Follow These Tips and Tactics to Gain More Land Access
“Oh my…!” I said to myself out loud.
Driving home from running a few errands, I spotted the buck standing tall in a soybean field. Its gargantuan rack told me it was the big buck on the block.
I’d driven past the field dozens of times, but this was the first time I saw a whitetail that caught my eye. My mind started racing, devising a hunting strategy for pursuing the buck. But there was only one small problem with my plan: I didn’t have permission to hunt the property.
I don’t know about you, when it comes to hunting, I can talk to just about anyone. But when to comes to asking someone for permission to hunt their land, I clam up and struggle to get the conversation started.
I’m not alone in my problem. Many hunters find it hard to approach a stranger to request hunting permission, especially when the answer is usually no. Like most of us, landowners are usually busy, and the last thing they want to do is talk to a stranger who’s drooling to get at the deer on their property. To get better at asking, I consulted with experts in interviewing, persuasion, psychology and sales – professionals who understand human behavior and know that becoming fluent in making requests is a skill anyone can learn. The goal isn’t to hoodwink or use Jedi mind tricks on a landowner. Instead, there are a host of honest communication skills you can learn that will help you effectively approach others and ask for hunting permission. It starts with being properly prepared to ask for permission.
Preparation Is Paramount
First, keep things in perspective.
“People think that what they’re asking for is so huge, but it’s really no big deal,” noted sales savant Maura Schreier-Fleming. “You’re not asking to move in with them, just to hunt on their land.”
Spend some time rehearsing what you’re going to say to the property owner. Always be direct, honest and polite. Don’t just ask for permission – give a reason why you want to hunt their land.
“Say something like, ‘I’d like to hunt here because it looks like the land’s well kept, and I only want to hunt where farmers care about their land,’” suggested best-selling author and persuasion expert Dave Lakhani. “When you do that, compliance goes way up.”
Schreier-Fleming also recommends paying the landowner a sincere compliment. For example, say something like, “It looks like you’ve got some great deer habitat, and I’d like to talk with you about possibly hunting in the woods behind your farm.”
It’s also a good idea to prepare a list of possible objections the landowner may have, and how you would address them. Put yourself in the landowner’s place, and think about all the different concerns they may have with allowing someone to hunt on their property. For example, many property owners I know hesitate to grant hunters access because they’re afraid the hunter(s) will get injured and take them to court. Tell the landowner you’d be happy to design and sign a release form that will absolve them of any legal responsibility should you and/or other hunters get hurt on their land. If you do obtain hunting permission, be sure to follow through with your pledge and give the landowner the signed release before you ever venture afield.
Besides the waiver, it’s also a good idea to present landowners with a résumé containing information on your hunting experience, occupation, family and hunting organizations that you belong to. It shows everyone that you’re a serious hunter and serious about hunting on their land.
Make your request as far in advance as possible to give the landowner plenty of time to consider it. This means that if you’re seeking permission to hunt in October, don’t wait until September 30 to knock on a landowner’s door. If you learn the property owner is a farmer, don’t ask when the weather’s good and they’re busy working. Instead, stop by when the weather’s bad, because they’ll be less likely to be busy.
Dress casually for the meeting, leaving the camouflage clothing and hunting boots in the closet. While many folks don’t mind if others hunt, they get turned off when a hunter shows up in a truck with covered in hunting bumper sticks and wearing camo.
If you’re requesting hunting permission for you and a couple buddies, don’t bring them with you to the first meeting. A bunch of hunters can be intimidating, particularly for elderly or female property owners. If you’re seeking permission for you and your kids, it’s fine to bring one with you when you visit a landowner. Doing so not only allows you to teach children the right way to seek hunting permission, but also demonstrates that you are serious about being a mentor and enjoying all that hunting embodies with your family.
Keep in mind that you stand a better chance of gaining permission if you’re hunting alone. Some landowners will say no to a group of hunters, but will allow one hunter on their property. It’s also very hard to vouch for several hunters. I’ve personally witnessed friendships destroyed when several hunters received permission to hunt the same parcel of land. It’s often best to secure hunting permission solo.
To get the conversation started, Schreier-Fleming recommends asking the landowner a “pinball” question, which prompts them to provide a response and an explanation. For example, say, “It looks like you have a lot of deer eating your corn. How do you choose hunters to work with to reduce the population?”
Be explicit with your request. State what game you’ll be hunting, when you want to hunt (months and time of day), weapon(s) you’ll be using, how you will be hunting (e.g., from a treestand) and other key information.
A big mistake a lot of hunters make is expecting to hear no. For example, they say things like, “I know you don’t normally let people hunt here, but…”
“People think the approach is endearing, but you’re giving them permission to say no and working against yourself,” Lakhani explained.
Identify qualities that the two of you have in common, such as similar backgrounds, interests and values. For example, if you grew up on a farm, talk about it with a farmer. This helps to build rapport with the owner and can tip the scales in your favor. Remember to always be truthful and not make something up to gain favor. If a landowner catches you in a lie, he may tell his friends and neighbors, which can ruin your chances of gaining permission to hunt other properties.
It can’t hurt to identify a need the property owner may have and offer to help. For example, if you notice that a tree knocked down some fencing, offer to fix it. But only do this if you’re sure you have the time and resources to complete the work. Neighbors talk. If you promise to repaint a corral and don’t follow through, it can come back to haunt you.
Knowing when to end the request takes experience and is best learned through trial and error. If they say no but are still engaged in the conversation, keep talking. As long as they’re communicating with you in a calm manner, the door is still open. If they say no, provide concrete examples of how you are different from other hunters they may have dealt with in the past, and do your best to address the reasons why they’re not comfortable with you hunting on their property.
If a landowner’s body language or voice sours, thank him for his time and ask if he’d mind if you come back next year to ask again. Sometimes it can take years to gain access to prime hunting property.
Always leave with something. If the landowner says no, ask if he can recommend others in the area who may allow you to hunt on their property, and whether it's all right if you mention that you talked to him. Always be polite and courteous. Lakhani also recommends leaving behind something to demonstrate you’re a good neighbor, like a jar of canned green beans from your garden.
“Even if they say no, you want to leave behind a positive mental image that shows you’re different from everyone else who has asked.”
Finally, if you’re getting turned down a lot, spread the rejection out over time. It can be very discouraging to hear no again and again, and it can negatively impact the next conversation you have with another property owner. But just as it might have taken you several seasons to bag that monster buck that’s now hanging above your mantel, your dogged persistence to gain access to more hunting properties will eventually pay off.