Dave's Got Mail: Paying to Play

Readers talk about access to hunting land.

Field & Stream Online Editors

LAST WEEK, I BEMOANED THE LOSS of my best-in fact my only good-deer hunting lands, and I asked if you've had similar problems, whether you'd be willing to pay to hunt, and whether the pay-to-play trend bothers you. You absolutely flooded my e-mail inbox with responses. Unfortunately, I can only post a fraction of them, but I'll put up more next week. Here are excerpts from a few:

Here in Texas, paying for the privilege to hunt someone else's land is so ingrained, it's just second nature now. I think it bothers most hunters, but it's not so much the leasing of land that hurts-it's the rising cost of getting a good lease. I had a lease that cost me $850 the first year, $1,100 the second, and $1,300 the third. Three years was enough for me. Today, a fine South Texas lease with trophy potential will run $3,500 a gun and up. And I mean way up-to around $10,000. It has gotten totally out of hand.

-Rodger

I live in Cleveland and have been hunting my entire life. Until recently, I had a 1,100-acre place to hunt just 20 minutes south of the city. It was beautiful. But it was sold, and I lost it. So I've learned to adapt. My friends have bought land, but most can only afford 8 to 10 acres. When shotgun season rolls around, it becomes a war zone: Stack hundreds of 8- to 10-acre plots together, where everybody invites all their friends, and the place becomes saturated.

I have discovered public land. At first I was a little apprehensive, but now I'm sold. I honestly believe there are more hunters per acre on the private land during shotgun season. Moreover, every time I've gone out (except once), I've had at least a shot at a doe. Last year I took an 8-point. Don't lose faith.

_-Michael _

I live in Iowa, and while I don't pay to hunt-luckily I still have family farm ground to utilize-I can see it coming on the horizon. In my neighborhood, a large corporation has purchased roughly 2,000 acres of prime habitat, has built a massive lodge, and will be charging hunters big money for pheasant and deer hunting. It's sad to see it come to this, and I sincerely hope that my family farm can stay in the family, guaranteeing my son and hopefully his future son the opportunity to hunt for free.

_-Chris _

In years past, I never would have dreamed that I'd pay to hunt. As a young man, in the 1970s, I had access to literally thousands of farm acres near our local town. When I decided to get back into hunting just three years ago, I had no options on any land to hunt. My brother and I decided that purchasing some land would be a good investment and give us a place to play. One hundred acres later, we are very happy having done so.

While many people look at the pay-to-play option as a bit of an extravagance, we don't. Land will almost always increase in value and is an excellent investment. We've already been offered $350 more per acre than what we paid. Should we sell it in 20 or 30 years, we will not only see an ample return but will have had years of enjoyment in the interim. Not too many people can say that about money invested in stocks, bonds, or mutual funds. In the long run, I don't mind at all that I had to pay to play.

-Randy

This year, I lost permission on a place I've hunted for a dozen years-not because of anything I did, but because of other hunters. There was a squabble over the ownership of a deer, and the landowner pulled all permissions to hunt.

It's getting harder to find quality hunting properties in my area of northeastern Indiana. Development is taking much of the available woodlots, and while I'm fortunate to still have properties to hunt in southern Indiana, I fear that even they may fall prey to developers eventually.

I would not like to pay to play. I simplyould not afford a bidding war for access to prime lands. I would find myself forced to hunt whatever land is left over and hope for the best.

_-Tim _

Paying to hunt is pretty much the norm in southern and central Wisconsin. There's just no other way to have a quality experience in these areas. There are public hunting areas, but these are very busy during the gun season. We have a lot of deer, but we also have over 600,000 hunters.

-Mark

New Jersey is a tough place to gain hunting access. Three years ago, the development of a prime parcel began in my area. I'd been hunting the spot since I was a teenager. Last year marked the third stage of the development. I hung my stand at the edge of a clear-cut and was fortunate to bag my last deer in these woods.

My other bowhunting spot was lost to development this spring. It took about two weeks for them to cut every tree in the 300-plus-acre parcel. This season, my stand hung in the same place for the entire bow season ... the garage.

_-Kirk _

The pay-to-play trend is a problem. Unchecked, it will eliminate many people from the sport because they simply will not be able to afford it. I'm lucky to live in Arizona, where there's a lot of quality public land. Still, I empathize with hunters who don't have access to good public or private areas and cannot afford to purchase their own land or lease. If I were pushed into that situation, I would probably have to give up hunting. As passionate as I am about our sport, that would probably kill me.

_-Duane _

Finding a good place to hunt is a big issue in Ohio, where less than 5 percent of the land is public and there are some 500,000 gun hunters. As you said, you can be a great hunter, but if you don't have a good place to hunt, you can pretty much forget about taking a mature buck. From my experience, I would say it takes 10 times less effort to take a mature buck on the best pieces of land than on mediocre places-which are still way better than public land.

-Don

When I was growing up in Michigan, there were numerous options for me, my dad, and my brothers. Worrying about a good place to hunt never crossed my mind then. In 1993, I joined the military and found that hunting in other states was a whole new experience. I actually stopped hunting for several years because I could not bring myself to pay to hunt in such states as Florida, Texas, and California.

I pursued the idea of paying while in Texas because I'd seen all the hunting shows about the quality of deer there. But the more I looked into it, the more disgusted I became that people hunt in that fashion.

Now I live in Illinois and have hunted state land the past three years. I've taken two mature bucks, although I've had to put a lot of work into scouting. The bottom line is that it makes me sick to think I would have to pay to hunt. I have looked into buying land, but I'm 31 with three young kids, and I can't convince my wife that hunting land is a priority!

-Anonymous

I believe that we should pay to hunt someone's land-in a sense. That may be offering a ham or turkey, helping to fix fences, working cattle, or performing some other physical labor. I have always offered to help any way I can on the farm I'm hunting. It makes me feel good, and it shows the farmer I respect his property and have come to make friends, not to take advantage of him.

However, the pay-to-play trend, as it stands, does bother me. I feel that when we simply drop off a check, we lose out on the personal relationships with landowners. We lose some of the rich heritage that comes with gaining access through friendship and services.

-Stuart

vices.

-Stuart