This Fall Don’t Forget the Landowners

It never ceases to amaze me how hunters and landowners could improve their relationship so much by some rather small acts of kindness. Let me preface today’s topic by first admitting that I have been a hunter for over 25 years, but a landowner (by proxy with my family) most of my life. So I come at this topic with perhaps a slightly different perspective seeing it from both sides.

Each time I think about the topic of landowner/sportsmen relations I fondly recall an experience with my late Uncle Herman. Several years ago, on the opening of pheasant season, I stopped by the farm house just to tell him of my intentions of hunting the “back 40,” so to speak. He was so excited as he showed me several boxes of potato chips that some hunters had just dropped off. It seems that every year this group of hunters who worked at potato chip factory in the Twin Cities brought some of their goods to share with the landowner. Hmmm…what a novel idea!

Do you realize what an impression this small gesture made with my uncle the landowner? He actually looked forward each year to pheasant season hoping “the potato chip guys” would return. It wasn’t so much that the bags of chips amounted to a large monetary value…no, it was the fact that these guys came offering something…and not just expecting something in return. Truth be known, I’m not even sure these guys worked at a potato chip factory…and it didn’t really matter…they accomplished something very important that far too many sportsmen forget.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that trading goods or services for hunting permission is not always required. In fact, you might even run into some landowners who could feel threatened by such action. Legally speaking, a landowner who accepts something of value (goods or services) could potentially be setting themselves up for greater liability issues. However, the vast majority of sportsmen and landowners are going to see the exchange of gifts or other niceties as simply a way to connect with the other person. And that’s the way it should be. When a landowner remembers you (because of a unique gift) from the throngs of truckloads full of hunters that drop by…you’ve accomplished something important.

Years ago when I first started hunting out in Montana a good friend of mine explained the importance of “connecting” with the Western landowner. Sure, they have many of the same motivations as the Midwestern landowner, such as wanting to know who’s on their land…but out West it is possible to strike up an even deeper relationship. And who benefits by doing that? Well, you do…Mr. Sportsman.

Imagine going from perfect strangers and then creating a relationship where you are one of the first people the landowner calls when announcing to family and friends the good news of the engagement of their daughter. Or imagine a sportsman who travels to Montana to spend time with the landowner when his wife is hospitalized battling cancer? Well, I’ve built such a relationship and I’ve done so over the course of about 10 years.

How do you do it? Oh, it can start out with gifts…that’s always nice, but eventually it needs to go way beyond that. Many landowners out West are very open to creating new relationships with people they trust. The object is getting to that level of trust. To do this you need to demonstrate that you care about them…and not just the land they own where you want to hunt. You need to pick up the phone around the holidays and tell them you were thinking of them and just wanted to say hi. Soon, they will get the message that you care about them…and not just for the reason they happen to be the gatekeeper to some prime hunting land.

Everyone has their own style and you need to read people. This fall if you drop in on a farmer and he’s busy picking corn…that is probably not the best time to expect to schmooze for any period of time. Likewise, if the farmer is trying to beat some on-coming storm he may not even want to stop working at all. Besides, asking for permission early shows respect and most landowners view this as a gesture of respect, and not just some afterthought as you drive down the country highway.

In summary…make an impression with the landowner. Don’t just tell the landowner that you’ll be responsible and caring while hunting on his property…prove it by asking early and being considerate. Let the landowner get to know you so you move away from being a stranger…and start becoming a friend.

Then later this season when the holidays approach, why not send that landowner a special holiday card with a handwritten message explaining what a wonderful time you had on their property. Finally, if you want to leave an impression that lasts…include a gift certificate to a local favorite restaurant with that card. If you’re lucky, that act just might indelibly etch your name into the landowners mind for next year…and perhaps many more years to come.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction Without Prior Permission.