To access private property to go hunting, it pays to make nice
As we continue to lose crown land to residential, agricultural and industrial development, gaining access to private land is becoming increasingly important for hunters. Unfortunately, some hunters don’t always appreciate the concerns of landowners, creating a barrier to access. To better understand this problem, the Alberta Conservation Association surveyed both private landowners and hunters in 2021 and 2022—and the interesting results point to a clear solution.
Seventy-two per cent of landowners said their property is used primarily for agriculture. But when asked what makes their land most valuable, 78 per cent listed habitat for plants and animals, revealing the importance they place on wildlife stewardship. This undoubtedly factors into their decision about whether to allow hunting, and about what type of hunter they’re willing to accommodate.
When asked about the frequency of hunters seeking access, meanwhile, 38 per cent said there’d been no change in recent years, 36 per cent identified an increase, and 11 per cent said they’d had no requests. As for granting permission, 54 per cent said their decisions haven’t changed over time, 40 per cent said they’re less likely to say yes, and six per cent indicated they’re more likely to grant access. Interestingly, when asked whether they could accommodate more hunters, 15 per cent said yes.
Trespassing topped the list of concerns for 90 per cent of landowners who allow hunting, and for 95 per cent of those who don’t. Next in order of concern for both groups were safety, property damage, poaching, liability issues, wildlife populations, and their own personal hunting enjoyment. Clearly, any hunter who trespasses is making it harder for us all.
When asked what would motivate them to permit more hunter access, 61 per cent of landowners who don’t allow hunting said nothing would change their mind. However, 43 per cent of those who do allow hunting pointed to property damage from increased deer and elk populations as the main reason they’d allow more access. The next reason would be to accommodate more opportunities for mentored youth hunts
Not surprisingly, landowners are far more likely to give access to family, friends and neighbours than to others. When they do consider new people, locals and other rural inhabitants are preferred over city dwellers, who, in turn, are favoured over non-resident hunters. Hunters guided by a professional outfitter are the least likely to gain access.
Landowners are evenly split on the question of whether granting permission is influenced by the species or sex of the animal being hunted. I would suggest those hunting does or cow elk are more likely to gain access, particularly from landowners contending with depredation problems.
As for hunters, two-thirds said they rely on private land for most or all of their hunting, with 50 per cent indicating they’ve had a multi-year relationship with a landowner. Still, a good number said they hunt on private land where they have no relationship with the owner.
When asked how they seek permission, 68 per cent said they knock on doors, while 60 per cent said they phone (some do both); only 20 per cent communicate via text or email. Forty-six per cent of hunters said they contact two to four landowners for permission annually, while four per cent contact 30 or more. Now that’s persistence.
When surveyed about the reasons they’re given if denied access, 26 per cent said previous trespassing problems were cited most often, followed by a general opposition to hunting and previous damage to property. Tellingly, only three per cent of hunters reported having no success in gaining access, while a full 68 per cent said they were generally satisfied.
So, what’s the take away here? Most landowners will grant hunting access, but the survey reinforces the importance of building trust. It’s just a matter of putting in the effort. Be conscious of how you appear, and of how and when you speak to landowners. For example, consider the impact of roaring up to their gate on opening morning in a mud-encrusted four-wheeler with oversized tires.
Perhaps more importantly, be respectful of their decision and their land, and be prepared to build a relationship over time, complete with small gestures of appreciation. All you need to do is use the manners your mother taught you, and you’ll be more successful in gaining access than you might think.