As the one of the top issues affecting hunters today, the loss or lack of access to land has made getting afield difficult for many. From losing family and friend owned lands to the increasing land prices, finding adequate hunting ground is not an easy task by any means.
Of course hunters can go the public land route, but there’s something about having at least some control of a property that makes you feel better about the hunting spot. Maybe it’s for management reasons, or just because you don’t want to run into those stereotypical public land hunters. But that doesn’t mean you have to hunt public ground.
Even though many states’ lease prices have rose sharply in the last five years, there are still some gems out there. Some at rock-bottom prices and others even for free, believe it or not. If you make the right moves, you can land one yourself for this fall.
Here are five key steps to locking down a property.
1. You Will Never Know If You Don’t Ask
You’ve heard the phrase, “What is the worst they can say … No?” It’s so true in this situation. Asking around through local friends, family or business colleagues, and even driving around and knocking on doors are still effective ways to gain access. Even with smartphones, and Craigslist at our fingertips, sometimes word of mouth and personal interaction can be the charm. Whether you know it or not, many of the people you talk to have a land connection either directly or indirectly. Often just “planting the seed” during a conversation will grow into a solid lead when they are talking with a neighbor or family member.
It used to be easy; knocking on a door for permission to hunt was the norm. However, with today’s society, can you blame them for not inviting a complete stranger into their house for coffee? In many of the small towns across the U.S., reaching out to landowners through door knocking is not nearly as effective as it used to be, which is unfortunate. But the fact is, even if 99 out of 100 shut the door in your face, there is still one that has given you a chance and that is all that matters. In the end, what is the worst thing that can happen? If they say “no,” move on to the next one. Eventually you might hit “deer dirt.”
2. Take Advantage of Taxation
The County Assessor’s Office can be a good resource when looking for land to hunt. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a place where they collect your tax dollars, and then roll around with it in the back room (at least I don’t think so). In reality, this office is a wealth of information to the hunter searching for land. All parcels of land, whether industrial, residential or agricultural, are kept on record. Some counties have made it as simple as going online and searching the property records, others you have to physically go into the office and request tax maps. In the end, you not only get the contact information for a piece of ground, but you also can find valuable information like the assessed value and even the annual property tax. These records are your guide to the landowners around the area; it’s up to you to take action. Many times, starting off with out-of-state landowners is the best. This is because they stand a chance at having inherited land they are not using regularly. Offering some money to help offset the property taxes can be the key to a long term hunting lease.
3. Make the Connection
As a society, and particularly hunters, we are largely introverts (as opposed to extraverts). This means we are not really good at public speaking, and often do not like confrontation or talking to people we don’t know. You can see how this might cause a problem reaching out to a landowner who does not know you, and ask him or her to utilize their land for hunting. Fortunately, there are multiple ways to communicate. Although many may feel face-to-face or a phone call is most effective, just like you, many of these landowners don’t like being put on the spot. I have found that mailed letters can be the most effective manner to communicate.
Often, these landowners are older couples or widows. Writing and receiving letters is how they communicated. Letters also allow you to give a clear and concise background on who you are and what you are looking for. You may choose to add some assets you bring to the table. For instance, I often say (with permission) I will improve the quality of the habitat and wildlife, therefore leading to a likely increase in recreational value of the property. If it is a farmer who depends on crop production for a living, you may want to add how you are very open to harvesting does in order to keep the population in check with their crops. The last two advantages of a letter are: 1) you allow them time to process what you are asking without the odd silence that can come with being on the phone or in person, and 2) you sign it with actual ink giving it that personable touch.
Editor’s Note: Do not type and print these letters from a computer. Handwritten letters are more personable.
4. The 3 Cs of Leases in Today’s World
Companies, Classifieds and Craigslist, those three alone will without a doubt expose you to people leasing property. The question is whether it is the right one for you. Many of these sources are not going to be the cheapest lease out there, but they are available, which may be more than you have right now. Do your homework by contacting the person and talk to them, ask for a visit to see the place and ask to see pictures of deer they have harvested. If any one of those is a “no,” then it might be a good idea to move on to the next candidate. If the lease is a good fit for you on paper, then go back to “Step 1” and ask around about the person or company leasing the property. Are they reputable? Have they had good success with leasing property in the past? In this case YOU are the customer, and the customer is almost always right. Make sure they treat you that way.
5. Get to the Source
Even though it is not the direct landowner or an available lease, real estate agents and brokers are dealing directly with landowners or trustees. Many times, undeveloped land can sit on the market for years. During this time the landowner may continue to pay their mortgage, but definitely pay their Property Taxes. Often by offering to pay the property tax or a fair rate per acre, real estate agents will sometimes send those offers to landowners for consideration. However, there is usually little to no money involved for the agent, so don’t expect to be treated as a “valued customer.” Unless you are willing to lease with the option to buy, the message may or may not be delivered to the landowner.
The last thing you should do is give up trying. Even if hunting season is about to kick off, a late lead is better than no lead at all. In many cases, you will get a great deal by pro-rating for the amount of hunting season (or calendar year) left. Though it can be frustrating, all it takes is one “yes” to make all the hard work pay off.