Landowners and the Hunter.
Many of our readers are just beginning their hunting careers and are seeking a place to hunt while many others are now moving to rural areas and purchasing properties to live and/or hunt on. This seems like a simple thing to do but it can be difficult at the least and completely disappointing at the most. Landowner permission is becoming more and more difficult to achieve as large farming operations, aggregate companies and other corporations buy up vast acreages. Unfortunately the small farming operation or family farm is disappearing and people moving from big cities and urban areas are buying many of these farms as retirement and family homes. Quite often these new inhabitants do not understand hunting and the traditional rural lifestyle and many are simply afraid of hunting and of guns in particular. As such, I wanted to discuss the problems you might encounter in these situations and how to properly find and maintain properties for you to hunt and enjoy.
Going door to door and asking for permission to hunt can be daunting but it can also be effective if you prepare and do your homework. First, look for an area that suits your needs and has the type of geography necessary for the game you want to hunt. For instance are you seeking a swamp to hunt ducks or an area of agriculture and forest to hunt deer? Driving around and looking at areas from the road can be time-consuming and expensive so using alternative search methods should be your first priority. Maps indicating areas of Crown Land are available from your local MNR office and these can be a big help as no permission is required in many of these areas. Google maps can also be a valuable source of information and provide more detail on specific areas. Whether you are looking at Crown land or narrowing down your search for private areas, Google maps has both road and satellite views that can really help you see the geography and details of properties of interest to you. Once you have identified areas of interest seek as much information about them as you can. You should check with the Township office in that area, either on the Internet or by phoning them for information on by-laws, and municipal and provincial hunting areas that may exist in their jurisdiction. Your local gun store and shooting clubs can also be a great place to do some networking and you will often find like people willing to take you hunting, or assist you in brokering a seasonal hunting lot.
After your diligent research and narrowing down your possibilities you have to do some driving. Pulling randomly into a stranger’s driveway to ask permission to hunt can be a bad experience if you don’t put some forethought into your approach. First and foremost you should have insurance and proof thereof. There are a few good insurers out there and I would recommend the Canadian Firearms Institute and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters as your best options. This insurance protects both you and the landowner should an accident happen while you are hunting and shooting. Your insurance card lets a land owner know that you are insured and will not be a liability when hunting on their property. Carry it with you and show it to the landowner when the time is right.
Remember also that appearance is everything and how you present yourself will determine your first impression on anyone. Dress casually but clean and neat, a suit and tie makes you look like a salesman, while camouflage clothing make you look like a redneck to many people. Also, avoid hats on sideways or oversized clothing….at the very least pull up your pants. By no means am I trying to be the fashion police, I simply have a lot of experience with rural people and can tell you straight-up, that “gangsta” clothing brands (Roca-wear, G-Unit, etc) are a no-go from word go. Another good tip is to present landowners with your personal information right away. I have a business card that I use and those of you that don’t can print a simple card on your computer with your name and address and all your contact numbers on it. This lets a landowner know that you have nothing to hide, where you live and how to get in contact with you.
When should you do your door-to-door searching? Never early in the morning, Farmers are busy at this time of the day and rural people that work in the city are either sleeping in on the weekend or at work during the week. Midday on a Saturday is a good bet and early summer is the best time of the year to find people at home, after dinner can also be acceptable if you see people around the property not having dinner. Be polite and introduce yourself, if a child answers ask for a parent, if a woman answers the door ask who can you talk to about the property and access? Often they will get the husband or father in this situation but in a changing world you may just as easily be talking to the woman of the house. If a man or woman answers the door offer your hand in a relaxed handshake, this universal gesture of respect is still very important in rural culture. Don’t crush them with your grip either, this will not ingratiate you to him and if he/she is a working farmer you likely won’t win this ridiculous contest anyway! Tell him straight away where you live who you know in the area and who you have already talked to, especially his neighbors. Full-disclosure is important because neighbors will talk and they will talk about you. Explain that you are a hunter and what you intend to hunt, farmers understand why you hunt already but want to know what, when and how you intend to hunt. Many other landowners may not know why you are hunting and quite often a brief explanation of management and conservation of game is warranted. Farmers and landowners often have pets and livestock and a discussion about coyotes, bears and other predators may be helpful to win them over.
A word of caution, don’t ever promise that you will rid them of coyotes this is an impossible task and all you can realistically promise is that you will do your best to help control these and any other predators that are a threat to them. Landowners you talk to may have already had trespassing problems and use this to refuse your access request. I would tell them the best way to stop unwanted and unknown trespassers is to have someone they know and trust on the property and let them/you sign and police the property for them. Offer to put up signs and explain that a letter of exclusive permission from them is a way for you to move the trespassers off the property safely and with no hassle for them. Ask if they have eaten wild game and offer to provide some for them to try, sharing the game that is harvested on a landowner’s property is only common sense.
Finally you may have to lease a property to hunt on as many landowners and farmers are finding it hard to manage economically in this current recession. It is often the harsh truth that money talks and bull manure walks in today’s world and the American-style “lease to hunt” model is rapidly leaching into our hunting culture. We pay for all our other recreation why not pay for access to someone’s property? This does not have to be financially onerous and a contract with money changing hands also removes much of the liability involved. I have found that a couple of hundred dollars a year to have exclusive permission to hunt is much cheaper than driving 300 km to hunt on crown land. A little bartering can also go a long way. Working farms can often use labour, and a little help with the winter’s firewood for the private landowner is an age-old gesture that carries great clout in rural communities. Actions ALWAYS speak louder than words, and small communities are closely knit.
Once you’ve forged an understanding with a neighbor and fellow landowner you must work to maintain it. Be courteous at all times and if they’ve graced you with the permission to use their property recreationally, remember that you must act simultaneously as an ambassador on their behalf and on behalf of the shooting and hunting community at large. Permission can be lost as easily as it is granted and even if you have permission on one property, the lot immediately adjacent may house individuals with very different opinions of the hunting and shooting sports. It is not your place to be adversarial with those of differing opinions, nor should you take it on yourself to educate them. Respect their opinions (as uneducated in the realities of hunting, shooting and rural living as they might be) and endeavor to be a good neighbor at all costs.
If you are fortunate enough to have purchased or already own your own property to hunt on and enjoy nature I applaud you. I purchased a 100 acre deer-yard 22 years ago, and can offer you the following advice from my own experience. First, manage your resources wisely and practice the conservation and ecology ethics that you learned in your hunter education course. Second, try to get along with the neighbors in your area. Let them know you are a hunter and shooter and to expect associated gunshots and people on your property. Most rural people will accept hunting as a traditional and respected land use even if they don’t partake themselves, but you may also encounter those neighbors who cannot reconcile that hunting is a socially acceptable behavior. This type of person can often try to take ownership of wildlife and might even appoint themselves as nature police.
Remember that you do not have to curtail your activities to accommodate these unthinking and irrational individuals. Very often if you give them an inch they will take a mile so my best advice is to ignore them completely.
Remember also that you have the law on your side and that interference with the lawful pursuit of game carries stiff penalties under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act (1997). This includes but is not limited to actions like patrolling property boundaries with the intention of disturbing game or hunters during open hunting seasons, and also spot-lighting fields, game and hunters within them. Conservation officers have and will readily charge people who try to interfere with lawful hunting. Your local township is well aware of the game laws and the economic benefit of hunting to the local community. The police, MNR and CFO are your friends and allies when dealing with unruly and unlawful neighbors.
Above all, you must establish and work to maintain your reputation as a considerate and professional hunter who respects the wildlife, other hunters, the land and landowners.
Good luck finding your own hunting grounds! I hope this blog proves helpful.