By Randy D. Smith
-- Now is the time to scout and secure your land for this season's hunting.
While the number of hunting license sales is going down in this country the amount of time spent in the field by individual hunters has increased dramatically. The people that do hunt spend a lot of time and resources to pursue their sport, resulting in a strong demand for suitable hunting properties. In my area of central and southwestern Kansas, people are purchasing marginal crop and grazing land strictly for hunting. It wasn't too many years ago that this would have been considered an extravagance, but it is a not uncommon today and it looks like the practice is going to grow. Many landowners are leasing to private parties for some hefty sums. Gaining permission to hunt good land may seem out of reach for the common man but there are things you can do to access good fall hunting ground.
Photo: The author checking for sign and tracks. I normally wear a backpack when working back into isolated areas with compass, water, repellant and first aid supplies. The rifle is a 7.62X39 carbine from Russian American Armory. This is a nearly perfect short and medium range pack rifle for off season. It is extremely light at around six pounds and the 7.62X39 round is inexpensive and effective on varmint to deer size animals. On this outing I took several varmints at ranges from 30 to 70 yards. I seldom need a longer range setup for heavy cover summer scouting.
Find Private and Public Land Now
I just went out on a weekend scouting trip. I'll spend many a weekend dawn throughout the summer driving and walking potential hunting spots and keeping track of game movements. I make mental notes of the size, age, and condition of any game I spot. Normally, I go out with a predator rifle, a good set of binoculars, and a map of unfamiliar areas. These outings are enjoyable, and I often manage to take a number of varmints as well as learn new ground.
You can obtain ownership maps through your county courthouse if you see some potential hunting property. I check for game trails, tracks, and sign. I visit watering holes, windmill ponds, and the borders of irrigated crop land. Look for isolated ground that is off the beaten track, abandoned farmsteads far from the main road, grain fields, clusters of woods, or year round water sources. What is good for private land also works for public. There are a lot of hidden corners on public land that are rarely visited by anyone.
Ask the land owner early for permission to hunt this fall. If he says he's holding the land for deer hunters, ask permission to predator hunt. You won't get turned down nearly as often, you are often doing the farmer a favor, and you will get your foot in the door.
Photo: When I am in isolated woods of the backcountry, I often glass the area for signs of bucks or does. I also carefully study the area for the best way to approach on a mid-day stalk during September muzzleloader season.
If he asks what it is worth to you and you are on a tight budget, offer to help him with harvest or to work stock on the weekends. Many farmers are older, and it is difficult to get good help for those semi-annual chores. A couple of days of free labor will usually gain you hunting permission for as long as you want. More times than not, you'll get paid for your work anyway and still come away with hunting rights.
Once you have permission to hunt, don't let the relationship die. I send Christmas cards each year and usually have some deer sausage made each fall strictly to give to landowners where I hunt. I offer to take the farmer's nephews and grandsons along with me when I'm scouting or hunting the land. If you belong to any of the conservation groups offer to buy the landowner a banquet ticket or ask him to be your guest. It's not that expensive, and it works for maintaining relationships. Most importantly, I faithfully keep my word about any hunting agreement I've made with the landowner.
Scout Your Private and Public Land Early
When I scout land, I'm looking at several different aspects. Not only do I want to know where most of the wildlife is concentrated, I also want to learn the best stalking routes and blind locations. I check for abandoned bowhunter stands. Muzzleloader season is the week before bow season so if the site is good for the bowhunter, it will likely be good for my smokepole. I want to know where the hollows and valleys are and decide where I believe game will go in bad weather or after crops are harvested. I want to know how to drive to these areas in the dark without getting disoriented. I want to know how I will safely walk to a certain location in the pre-dawn or post-sunset hours. I note the most commonly used game trails coming from land I do not have permission to hunt. Many times these trails will be used by deer when hunting pressure increases on neighboring land.
Photo: I surprised this doe from her bed in tall CRP grass during a foggy dawn stalk. I mentally note such locations for future hunting reference.
I want to know all the potential water sources and flooding sites. Where will the game go if the water gets high and how can I take advantage of it? Where will the game go if there are drought conditions? What happens regularly on neighboring ground that could help or hurt my hunt? I ask myself all these questions and try to decide on a strategy for each scenario.
Develop a Back-up Strategy
Generally I try to secure private land for primary hunting and public land for back up. I never go out for a day's hunting without having several backup sites in mind. Unexpected land pressure or extreme weather conditions can put you out of a deer hunting site, especially on small plots. Sometimes the landowner feels obligated when relatives or close friends show up to hunt. That's fine. Offer to hunt with them. If that's not possible, go to your next site. The worst thing you can do is become protective or selfish with someone else's land. I've had situations during turkey and deer seasons when I've had to fall back to a third choice because of hunting pressure. I've often had surprisingly good luck on backup ground I did not consider to be as good as other sites. The trick is to know the area well enough so that you have a second, third, or fourth option.
It is the guy who hasn't done his homework or hasn't lined up several options that loses his temper or feels that his hunt was ruined. The careful planner always knows of some place to go hunting.