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Hunter-Landowner Relations

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Unread 01-31-2012, 11:10 AM
Silver Member
Join Date: Dec 2011
Location: Miles City, Montana
Posts: 174
Hunter-Landowner Relations

I am fortunate to call myself a lifelong Montana resident, minus a few years serving our country here and there. I am an avid sportsman, and am also closely tied to the agriculture community. OVer many years I have hunted and dealt with landowners all over the state, and have devloped standing relationships with many of them. As such, I would like to offer the following for hunters that are going to come here to hunt.

Sportsmen have long enjoyed Montana as one of the premiere hunting and fishing sites in North America. From the plains of eastern Montana to the rugged mountains in the west, Montana offers excellent sporting opportunities.

While many sportsmen utilize Montana's public lands for their sporting needs, a large number flock to private lands owned by farmers and ranchers. Even though there seems to be an endless amount of public land in Montana available to sportsmen, many find themselves depending on private land to enjoy their hunting experiences.

Unlike public land that is managed for a number of uses by a government agency and is open to the public in general, private land is controlled by a landowner who makes the ultimate decision as to how, when, and by whom the land is to be used. Consequently, gaining access to hunt on private land is much different than public land and can be more difficult.
Fortunately, the extra effort needed to hunt private land is worth it, as 70% of Montana is in private ownership. Many game animals in Montana spend considerable amounts of time on private land. Private land may also offer more positive opportunities in terms of hunter numbers and quality of animals.
The Landowner Perspective
In order for sportsmen to develop and maintain a positive relationship with landowners, it is important that they understand the landowner's perspective. The landowner, in most cases a rancher or farmer, depends heavily upon his land to make a living for himself and his family. In many cases, the sole source of income for a family may come from the ranch or farm. Since farmers and ranchers are so dependent on the land, they have serious concerns when they allow others to use their land for activities such as hunting or fishing.

Gates left open, livestock killed accidentally, weeds, fires, and damage to roads are just a few of their concerns. Hunting season also falls at what can be a busy time of year for landowners. Many are rushing to get fall work completed before cold weather and snow set in. A steady stream of hunters calling on the phone and appearing at the front door does little to help a landowner get his work finished and even less to improve his outlook on hunters and the hunting season.

On the other hand, many are proud of their land and the way they manage their natural resources and are eager to showcase those skills to the public at large. Wildlife generally benefit from this management and can become overpopulated. Landowners recognize the role hunters play in managing wildlife populations. Landowners also recognize the role of good sportsman/landowner relationships that keep wildlife in balance with their agricultural operations.

It is easy, then, to recognize that sportsmen present potential for both risk and rewards to the landowner. With a little effort, sportsmen can tip this balance in their favor and present more rewards than risks to landowners.
For the first-time private land hunter, developing a relationship with a landowner can seem like a daunting task. It may take a number of years, but by being a good sportsman and respecting the land and the landowner's wishes, you can ensure a positive hunting experience.
Obtaining Permission
Permission is the most basic necessity for hunting on private land. Since permission is required to hunt on private land, hunters must contact the landowner to gain access. Before contacting a landowner, sportsmen should consider the situation of the landowner. Fall can be an exceptionally busy time of year for a farmer or rancher--shorter days coupled with the need to complete work before winter can make for a very hectic schedule. During hunting season, farmers and ranchers are often bombarded at all hours of the day and night by requests to hunt . Many times the landowner is taken away from important activities to deal with requests from sportsmen.
Keep these factors in mind as you approach a landowner for permission to hunt:
If you know where you will be hunting, contact landowners early, possibly even before the season starts. This will give advance notice that you would like to hunt in the area and increase your opportunity to receive permission.
Contact the landowner during reasonable hours. Driving into a rancher's yard at 4 a.m. to ask permission to hunt may be the best way of getting turned down for hunting access. If you haven't already obtained permission, calling or stopping at the landowner's house the evening before you plan to hunt is appropriate. Otherwise, wait until a reasonable hour during the day you wish to hunt to ask permission.

Inform the landowner how many are in your party, what species you would like to hunt, and how long you would like to stay. This will make it possible for the landowner to manage his hunter numbers and ensure that his land is not overhunted.

It is important for a landowner to manage his hunting. Too many hunters may chase off the game animals and detract from what could be a positive hunting experience. If a landowner turns you down because his place is already full, do not take it personally. It is in the interest of better hunter and game management.

Do not show up with a map and a GPS in hand and tell the rancher you are going to hunt public lands that he is leasing. He can't tell you no, but it really upsets them when they get approached like that. I always ask them if they mind, can I cross their property to get to it, are they running livestock on that property, etc. More times than not I've had a rancher tell me they have cattle out, and that they prefer I not hunt a particular section of public ground, only to offer me access to the rest of their ranch to hunt.
Behavior on Private Land
Probably the most critical step in maintaining the landowner relationship is how a hunter behaves while he is on private land. If a hunter has not been a good sportsman and has not respected the landowner's wishes, he should not expect to return in future seasons. Following are some basic rules to follow as you hunt on private land.
Close all gates that you find closed and leave open those that are open. Occasionally ranchers will leave gates open to allow livestock to move from pasture to pasture or to go to water. Closing the gate may prevent livestock from getting to water. Also be observant as you pass through gates. A gate that has been propped open or up against the fence usually indicates that it is supposed to be open, but a gate left swinging or laying on the ground may mean it is not supposed to be open. If possible, contact the landowner about such situations, so the landowner has the opportunity to remedy any problems.
Do not drive off roads and trails unless allowed by the landowner. Vehicle traffic across fields and rangeland tends to knock down grass, spread noxious weeds, and has the potential for starting fires. If the ground is wet, vehicles may cause ruts that will lead to erosion. It's much better to walk further than to damage roads or rangeland. A good rule of thumb is, if in doubt, walk!
Be careful not to spread noxious weeds. If coming from an area that has noxious weeds problems, be careful to clean the undercarriage of your vehicle or any other equipment before you enter a weed free area. Research has shown that vehicles will transport noxious weed seeds.
Noxious weeds not only cost a landowner to control them and reduce grazing for his livestock, but also reduce wildlife habitat.

Know and respect boundaries. A landowner may give you permission on only part of his land. It is also important to know where one farm or ranch ends and the next begins. If you are unsure of boundaries, obtain a map of the area, and ask the landowner to outline all necessary boundaries for you. In some cases, landowners will supply maps. If you are not certain that you will remain on the landowner's property when coming to a fence, don't cross it!
Maintaining the Welcome
In many cases, a sportsman will find an area where he wants to hunt in future years. Landowners in general welcome those hunters who have been good sportsmen and respected their property. There are some things, however, that will cultivate that relationship.
Correspondence following the season is appropriate. A thank-you note to let the landowner know that you enjoyed the opportunity to hunt will foster good will. Never assume permission is for multiple years, so let the landowner know in advance of your plans to return. If he knows the date when you will be there, he can make sure you have a place to hunt. Even if you don't plan to return, notify the landowner, so he can give someone else a hunting opportunity.

Do not assume that since a landowner allowed you to hunt that he wants all your friends and family as well. If you do plan on bringing more people with you in succeeding seasons, make sure you ask permission to bring the additional hunters.

While it is not necessary to pay landowners for hunting, gestures of good will are appreciated. In many cases hunters may offer a service or help with the ranch chores if needed. I usually try to get out to the branding, I might spend a few days off helping them with some fencing, offer to do a little home repair for them, or lend them a hand when they are shipping cattle in the fall. A newspaper from town or a dozen bakery donuts may be a friendly gesture. Consider offering to share your game. If you're coming from out of state, consider bringing something unique to your area ie, if you're from VA, maybe a country ham, WI some different cheeses, TX, some mesquite for bbq, etc... gestures like these go a very long way with landowners.
Hunters should appreciate the contributions of private landowners. In addition to a place to hunt, landowners provide habitat necessary for wildlife to survive. Disparaging comments about ranchers and farmers by groups that claim to represent hunters do nothing but harm hunter/landowner relationships.
On the other hand, thank you's and acknowledgment of the contribution of private land and agriculture will help ensure future opportunities for sportsmen.
"May God bless our troops, and Hell welcome our enemies!"
"For those who fought for it, Freedom has a flavor the protected will never know!"
Assistant State Captain, Retired, Patriot Guard Riders, West Tennessee
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Unread 02-02-2012, 09:48 AM
Silver Member
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: Wyoming
Posts: 169
Re: Hunter-Landowner Relations

Thanks sharing your insight. I come from a ranch family and have been on/plus seen both ends of the situation. What both sides need to take into account at times is that the landowner and the hunter are not enemies. Like you mentioned they both benefit from each other. Again, great observations!

Have a great day,
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Unread 02-02-2012, 12:01 PM
Platinum Member
Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: Allegan, MI
Posts: 1,369
Re: Hunter-Landowner Relations

A very good read that I would only add a couple comments to. First, I would never wait until close to the time the season opens or when I want to hunt a place. IMO that should be done months ahead of time out of courtesy to the landowner, to know you have a place to hunt, and to allow both parties an opportunity to get to know each other a little bit. Second is that for the most part the days are gone when most places will let you on for what was mentioned, but rather access fees are required. Only once in a great while can you gain access for free as compared to when I started back in the 50s. I have only one small ranch left in Wyoming where hunting is free for me and my buddy. The economy and other factors have really almost necessitated that ranchers/farmers get compensation in order to pay taxes, etc. People should not begrudge them the fact that they are trying to keep that land that maybe has been held by generations under their name and access fees may be one of the only ways to help them pay the bills and do that. IMHO there are way too many people out there that think they are owed the right to hunt anywhere they want whether it's public or private. Thus the problem we face with trespassing, broken fences, and possible damage to property that hurts us all in finding and keeping private property open. Thanks for a very good read!!!
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Unread 02-02-2012, 12:10 PM
Silver Member
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: Wyoming
Posts: 169
Re: Hunter-Landowner Relations

Very well put Topgun!
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Unread 02-08-2012, 09:53 PM
Silver Member
Join Date: Jul 2011
Location: Troy S.C.
Posts: 137
Re: Hunter-Landowner Relations

As an avid hunter from the South I have hunted Wyoming several times with my Uncle who has hunted the same ranches since the 60's. Several things brought up are things that we do...thouth out the year....not just when we go out to hunt for a month or so....We always took out boxes of North Carolina apples...fresh off the trees....we also collect clothes from family members to take out with us....remember many ranches are run & operated by Foremen and many times they need such items as we were able to take out to them. Now in todays times we need to remember that times are hard...harder than ANY of US have ever seen......If you are able to afford to travel across the USA for a month long hunt,,,,then it would be a great show of support for the ranchers and their families.....Just my 2 cents!!!!

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Unread 02-08-2012, 10:30 PM
Platinum Member
Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: Thunder Basin, WY
Posts: 1,788
Re: Hunter-Landowner Relations

Excellent Thread

Maybe Len will make this a sticky. Well done szeitner.
Aim small = Miss small

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Unread 11-14-2012, 08:09 PM
Silver Member
Join Date: Oct 2012
Location: WA STATE
Posts: 117
Re: Hunter-Landowner Relations

All good valid points and should be done.

I personally came out west from West Virginia to Washington in the early nineties. I have been here a while. I had a hard time finding places to hunt no one would allow me to hunt there was a old man that had a huge ranch about 20 min from my house. One day i was out knocking on doors and i had never asked to hunt this ranch. Anyway he had a yearling bull that was out in the raod with a few cows well i grew up on a farm back home so i did what i would do back there with neighbors and chased the cattle back in and put the fence up as best i could. I went to the ranch house and told the owner what i found and he paniced he said he had to get out there and get the cows back in i told him i did already and propped up the fence as best i could. I asked him if he would like me to help him fix it he said no he would do it I told him i was not having any luck today and told him i grew up on a cattle farm so we went and re strung the barbed wire and put a couple new t posts in. During the fence rebuild he was talking to me and i told him that i was out looking for somewhere to hunt as no one would let me have access. He took it all in when we were done he told me to come to the farm house and i did he went in and filled out a trespass slip and told me i was welcome to his ranch.

I went out with the wife a couple of times during the summer and offered to help out in any way in aprreciation for the access the farmer kept saying no. On one of the last trips of the summer there he had his big tractor in the shop and when i talked to him he was saying how exspensive it was going to be to get a clutch installed in it. I asked him to get the parts i would install it. He was hesitant but he did i installed the clutch the next weekend and he told everyone around all his rancher buddies now my wife and daughters have freedom to hunt several thousand acres and I still to this day help I run the combine for one rancher for a week every harvest season.

I just think like taking clothes out from Carolina to Wyoming for the family well people that live close can and SHOULD help anyway they can if they want the ranchers to give them access to hunt Every sportsmans should respect the land owner as well as the land that he owns and do their part so the next hunter asking has a chance to.
My 10yr olds first whitetail 44 Mag 80 yds heart shot she made Daddy as proud as her...
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