THE THRILL OF THE HUNT: A comprehensive guide to hunter-landowner relations
Editor’s Note: Many landowners lament that hunters don’t understand their point of view and don’t respect them or their livelihood. Please feel free to share this article (also available on http://www.tsln.com) with friends, relatives and hunters, starting the conversation about why you feel the way you do.
Ranchers and farmers are the owners and stewards of a great deal of land in the west, and by virtue of those many acres, a large number of game animals live on land owned or leased by them. When hunting season rolls around, hunters are out in search of antelope, mule deer, white tail deer, elk, and game birds by the hundreds. Though there is a great deal of federally or state owned land, it’s still the norm for hunters to desire to hunt on private land. Therein lie the questions: How do you go about getting permission and what will be expected in order to hunt.
Because the landowners are the stewards of this land that they pay all the bills and taxes on and take care of year-round, it should go without saying that hunting there is a privilege and should be viewed as such. A hunter that respects the landowner’s wishes will be not only benefiting themselves but other hunters as well. Many ranches and farms have been closed to hunters because of a few that ruined it for others. So, here are some guidelines to help you with your relationship with the landowner. If there is a NO HUNTING or TRESPASSING sign, there’s probably a good reason. Respect that sign.
First of all, don’t wait until opening morning of the season to drive into the place to ask to hunt. Unless you live a long distance away, it’s a good idea to contact the landowner ahead of time, establish a relationship, and build from there. If you are hunting on state or federal land that is within private property, get permission before driving across the private property.
Besides getting to know the rancher or farmer and getting permission, offer to be a part of things and help out if you can. Most people would welcome someone that can help fence, roof, fix things, paint or even work cattle. Even if the landowner charges for hunting, offer to help out anyway. That relationship-building element can ensure hunting privileges in the future. If the landowner doesn’t require payment, perhaps making a donation toward the rural fire department in that area would be appreciated. Don’t assume that a bottle of Kentucky’s finest is a good form of payment for hunting.
Talk to the rancher or farmer about his/her expectations of you, the hunter. If they have a form that needs to be filled out, do so, read it all, and sign it if necessary. If they ask to see your hunting license, willingly show them.
Most ranchers will have a set of rules they expect to be adhered to, so pay attention. Take notes if you need to or ask for them to be written out. Be sure you understand those instructions.
Here are some questions you need to ask before you ever unload your rifle or bow: Can you bring others besides yourself to hunt, regardless of whether they are hunting? How does the landowner want to handle game retrieval? Where is it okay to park and drive? Don’t assume it’s okay to drive anywhere other than into the driveway. Is it okay to shoot other animals such as prairie dogs, coyotes, fox, badgers, rabbits or skunks? What does the landowner want you to do with the gut pile? Don’t leave it by a gate, in a trail, near a water source or supplement feeding area.
The best policy for hunting is always walking. Driving across pastures, even if the landowner doesn’t object, damages grass and forage. The exhaust pipes on most vehicles also pose a danger as they can set dry fall grass on fire. If you are allowed to drive out into a pasture, stay on the established vehicle trails and park where the grass is short. Grass is the crop that a rancher/farmer harvests with livestock, so preserving the integrity of that grass is important.
Landowners don’t want their livestock bothered by hunters, period. Never shoot in the vicinity of any livestock or buildings as it agitates livestock and could get someone hurt. In South Dakota it’s against the law to shoot within 660 feet of livestock or buildings. Unless the landowner says it is okay to hunt in an area around buildings, don’t do it.
Bothering livestock in any way is a good way to be escorted off the property and told to never return. For that reason, don’t bring your dog along, unless it is a dog that is used for game bird hunting. Any dog needs to be under control at all times.
If you are a trophy hunter and only want to take the head/cape of the animal, offer the meat to the landowner, then help butcher and package it. Under no circumstances should you leave the carcass in the field–it’s unethical and illegal.
The courtesy of not smoking outside of your vehicle and not drinking while hunting shouldn’t even have to be mentioned. The grass that could burn due to a carelessly thrown cigarette butt could be a rancher/farmer’s whole winter feed supply. Alcohol and hunting should never be combined, no matter you are.
If you brought it on to the place, you can pack it off. Don’t even throw a gum wrapper or tissue on the ground. Littering is just poor practice any time, but will really offend the landowner who has to pick up after you.
Even if you are on section line roads or roads into pastures, if it’s muddy, don’t drive on them. The ruts and damage to the roads are something that the landowner has to deal with yea-round and will also cause erosion on some of the roads. If you think it’s too muddy to walk to a hunting area, it’s probably too muddy to be there.
These aren’t all the rules for a good relationship between hunters and landowners, but they are a start. The bottom line is that courtesy and thoughtfulness will go a long way toward having a good place to hunt. View hunting on private land as a privilege and treat the land and landowner accordingly.