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Private Land Access Options

October 2019
Author: Logan Hedges

Every year, there are numerous tags in various states that are not drawn in the initial drawing. Usually, this is due to lack of public land in that particular unit. These tags can often be drawn with a second choice or in a draw that does not burn your points. Tags such as these lead to one of the most common questions I receive, “How can I get access to hunt on private land?” This is a great question, especially when there is more and more pressure being applied to public lands, but it comes with both a simple and complicated answer.

The simple answer is to hire an outfitter. Outfitters have leased up the majority of the best hunting ranches out west, like the Flying D Ranch in Montana or the Wagonhound Ranch in Wyoming. These places can give you the hunt-of-a-lifetime with no public hunting pressure, but it will usually cost a pretty penny. As the saying goes, “You get what you pay for,” but if a guided hunt is not in the budget, there are other options available to hunt private land.

Trespass fees are the most common way to get on private property without going guided. This is a great way to avoid a lot of public hunting pressure, but finding a good ranch to lease can be almost impossible in this day and age. Game and Fish agencies can be a good resource to find ranches looking for hunters to help keep wildlife off of croplands. Wildlife agencies out west pay thousands upon thousands of dollars every year in depredation payments to private landowners for wildlife damages to crops. There are also a few companies helping connect hunters to private lands. These can be good resources, but make sure you ask a lot of questions, such as ranch size, terrain or topography, kinds of crops (if any), and the number of hunters they allow on the ranch. I have hunted some places that were great with a lot of game and others where all we saw were tire and boot tracks from previous hunters.

Another way to get on private land without going fully guided is to go semi-guided. These hunts vary in several ways, depending on the outfitter, but the one thing they have in common is half the cost or less of a fully-guided hunt. Some outfits will do two-day semi-guided hunts where they hunt with you for two days and if you are successful, great, if not, you are on your own for the remainder of the hunt These can be good, inexpensive hunts where you are likely to harvest early with good help on good private land. Other outfitters keep cost down by having you bring your own food and sleeping accommodations, such as a tent or camp trailer. This can often save the hunter $2,000-$3,000 and they still get a fully-guided hunt.

A third, and probably my favorite, way to do a semi-guided hunt is to hire an experienced guide in that area to get you a scouting package. This can be maps with trails that have areas marked on it where they have been seeing good animals or have been successful in the past. It can also be very helpful to hire someone familiar with your hunt area to show you around a few days prior to the hunt opener. With everyone’s busy schedules today, this can be a very cost efficient way to be successful when you draw the tag. In a semi- guided situation, you have a contact in the area for when everything comes together and you make the shot, and you can call them to help with the pack out.

Knocking doors is another strategy I have used to get access to private land. This approach may not be for everyone, but some of my best contacts for private land hunting have come from this technique, not to mention some great friends. The best resource I have found for knocking on doors is onXmaps. Where I used to find animals on private land and run around trying to find the landowner, now I can see exactly who owns the land and find their residence quickly. It is also a great asset to know the ranch owner’s name so you can start the conversation with “Good morning, Mr. Johnson,” and introduce yourself. In my experience with knocking doors over the last 20 years, I would say I’m batting about .500. Some landowners are more than happy to let you hunt, some want an access fee, others have people already hunting on their property, and some don’t allow hunting at all. Regardless of the situation, almost all of my encounters have been positive and I have been able to meet some great people and hunt private lands.

If you are looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of public land hunting, finding access to private land might be the answer. In reality, it is not easy to find a good ranch to hunt on that doesn’t cost thousands of dollars to lease. However, ranches come in all shapes and sizes. I have had great success on relatively small access of 500-2,500 acres, so don’t overlook those size of ranches. You might find a honey hole at an inexpensive price. Supply and demand is what it boils down to. With more people wanting private land access and few ranches being available for hunting, it has become difficult to find a good lease. However, if you are willing to do some research and make some calls, you might find that perfect hunting spot.