Thursday, June 25th, 2009
By Ted Arndt
The wind was light and there was a slight overcast. A fine mist held in the cold morning air. Conditions were perfect for tracking, so when I heard Boots, my ten-year-old beagle, baying from about two hundred yards down the hedgerow, I knew we were about to close the deal. I could tell he was getting closer and closer. Then about eighty yards out, I saw him jump out of, and then back into the leafless brush. His jerky manner and intermittent baying let me know he was hot, so I shouldered my double- twenty and waited for the inevitable brown flash as the rabbit tried to get by. Just as I did so, a cotton-tail leapt from the brush about fifteen yards from where I stood and I took him with the lower barrel. But the sound of that first shot was still ringing when another brown-back flashed under my feet and continued up the hedge. I quickly wheeled and gave him the second barrel; an easy shot at a straight-away hare.
The hunting grounds where I nabbed those two bunnies are some of the best I’ve seen. I hunt there about twice a year and my team inevitably comes away with five or six rabbits. I cherish my opportunity to hunt on that farm and take pains to insure the owner of the property knows how I feel. That farmer is in fact now a friend and has invited me in for lunch on more than one occasion.
In a time when people are growing less and less trusting of others and it seems everyone’s getting sued for even the most trivial issues, it becomes ever more difficult to persuade property owners to allow us to hunt on lands like those described above. Therefore, when we go out to ask for such permission, it is of critical importance that we do so in a way that, regardless of result, portrays us as sincere and responsible people. So how can we put our best foot forward? Here are some ideas to think about as you try to land yourself some of the great private hunting lands available in your area.
First things first: know when to go. Common sense tells us to ask well in advance of the actual hunting trip: we don’t want to appear impulsive and rushed when we’re asking to use guns in someone else’s back-yard. But there’s a lot more to it than that. Every region has different agricultural seasons, depending primarily on the severity of winter and kinds of crops grown there. In Up-State New York, the primary crop is corn. In my area, farmers are very busy come mid-May plowing, disking and planting. Similarly, in the fall you can see tractors and combines churning away as farmers bring in their crops. These are not good times to ask a farmer for permission to hunt. Waving a farmer down off his Deere to ask to hunt is the same as stopping a banker on the thruway on his way to work. Yes, he may say yes, but more likely he’ll be exasperated that you have the nerve to ask to go have a ball while he’s out, sun-up to sun-down working the fields. It is a far better idea to ask during the summer or winter. I prefer the winter, because I usually bring a pie or some muffins and a warm treat at that time of year is always welcome.
You must also consider the time of day when you go to ask for permission to hunt. In dairy country, mid-morning is good, because milking is likely over. In the evening, say six o’clock, is also good, because many farmers are in for dinner and ready for a conversation. Regardless of your region, It’s best to be aware of the operations of the farm so you’re as unintrusive as is possible.
What you wear also matters. My philosophy is to look like a farmer. Look clean, but not afraid to get dirty. Look confident but unassuming. Don’t wear your opinions on your sleeve. A “Kill’em ALL; let GOD sort ‘em Out!” shirt will surely send you packing, but worse; it will reinforce the idea in the farmer’s mind that many hunters are opinionated SOB’s. When I go, I usually wear older jeans and a denim jacket. I also wear boots that have been through it a bit. No sense wearing nice shoes and conveying the idea that you’re afraid of a day’s work. Don’t forget the hat either. And NOT cocked to the side like some gang-banger. A slightly used John Deere or Cat Power Diesel will work fine. Don’t go for any foreign brands, as most farmers are a very patriotic and conservative bunch. That farmer may also take offense if you’re sporting some PETA cap or have Greenpeace across the back of your shirt. Think about who you want to represent, but don’t wear your opinions on your sleeve. One possible exception to this rule is an NRA hat. That farmer you’re facing is likely already a member and if he isn’t he has friends who are.
Now you’re outfitted and have thought about when to go out and ask for permission to hunt. What are you gonna say once the big moment comes? First off, be nice. A sincere “Hi” is worth a thousand fake “hello’s”. Say what feels comfortable and remember to smile. After the “hi’s” are over, I usually share a little bit about myself; “I’m a teacher from Fort Plain and I’m also a turkey hunter. You’ve got some wonderful land here and I’d like to ask for permission to hunt here.” If I get an “I’m sorry, but we don’t let anyone hunt here” that’s good enough for me. I say thanks and politely leave. If I’ve brought a pie or something, that stays, regardless of outcome. That little gesture has made all the difference on more than one occasion and even if it doesn’t, it shows my character to someone I may meet again one day.
When you go to ask permission to hunt, a farmer may try to strike up a conversation with you. He could want more information about you and your family or he could just be trying to size you up. Sometimes, the man just wants to talk. Farmers can live fairly isolated lives by some standards and many just want someone besides the livestock to talk to. It would be a grave mistake, and I believe just plain impolite for you to nip this small talk in the bud and go on your way. If you spend some time with the man you’re asking a favor of it can only help. Even better, if you’re prepared to offer a day or two in the Hay mow, it might win you some points. Besides, the farmer knows better than anyone where the game is on his land. A little small talk might just lead to a slammer buck!
Finally, remember, you represent all of us conscientious hunters when you go out looking for new land to hunt and the people you’re asking a favor of are under no obligation to help you out. Most of us rely on the kindness of some very hard-working folks and we must be respectful of their property and their ways or our opportunity to enjoy the great American tradition of hunting will surely end.