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Why We Lose Hunting Access

May 14, 2013
Why We Lose Hunting Access - 6

In just the last four years, Cory Peterson’s outfitting business has doubled in size to nearly 60,000 acres of deer- and turkey-rich ground in Nebraska’s Sand Hills. But Peterson, who also farms corn and raises beef cattle in the area, didn’t pursue many of his leases. Instead, neighbors came to him, offering to lease their land for annual payments that range between $1 and $3 per acre.

The main reason Peterson’s Hidden Valley Outfitting has grown? His neighbors find it increasingly difficult to allow free public hunting.

“Most traditional farmers understand the idea that hunting is something that should be free,” says Peterson. “But these guys have had gates left open by hunters, cattle shot by hunters, and water tanks shot by hunters. After a while, they just run out of patience.”

In Peterson, they find a neighbor who is familiar with their property, knows how to behave around their livestock, and has the ability to compensate them for the use of their land. Plus, he sometimes hires their sons as guides.

“We don’t pay a ton of money, but it’s enough to help cover farmers’ property taxes, and they don’t have to put up with the headaches that come with letting everybody hunt,” says Peterson. “It’s not that these guys want to lease. It’s just easier than the alternative.”

Why We Lose Access
Ask two landowners why they lease their land to outfitters or paying hunters, and you’ll get a dozen answers. This is an admittedly subjective list, but it covers many of the reasons that sportsmen lose access. Some are legitimate concerns, others are excuses that landowners give to explain why the public is no longer welcome on their property.

1. Legal Beagles
Many landowners believe they have legal responsibility if a hunter is injured on their property. The details differ from state to state, but generally a landowner is not liable if the hunter was a non-paying invitee, and the injury didn’t result from negligence.

2. Fear of Fire
Landowners are rightly terrified of wildfires, which can destroy crops, buildings, timber, and rangeland. Hunters can reduce the chance of starting a fire by parking vehicles on bare, unvegetated areas. And by not smoking. Period.

3. Gate Gripes
The most common complaint of farmers is that hunters leave their gates open, or close gates that should be left open. Hunters need to understand the common law of farm country: Leave gates the way you found them.

4. Off-Road Rage
In much of the West, if a hunter shows up at a ranch house with an ATV in tow, permission to hunt becomes iffy. Ranchers want hunters to stick to roads, and walking hunters generally get preference over motorized hunters.

5. Wake-Up Calls
Too often, hunters don’t make arrangements to hunt private land until the last minute. Landowners who post their property often cite as one reason those 5 a.m. calls from strangers seeking permission. Secure permission weeks before you hunt, and never assume that because you got permission last year, you have it this year.

6. Thankless Hunters
You don’t have to give a farmer a wad of cash or a bottle of whiskey to say thanks for letting you hunt, but you should make some gesture. A card, a holiday ham, or an offer to help with fencing or farmwork goes a long way toward softening resistance to a follow-up hunting trip.

Comments (6)

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from elkboy wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

As hunters, we can cry in our beer and lament on the good old days, or we can evolve. So landowners now lease their land and won't let Joe Blue Collar hunt with his kid there anymore. Ok, fine.

Learn to use the new technology that is available to find new places, especially in the West. Google Earth, pinpoint GPS technology and accurate map data is literally opening up thousands of "new" acres of land to hunt. It does take time and a little money to get 'wired' but that's the state of hunting right now. Of course, it never hurts to take your kid to the ranch in the spring and offer up a day's worth of work.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report
from llmadsen wrote 1 year 37 weeks ago

The problem with Nicks comment is Montana has a block management program that grants access to million of acres of private land for hunting. Some of the areas require previous notification to the land owner, others the hunter just needs to sign in at the entry point. Hunters must also be aware of property boundaries and stay on designated ground. Too many hunters have soiled the nest by not respecting the land by driving off road creating ruts that erode and create problems for the land owner. If a sportsman doesn't have the time or the courtesy to call in advance then don't expect an open arm welcome.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Court Greene wrote 1 year 38 weeks ago

Nick is 100% correct. If the elections have shown us anything, it's that we are a country of haves and have nots. I'm not saying that as a liberal-class warfare-type, it's just a fact. That isn't just a financial thing either. It applies to land/land access. Hunting is almost impossible unless you have land or know someone. Nick's points were accurate and he's from out west... have you seen the state of public land in the east? Land is MORE expensive, LESS plentiful, and leases are prohibitively expensive. In short, if you do not inherit land and are not independently wealthy, you are on public land, which is so over crowded with irresponsible people that opening day is suicidal.
It may feel great to say that the poor farmer is being abused and that he can do no wrong, and that it's all city slickers causing every problem in the rural world, but that is just not true. Hey, don't get me wrong, I understand that getting paid by the few who can afford it to restrict access to them and you makes sense financially, but there are a lot of good people who enjoy hunting... and sending them to their deaths on over-crowded public land is not exactly a great way to increase the access and influence of hunting and other shooting sports.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Nick Schnabel wrote 1 year 45 weeks ago

Here's the deal. I get so sick of reading this column or a variation of it every year. I have a decent job, but since the recession I have lost 40% of my yearly income. So as a family we made concessions, including having my mother-in-law move in and also taking in my elderly dad. My dream of not having my wife having to work so she could raise our two kids is also out the window and we are now resigned to paying upwards of $2000. per month in daycare in the summer until they are 12 or so. Oh, I forgot to mention my wife has a debilitating chronic disease, Crohns. I get 144 vacation hours per year, half of which is at the Mayo Clinic in MN and we live in MT.
As a wage earner in MT, a portion of my taxes go to primarily rural eastern MT to pay for an education system there as well as roads, and every other federal or state funded program. Now the ranchers and farmers are smart enough to run their operations as LLC's, or corporations and always at a loss, consequently not having to pay any state or federal income tax, yet driving a new vehicle every year and going to Billings to spend $1000. (forgot, no state sales tax either) at Crapplebee's and Stuffmart every couple of weeks. I love to have to get up enough courage to ask a rancher to hunt and have him look me up and down like I just asked him if I could spend the night with his wife. I don't have time to prospect for a place to hunt and show up in a guy's driveway with a $50. bottle of whiskey and ask whether or not I can help stretch wire or dig holes for a few weekends this summer all for the priviledge of being able to shoot a whitetail in the promise land. I feel like if a rancher is on any federal or state programs and/or subsities (that I fund with my taxes) that he should be required to let hunters access their property and harvest game that I pay for the management of. I recognize that it is still their land and they are stewards of it, and it is still their decision about who is on it. I just wish they would realize that I have some rights to my wildlife too, especially if they are a part of some program that my family is working to keep them on. One of the only things I would like to pass on to my daughter and son is about fish and wildlife conservation and I guess the only way that will happen is through public lands. Well I am at work, it took me 20 minutes to write this and if the boss finds out I may be in trouble, it's now 7:00. Go ahead and send this comment to "Rural Life Quarterly" or something like it and maybe some rancher could read this and get a different perspective on some guy from town that only has this weekend to hunt.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from DSMbirddog wrote 1 year 46 weeks ago

I agree Charlie. I used to think those two were limited to hunting areas in the West but my experience has shown these to be problems in IA and WI also. When a hunter gets caught on a neighbors land the excuse is they got turned around and didn't know it.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from charlie elk wrote 1 year 46 weeks ago

Around here the number one reason private land gets closed- one hunter asks for permission and then brings buddies hunting without permission.
The second reason- hunters who use their permitted access to cross over to a neighbor's land, this like seeking in the backdoor.
For some reason many hunters fail to understand neighbors are usually friends and talk to each other so the property line cheaters are quickly found out. Resulting in permission to hunt be revoked and giving all hunters a bad name.
later,
charlie

+1 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment (200 characters or less)

from charlie elk wrote 1 year 46 weeks ago

Around here the number one reason private land gets closed- one hunter asks for permission and then brings buddies hunting without permission.
The second reason- hunters who use their permitted access to cross over to a neighbor's land, this like seeking in the backdoor.
For some reason many hunters fail to understand neighbors are usually friends and talk to each other so the property line cheaters are quickly found out. Resulting in permission to hunt be revoked and giving all hunters a bad name.
later,
charlie

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from DSMbirddog wrote 1 year 46 weeks ago

I agree Charlie. I used to think those two were limited to hunting areas in the West but my experience has shown these to be problems in IA and WI also. When a hunter gets caught on a neighbors land the excuse is they got turned around and didn't know it.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Nick Schnabel wrote 1 year 45 weeks ago

Here's the deal. I get so sick of reading this column or a variation of it every year. I have a decent job, but since the recession I have lost 40% of my yearly income. So as a family we made concessions, including having my mother-in-law move in and also taking in my elderly dad. My dream of not having my wife having to work so she could raise our two kids is also out the window and we are now resigned to paying upwards of $2000. per month in daycare in the summer until they are 12 or so. Oh, I forgot to mention my wife has a debilitating chronic disease, Crohns. I get 144 vacation hours per year, half of which is at the Mayo Clinic in MN and we live in MT.
As a wage earner in MT, a portion of my taxes go to primarily rural eastern MT to pay for an education system there as well as roads, and every other federal or state funded program. Now the ranchers and farmers are smart enough to run their operations as LLC's, or corporations and always at a loss, consequently not having to pay any state or federal income tax, yet driving a new vehicle every year and going to Billings to spend $1000. (forgot, no state sales tax either) at Crapplebee's and Stuffmart every couple of weeks. I love to have to get up enough courage to ask a rancher to hunt and have him look me up and down like I just asked him if I could spend the night with his wife. I don't have time to prospect for a place to hunt and show up in a guy's driveway with a $50. bottle of whiskey and ask whether or not I can help stretch wire or dig holes for a few weekends this summer all for the priviledge of being able to shoot a whitetail in the promise land. I feel like if a rancher is on any federal or state programs and/or subsities (that I fund with my taxes) that he should be required to let hunters access their property and harvest game that I pay for the management of. I recognize that it is still their land and they are stewards of it, and it is still their decision about who is on it. I just wish they would realize that I have some rights to my wildlife too, especially if they are a part of some program that my family is working to keep them on. One of the only things I would like to pass on to my daughter and son is about fish and wildlife conservation and I guess the only way that will happen is through public lands. Well I am at work, it took me 20 minutes to write this and if the boss finds out I may be in trouble, it's now 7:00. Go ahead and send this comment to "Rural Life Quarterly" or something like it and maybe some rancher could read this and get a different perspective on some guy from town that only has this weekend to hunt.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Court Greene wrote 1 year 38 weeks ago

Nick is 100% correct. If the elections have shown us anything, it's that we are a country of haves and have nots. I'm not saying that as a liberal-class warfare-type, it's just a fact. That isn't just a financial thing either. It applies to land/land access. Hunting is almost impossible unless you have land or know someone. Nick's points were accurate and he's from out west... have you seen the state of public land in the east? Land is MORE expensive, LESS plentiful, and leases are prohibitively expensive. In short, if you do not inherit land and are not independently wealthy, you are on public land, which is so over crowded with irresponsible people that opening day is suicidal.
It may feel great to say that the poor farmer is being abused and that he can do no wrong, and that it's all city slickers causing every problem in the rural world, but that is just not true. Hey, don't get me wrong, I understand that getting paid by the few who can afford it to restrict access to them and you makes sense financially, but there are a lot of good people who enjoy hunting... and sending them to their deaths on over-crowded public land is not exactly a great way to increase the access and influence of hunting and other shooting sports.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from llmadsen wrote 1 year 37 weeks ago

The problem with Nicks comment is Montana has a block management program that grants access to million of acres of private land for hunting. Some of the areas require previous notification to the land owner, others the hunter just needs to sign in at the entry point. Hunters must also be aware of property boundaries and stay on designated ground. Too many hunters have soiled the nest by not respecting the land by driving off road creating ruts that erode and create problems for the land owner. If a sportsman doesn't have the time or the courtesy to call in advance then don't expect an open arm welcome.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report
from elkboy wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

As hunters, we can cry in our beer and lament on the good old days, or we can evolve. So landowners now lease their land and won't let Joe Blue Collar hunt with his kid there anymore. Ok, fine.

Learn to use the new technology that is available to find new places, especially in the West. Google Earth, pinpoint GPS technology and accurate map data is literally opening up thousands of "new" acres of land to hunt. It does take time and a little money to get 'wired' but that's the state of hunting right now. Of course, it never hurts to take your kid to the ranch in the spring and offer up a day's worth of work.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment (200 characters or less)

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Hunters and anglers across the nation consistently list one challenge as their primary obstacle to spending more time in the field: Access.

Outdoor Life's Open Country program aims to tackle that issue head on and with boots on the ground. The program highlights volunteer-driven efforts to improve access along with habitat improvements to make existing public lands even better places to hunt and fish. The program's goal is to substantially increase sportsman's access across the country by promoting events that make a difference.

Here on Open Country's blog page, contributors take a close look at access issues across the country. Some are public-policy discussions, where we investigate the nuances of public access. In other blogs, we shine a light on attempts to turn public recreation opportunities into private hunting and fishing domains. In still other blogs, we interview decision makers about access issues. Together, we fight for the ability of America's hunters and anglers to have a place to swing a gun or wet a line.

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