No one likes to be rejected, but if you’ve ever asked permission to hunt a property (without offering to pay for the privilege), I guarantee it’s something you’ve experienced. With urbanization on the rise, access to good, private hunting ground is rare to say the least. However, through a strategic, detailed approach, it’s still possible to gain access to property without your wallet taking a beating. Over years of trial and error, I have assembled a process of best practices that has significantly increased my odds of turning a no into a yes.
Gaining permission to hunt on private property hinges on knowing your audience. Understanding the personality types, backgrounds, and narratives of the landowners you will likely meet is key to knowing how to approach each situation. Here are the five landowner types I most frequently encounter—and how I’ve learned to communicate successfully with them.
1. The Farmer
The Farmer is a common landowner type to run into, especially in the Midwest. He won’t talk much at first and might not seem very welcoming, but it’s important to keep in mind this person is a worker—things are earned, not given. Trust and confidence are certainly two of those things with The Farmer. The key here is to be genuine and authentic in your approach. Your focus for conversation should be centered around the crops. Commodity prices are good, as is planting season, but you better have done your research. I’ve found talking about the weather trumps all.
I know what you’re thinking, ‘Seriously? Another dull conversation about the last time it rained?’ I get it, nothing revolutionary here, but keep in mind, The Farmer’s livelihood depends on the weather. I have two main strategies, one for dry conditions and one for when it’s wet. In dry conditions, talk about the crops needing rain or ask how many tenths of an inch they recently got. Growing up, I helped my uncle bale hay for his livestock. To get two or three cuttings each year, consistent rain throughout the summer was important. If it’s unseasonably wet, ask about the difficulty of planting, the effect the conditions will have on yields, and the importance of the crop insurance window. You’ll be amazed how often the conversation takes off from there.
This will show that you can, even at the most basic level, speak The Farmer’s language and relate. It shows you understand the struggle. You’re warming him up for the ask with this dialogue and already earning a level of trust.
2. The LLC or Trust
One of the toughest to crack is The LLC, because it’s hard to find the contact information of the right person to ask. Also, they are commonly hunted or leased to supplement income. They can, however, result in some incredible hunting opportunities if you can find the right one. The LLC takes time and often a lot of research. You’re usually dealing with multiple people or a representative who tends to be very financially driven, so “free permission” isn’t typically in their vocabulary.
A county plat book is an excellent tool. OnX or other similar apps that show landowner information are helpful, but they don’t provide enough info when it comes to LLCs, so taking a more grassroots approach is necessary. My goal is to get to the decision maker. Finding a phone number is a great start. If you can get deed records or owner info from the county assessor’s office, that will save a lot of door knocking and asking around.
The approach I’ve found most successful with LLCs or Trusts is identifying ways you can provide value to the landowner(s) or representative. It’s common for them to be non-residents or not to live close to the property. Offer to keep an eye on things, help with the upkeep, and make sure people aren’t accessing it that shouldn’t be. Another strategy I’ve used in the past is to appeal to the balance sheet. Once you understand the ownership dynamic and their goals, offer to build a database of trail camera pictures, herd health, and quality of bucks on the property. Point out some examples where this practice can often result in properties selling for a higher value with the right kind of deer history. Most likely not a long-term play, but it could score you a few incredible hunting seasons on the property.
3. The Yes Man
Allow me to paint you a picture: You’ve done your research, prepared for the ask, finally pop the intimidating question, and… Yes! You’ve broken through and obtained permission to hunt. You then spend hours scouting, run trail cameras, hang stands, and learn every inch of the property in the off-season. Then the highly anticipated opening day comes. You wake up early, gather your gear, and head out to a bomber early season spot. As the grey light of morning begins to brighten, you notice movement in front of you. Its heavy steps are getting closer. Then from around a small thicket, steps a man, a teenager, and then another teenager. Obviously, this wasn’t the encounter with the big split G2 ten point you had been dreaming about.
The Yes Man (Mr. Positive, The Wish Granter, take your pick) will make you believe you’ve finally found your pot of gold, but proceed with caution. He is usually fun and exciting to converse with but needs to be vetted thoroughly. The first impression will likely be very positive, upbeat, and friendly. Unfortunately, you might have to learn about The Yes Man the hard way. If you aren’t careful, you’ll find yourself investing a lot of time and energy into what could be a waste, because The Yes Man simply says yes to everybody.
The most deceiving part is that this type of landowner isn’t trying to deceive you at all. The Yes Man isn’t acting out of malice; he is just generous. Of course, there isn’t anything wrong with allowing multiple people to hunt a property, but depending on your goals and the experience you’re searching for, it’s vital to fully understand the situation on every property you are granted access to. Inquiring who, when, and where everyone can hunt gives you valuable information. Just because you get the coveted yes, doesn’t mean it’s worth your vacation time.
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4. The Sweet Old Lady
Imagine actress Betty White. Welcoming, warm, and friendly, The Sweet Old Lady is typically the type of landowner you should let do most of the talking. I’ve learned over the years, she can often be lonely and cherishes good, honest conversation. Be a good listener and remember your manners, but don’t mistake her sweetness for weakness. If she offers you cookies, coffee, lemonade, you name it—always accept, even if you are on a diet. If she gets uncomfortable, offended, or uneasy, she’ll likely shut down your one and only chance.
When it’s time for the ask, try the “Mr. Fix-It” approach. Offer to help with upkeep and chores. The key word here is help. Don’t give her the impression you think she needs you more than you need her. Don’t be pushy or expect an immediate answer either. Follow up the ask by suggesting she consider your request for a couple of days and you’d be happy to stop back for another visit. Be sure not to let too much time pass between visits—you want her to remember your pleasant meeting. Connecting with The Sweet Old Lady can often lead to long term access. Once you’ve earned her trust, her loyalty usually comes with it.
5. Mr. Stonewall
This is the landowner who probably has the reputation of Don’t even try asking or It’s never going to happen, so don’t waste your time.
Honestly, this better be a pretty incredible tract, because it’s going to take time, effort, and get you out of your comfort zone. If you love a challenge, it’s still worth a shot, but to take on Mr. Stonewall, you better embrace the struggle. Solid research and a well-thought-out strategy will help you interpret his bad attitude as a great way to thin out the competition.
I worked on an elderly bachelor named Rob who had a dynamite 50-acre piece of property along a river for two years before I finally got permission to hunt—which even then was limited to bow season only. He was a timber guy and seemed to be constantly cutting wood. I saw that as my in. Throughout those two years, I spent numerous sweat-filled weekends helping breakdown trees, loading logs, and transporting wood. The first few times, it was easy to see he was testing me, expecting me to take my gloves and saw and head for the truck to never return. Once he saw that I was persistent and didn’t mind hard work, he even offered to pay me for my time. This was when I knew I was earning his respect. I took this opportunity to respectfully turn down the money and jokingly respond that letting me hunt the back 50 would be more than enough payment for my time. After denying the money a few times, He eventually granted me permission.
Your tact and approach is everything. Treat it as an ongoing interview for the “good ol’ boys club.” Remember, he’s human, and interaction, connection, and communication on any level is part of being human. The key is finding the right avenue for that connection. Your research will significantly help you identify and relate to his interests. As difficult as Mr. Stonewall is, if you can break through and earn his trust, it can be like having your own property to hunt for years to come.