Public Lands & Waters photo

You’re driving a back road and spot a silage field full of geese or a beanfield full of deer. With a smartphone and a cell signal, you can figure out who owns the field, where the property boundaries are, who owns the surrounding parcels, and who the landowner’s friends are in about 10 minutes. Research like that has gotten me onto more than one new piece of ground—and more than one limit of geese. Here’s how I do it.

A. Find the Farmer

In the old days, you could you could identify landowners by researching PVA (Property Value Administration) maps at the local town office. Some counties have these maps available online now, but the interface is frequently cumbersome. These days, after spotting promising deer ground or a field full of feeding geese, I mark the location with the Hunt app from OnXmaps. With the premium annual subscription ($30;, it quickly identifies landowner names and clearly shows property boundaries.

After jotting down the owner information, I scale back for a wider view of surrounding parcels. Many farmers own several smaller blocks of land, rather than one contiguous tract. You might gain permission to more land than anticipated.

B. Map Your Approach

Next, I take a hard look at the property in satellite mode on Google Maps. Is there a ravine, road, or outbuilding that will make it difficult to hunt or provide additional access points? Is there a potentially better hunting spot that’s not visible from the road? How will the prevailing winds affect your approach and strategy?

C. Be a Social Sleuth

It’s much easier to approach a farmer as a “friend of Bill’s” than as a total stranger. Once I know the farmer’s name, I run it through a Google search and Facebook. It’s amazing what you’ll find on social media. In one case, the daughter of a guy who owned a promising woodlot was engaged to an old high school friend of mine. Another time, I learned that a neighboring property was leased by a gun club—a sure sign of heavy hunting pressure.

D. Knock on the Door

Politely asking for permission in person is still the best way to seal the deal. Tell the farmer who you know and how you hope to use the property. A little research proves you’re serious and thorough—traits that will often sway a landowner to say “yes.”