As whitetail populations boom across suburbia, eating shrubs and otherwise annoying homeowners, bowhunting is increasingly being hailed as an easy and inexpensive method to keep deer herds in check. But many property owners remain wary or even fearful of hunters, so getting permission to hunt these private woodlots can be difficult.
Not for Rob Lucas. At his day job, Lucas is a physician’s assistant in New York City. In his free time he’s a crusader for bowhunting near his home in Norwalk, Connecticut, a community besieged by deer. Intelligent and passionate, Lucas has the green light to hunt more property than he can handle. Here’s his five-step plan for landing hunting permission in the ‘burbs.
1 Fight the Good Fight. Antihunters are vocal in Norwalk, but Lucas won’t let them go unchallenged. “Whenever an antihunter writes to a newspaper and doesn’t have his or her facts straight, I write my own letter,” he says. “I answer with a calm, well-reasoned defense of hunting that may include data from the Centers for Disease Control, and even quotations from Gandhi. And then I sign my name and include my address and telephone number.”
Lucas’ step-to-the-plate approach has endeared him to many local homeowners who have tired of deer damaging their gardens, automobiles, and loved ones (Lyme disease is common in the area). “I’ve had people call and ask me to hunt their property,” he says. “And at many of the homes I visit, the owner has already heard of me.”
**2 Be an Ambassador. **When Lucas first visits a landowner, he hands them a packet of information. “It includes a business card, an introductory cover letter summarizing my background, my experience as a hunter, a copy of my hunting license and hunter’s safety certificate [BRACKET “Lucas is an instructor”], even photos of myself and my vehicle. Providing such contact information makes it clear I’m a responsible person.” Lucas’ approach extends to his behavior in the field. He respects property lines, doesn’t flaunt dead deer during transport, and observes each landowner’s wishes for checking in and out. “Some people want you to disappear,” he says. “Others want to know every time you’re there. It’s important to learn how each landowner wants things to work.”
3 Carry the Load. Killing enough does is Deer Management 101 anywhere; doing so in suburbia gets you invited back, Lucas says. “The people who let you hunt have deer damage problems, and they want solutions. Passing up countless does to wait for a buck does the landowner-and hunting-a disservice.” Lucas likes antlers as well as anyone. In fact, he shot three fine bucks last fall. He also shot 23 does. What does he do with all the venison? “I helped set up a program where a local processor hauls a meat cooler to a central location each fall. Any bowhunter who shoots a deer can take it to the cooler, which the butcher checks every day. If the hunter doesn’t want all or part of the meat, he can donate it to local food shelves through our Hunters for the Hungry program. Many landowners volunteer to pay processing costs.”
4 Get an Agent. Lucas is as good as anyone at cold-calling landowners, but he knows that word of mouth is the best advertising. “After I’ve hunted a place for a while, I ask the property owner to recommend me to other landowners,” Lucas says. “It’s one thing for me to show up and announce to a property owner that I’m an ethical, respectful person. When the guy he talks to across the fence tells him, it just carries more weight.”
**5 Inform and Educate. **At the end of each season, Lucas prints and distributes a newsletter to each cooperating landowner. “I tell them how many deer we [BRACKET “Lucas occasionally hunts with friends, if the landowner consents”] harvested, compare it to last year’s total, and examine goals for next year. I also discuss the big picture. Bowhunters know we can help in ssituations like this-we just need to prove it.”