuse the privilege of public access to private land.