Without fail, the hunting community suffers numerous black eyes every year because of those among us who leave their manners at home. By now, you’d think we’d have collectively realized our behaviour in the field directly relates to our securing places to hunt. We depend on private landowners, conservation groups and governments at all levels to provide access to hunting grounds, but the actions of a few can shut things down for the many. While it’s been said countless times before, it bears repeating—all hunters have a responsibility to be good stewards of the land, and to respect both private and public property.
I’ve hunted the same area for big game for nearly three decades now, and over the years I’ve seen numerous other hunters also gain access only to lose it because of their behaviour. While I don’t have exclusive use of the land, I’ve always maintained my permission to hunt there by adhering to the following best practices.
It all begins with permission. Even when private land isn’t posted, the responsibility is yours to ensure you have the owner’s consent to access it. Crown and lease lands may also have specific requirements you must follow, so be sure you know the rules and obey them. The same goes with lands owned by conservation organizations—find out if there are any conditions regarding access and allowable uses. Some only permit foot travel, for example, and most prohibit camping and fires.
Part and parcel of ensuring you have permission is knowing where you are at all times. Property lines are not always clear on the ground, but maps, GPS units and cell phone apps can help keep you oriented. There’s really no excuse for unintentionally crossing boundaries.
Just because you have permission to access a property, don’t assume that means you have permission to drive off-road, in any type vehicle, even when retrieving game. Clarify the rules about off-road travel when you seek permission, no matter whether it’s private or crown land. Many parcels of crown land allow vehicle access on maintained roadways, for example, but forbid any off-road traffic. Also, don’t drive on muddy roads, as you can create deep ruts that will last for years. And don’t park on roads, which can impede farm equipment or other legitimate users of the land. Park only in designated areas, or where you will not block traffic.
Leave all gates the way you find them. If you have to open a gate, close it behind you, even if you intend to be on the property for just a short time—hunting has a way of waylaying even the best plans. If a gate has been clearly left open, leave it that way. If you’re not sure, ask the landowner.
Whenever you’re hunting around agricultural crops, take every reasonable measure to avoid spreading soil, weeds, seeds and other organic material between properties. And unless you have specific permission to do so, don’t walk, drive or otherwise hunt in any standing crops.
Never forget one of the cardinal rules of hunting—always be aware of your target and what’s behind it. This is never more critical than when hunting occupied private land. Conduct your own reconnaissance of the property before you begin hunting, taking careful note of where all houses, outbuildings, livestock, vehicles and other hunters are located.
Be a responsible community member by informing landowners of anything unusual you see on their property. This could include stray, injured or dead livestock, broken fences or evidence of trespass, for example. Littering is an absolute no-no; not only is it unsightly, it’s also illegal. And if you must defecate, be sure to bury what you leave behind. It’s simple, really—if property owners see you as a partner in managing their land, you are much more likely to continue enjoying access to it.