The Crushing Blow of Losing Hunting Ground

By author of Brow Tines and Backstrap

Losing access to a place you’ve hunted for years is almost like the loss of a good old friend

Most of us hunters fondly remember the lands of our past. These places served as the foundation for the outdoor culture and heritage that we enjoy today. They’re important, and sometimes we get to continue hunting them for a lifetime. But sometimes we lose them, and when you lose one that meant something, it hurts.

I’ve been fortunate to hunt a lot of different places, and all of them had something different to offer. I still have access to many, but some I don’t. When I look back at places I’ve lost, these sting the most.

I walked down this trail many times as a child. While I no longer have access to this farm, I still reminisce about the memories made on it. (Josh Honeycutt photo)

The Green River Oasis

I crawled on hands and knees across briar-choked ground. The occasional thorn found a home in my 11-year-old palms, but I didn’t care. I didn’t even notice. I was busy picking through brush and blood-hounding toward my first deer. I could smell the tarsal-gland-stained air, hear my pulse beating in my head, and adrenaline surged at first sight of the dead buck.

That moment set me on a course. I didn’t know where it led, but I took it. All thanks to a winding river bottom and a yearling 5-pointer. That thing only scored 35 inches, but by the joy on my face, you’d have thought I’d stolen Milo Hanson’s crown.

I hunted that farm during my first years as a hunter. I had no idea how good it was. The place had non-typical Booners running on it almost every year, and I was jacked about the two 1 ½- and 3 ½-year-old bucks I took off the farm before it finally sold.

I went back there a few years ago. I didn’t receive hunting rights, but after explaining to the new owner what the place meant, he let me walk the farm and revisit some of my fondest memories as a hunter. I put my hand on that oak tree I perched in when I bagged my first buck, and walked through the cornfield where I missed one of the biggest 8-pointers I’ve ever seen. I even visited the little meadow where I yelped up a triple-bearded gobbler with grandpa. Those times were good. I’ll never forget them.

The Best Food Plot Farm Ever

Have you ever stepped on that perfect farm that seemed to have it all? The perfect blend of food, water and cover, all laid out perfectly for hunting, with easy access and bullet-proof entry and exit routes? That was this place. It was the best farm I’d ever seen for planting food plots. Creeks ran down the east and west sides, with crops on the north and south ends. Timber up and down the middle with pockets of thick, brushy cover and just enough space to plant killer plots. It was almost too easy.

It’s where I had my most epic food-plot hunt ever, too. I had planted a quarter-acre of brassicas, made a mock scrape on the edge of it, and hung a treestand overlooking both. In October, a big-bodied deer walked through the plot, munched some turnips, and took a leak in the mock scrape. I filled my tag in a scene Marty Stouffer couldn’t have scripted better.

Someone leased that farm the next year and bought it a few years after that.

Granddaddy’s Farm

I sat there, sweat pouring down, hands battling between shaking and holding that Remington steady. A loud-mouthed longbeard had me rattled and was seconds from strutting up over the rise. Finally, I saw it. First, a tail fan. Then, a white head. Clearly in my sights, I took the shot, and rolled yet another gobbler on that familiar hillside. Many a wild turkey met its maker there. I called it Reaper Ridge.

Last week, my grandfather sold off the remaining piece of the farm, including that hillside. The process started two decades ago with the first chunk of land, and it concluded last Monday. Fortunately, my uncle purchased a portion of it, and I still have permission there. But the best parts of the farm — including Reaper Ridge — are gone now, and that hurts a bit.

My Ohio Haunt

This one was the ultimate corn-pile farm, covered in nothing but the thickest, most beautiful bedding cover you’ve ever seen. Dump some yella acorns in the middle of it, and deer would come to it from miles. I killed a buck the first year.

A net Booner showed up on camera right afterward. A neighboring hunter had its sheds from the past three years, so I wasn’t the only person after this monarch. I spent the next two years hunting that deer before the lessor booted me in favor of a nephew. That sucked, because I felt I’d finally figured out the deer well enough to tag it the following fall. I still don’t know if anyone caught up to the buck, but as smart as it was, I have to wonder if it isn’t still roaming around somewhere in southern Ohio.

All Those to Come

I’ve lost a lot of access throughout the years, and I’ll lose more farms in the future. It’s inevitable. You never know when old faithful — that tract that’s been there for years — might get yanked out from under you. There are no guarantees, even if your John Hancock is on the deed. Life happens, and even if you own it, who knows what could happen down the road, especially if loans, liens, money problems or other challenges are in play.

I don’t have the statistics, but I have to think a significant percentage of hunter number decline could be directly attributable to lost access to once-held permission, leases or owned tracts. Maybe even some public lands that closed up shop.

The moral of the story — always be looking for new land. Never get complacent with what you have. Keep knocking on doors. Quit being frugal and lease that great tract down the road. Loosen the purse strings and purchase your first property. Or take a road trip and try out new pieces of public land. Just don’t ever stop looking for places to go.

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