A couple of years ago, I almost dropped the telephone receiver 3-weeks before deer season started when I heard the words, “The landowner has sold the land, and our hunting lease has been cancelled.” I had planned to scout the areas on our hunting property where I’d taken bucks before, cut shooting lanes and make sure that the deer fed on the nut trees they had in the past before the season. I enjoyed scouting for deer, because I considered it the true essence of the sport of hunting. But that year instead of scouting for a place to put my tree stand, I had to scout for new land to hunt. After talking to hunters across the U.S., I learned how often this same scenario had happened to them.
The search for a place to hunt that season began with my friends and my local sporting-goods dealer. At the store where I bought my hunting and fishing gear, the salesmen and the owner knew me, how I liked to hunt, what kinds of places I enjoyed hunting, and which people I’d get along with best. I asked all of them to let me know of any openings on deer leases. One of the salesmen suggested that, “You ought to talk to the local conservation officer. He knows every piece of property in the county and every other game warden in the state. If anyone can help you, he can.”
In thinking about my situation, I decided that two types of law-enforcement officers would know almost every landowner in a county – the conservation officer and the sheriff or the deputy sheriff – and would understand each landowner’s attitude toward hunters. Luckily my conservation officer knew another conservation officer in another county who helped me find a place to hunt that season. Since I never wanted to not have a property to hunt during deer season again, I started researching how to find hunting land when I didn’t have any.
I asked myself, “Who in the county would know the most rural landowners, how much land they controlled, and whether or not they would allow someone to hunt for free, lease their land or pay a day-usage fee?” Here’s the list I made:
* sheriff’s deputies and conservation officers.
* the bankers in rural counties and many urban areas, who had loaned money to landowners to plant crops, improve their lands, fence their properties, buy feed for cattle and/or borrow money to buy additional land. Hopefully the banker could act as a go-between or vouch for you and introduce you to a landowner.
* the newspaper man/lady who delivered the daily paper to rural communities. When in college, I became friends with an older student who lived in the same married-student apartments with us. Before class each day, he delivered morning papers from a nearby urban center to the rural region surrounding our university. He had permission to hunt and fish on more land than we could cover in our 4 college years, even though we hunted three afternoons a week and every weekend.
* the rural letter carrier/mailman, who might see deer as he traveled his route.
* the barber, who would know the men of the community.
Also a friend mentioned that I should contact colleges and universities in the area I wanted to hunt. Many hunters fail to realize that when alumni of colleges die, they’ll often leave their lands or a portion of their lands to the colleges or universities they’ve attended. Hunters seldom think to go to the land department of a college or university and look at the possibilities of leasing land to hunt. Although you may not find large blocks of woodlands contiguous to each other, you may pinpoint several small tracts available for lease during hunting season.
by: John E. Phillips, longtime avid deer hunter