By Jim Bulger
After over a half century of hunting personally and over a decade serving with Colorado Parks and Wildlife as the Hunter Outreach Coordinator, the most frequent challenge to most hunters is finding a place to hunt. I am constantly asked by others for assistance in finding places to hunt. Colorado is blessed with an abundance of public land on which properly licensed hunters can enjoy the pursuit of many game species. But there are circumstances which provide the need or desire to hunt on lands owned privately. I asked seasoned hunter and program Huntmaster, Tom Thorson, to share a bit of his thoughts and wisdom about gaining permission to hunt on private lands in Colorado.
Gaining permission for hunting on private land
By Tom Thorson
Choosing Your Hunt Unit
You could take a week-end driving around eastern Colorado or contact the regional wildlife office closest to you. There are units within the mountains so don’t overlook them. Talk with a biologist and find out where the populations are strong. You could then contact the specific units Wildlife Manager to discuss details.
Once you’ve narrowed it down, go for a drive before hunting season locating animals and landowners. You must knock on doors, you can’t get permission if you don’t ask. If they don’t own it, most landowners will know who does. If you can’t find a landowner you may try calling the county accessor’s office giving a detail location. They should have it on record for tax reasons.
Presentation of Yourself and Hunting Group
Be very courteous and humbled when talking with landowners. Don’t be afraid to knock on the door. Introduce yourself and where you are from. If you’re having this first contact during hunting season they know why you’re there. If it’s during the summer they possibly may not have a clue why you just drove onto their yard. After the introduction state that you’re a hunter so they can understand the intent of the visit. Share with them the amount of time and effort you’ve spent in figuring out the location you’ve selected to hunt. Keep in mind the landowner has scratched and scraped to make a living on the ground you are asking to hunt on.
Are you asking for yourself or as a group? If it’s a group, be sure you state exactly how many. Do NOT bring any additional hunters, only whom you previously had stated. If you’re driving the vehicle you’re going to bring during hunt be sure to tell the landowner or describe what you’ll be driving. The smaller your group is the better the odds of getting permission.
Ask landowner about signing a permission card which can be obtained at local CPW office. Some landowners may prefer to do it with a hand shake.
Make a copy from a map for the area you’re hunting. There are many of options whether online or published mapping books. Be sure it is clear to you what land is accessible. Share the map with the landowner so they can mark what is theirs. It’s also an opportunity to ask the landowner who might own a piece adjacent to his property. Make extra copies for your hunting group insuring they know the boundaries.
Are there any areas that are off limits? Is there livestock you must stay away from? What roads can you drive on, major roads or two track roads? Can you drive into pasture to retrieve game? Are there going to be other hunter on the land? If so, where do they normally hunt (odds are they have had permission for a while, if there’s a confrontation you may be asked to leave)?
Some landowners think hunters drive around all day, jump out shoot their animal and go home. Get out of your vehicle and walk put an effort into the hunt. Share with the landowner, that is how you hunt, you might be surprised of their reaction. They can appreciate you working hard to get your animal and walking on their land versus driving up and down the roads all day.
You are lucky, you actually have a place to hunt. Little things can go a long way. If you live in a rural area you may already have names and contacts for where to hunt. Most of the people who are looking for a place to hunt are from the metro area. What could you possible know about agriculture or ranching?
Take the time to learn about who they are. Not necessarily the landowner you’ve talked with, but the industry. When you watch the weather reports in the spring and summer pay attention to where you’re going to hunt. It not only helps you understand what the game population might be, but it’s a great conversation topic with the landowner. What are cattle, corn or grain prices? What style of farming technique do they use? Are they doing any construction on their land? If nothing else, ask the landowner about what they do. All of these are great topics to have a conversation with the landowner. You want to be able to engage with the landowner so they feel comfortable with you.
Contact the landowner the week before the hunt to be sure they know you’re coming. You can discuss any details that may have changed since your first contact. If they got some rain during the summer the grasses may be high on the field roads. Fire can be an issue, discuss in detail this topic. Be very careful, if you burn their grass you and possibly no one else will ever be able to hunt again.
The hunt day arrives
You have permission. Are you driving out in the morning, camping near or on landowner’s property. If you have permission to camp locate an area agreed upon between you and landowner. When you depart on the last day be sure the location is cleaner than the day you arrived.
Enjoy the hunt! Remember that it is a privilege to be allowed to hunt on this private property. Don’t ever take it for granted.
Follow the guidelines that were laid out during your pre-hunt visit.
Use caution around building and livestock. You’re better off to stay away from both. The less the landowner sees and hears you the better.
Thank-you and gifts
So the hunt has arrived, either locate landowner before or after hunt. Offer the thank-you card and gift certificate/gift. If doesn’t have to be much, but they will appreciate it.
Be sure to close the conversation by saying you’ll see them next year. It’s a great lead-in for the following season. Contact the landowner, late summer or early fall, to ask permission again and insure the landowner knows the dates you will be there. Do NOT assume because you have permission one year you’ll have it the next year.
Maintaining a long-term relationship
As you get to know the landowner, offer to help during the summer. They may turn you down but will appreciate the offer. As the years go by remember to follow all the rules. If a new person has joined your group be sure they know the rules and follow them. If not, do NOT invite them back.
Most landowners have had other people ask for permission. It’s very possible they have had a bad experience or two. You must separate yourself from those hunters. It will only insure your future hunting access.