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The Hunt for a Place to Hunt
It wasn’t long ago a guy could knock on the doors of rural landowners and be handed the keys to a slice of hunting heaven. I know, because back in the day I was one of those guys. Now, you couldn’t do it on a bet.
Sure we have some beautiful National and State Forests, Fish and Wildlife Areas and reservoir properties. The problem is, not enough of them.
Indiana is 97 percent privately owned, so to have much of a shot at taking a deer, or any game animal for that matter, you pretty much need permission. The hunt for a spot to hunt is increasingly a big part of a sportsman’s pursuit today.
Having access close to home is critical for attracting new hunters as well as retaining current ones. Unfortunately access is dwindling everywhere for a variety of reasons. The number one reason for people hanging up their bow or firearms is due to loss of places to hunt.
If you do want to hunt private land, a long-time tradition for the landless hunter has been door-knocking. Simply put, it’s going out in the country and knocking on doors and asking for permission to hunt someone’s private property.
Sometimes you get lucky and find a farmer who is willing to provide hunting opportunities to strangers, but more often than not, it’s a pretty fruitless search. You get turned down time after time because the landowners, their family or friends are already hunting the property. Or even worse, you run into someone that doesn’t appreciate hunting, who not only turn you down, but lecture you on how the tradition is wrong.
Not a year goes by that I don’t hear stories from friends who have lost property they have hunted for years. Some gets sold while others get leased out from under them.
I think the whitetail boom and its antler mania is part of the problem. People simply value our deer more than ever. Hoosiers are also busier than ever and place much more value on recreational time, to the point they are willing to pay big bucks for it.
Woodlots, once viewed as rough ground and the deer that inhabited them as pests, are now seen as hot commodities. Some of the ground I used to hunt as a youngster is now leased for thousands of dollars each year. Add to that the companies that have gobbled up private ground for large sums then lease them to groups of hunters at an inflated price.
Unfortunately, much of our prime whitetail turf lies in areas populated by folks who can no sooner pay thousands of dollars per year to hunt their neighbors 100-acre farm than they could booking a flight on the space shuttle. In a growing number of instances many deer are reserved for the rich or non-resident clients of leasing companies.
Additionally, more and more landowners are managing their property for better hunting by improving habitat, controlling harvests and restricting hunter access. And who can blame them?
Think about it. If you were fortunate in hitting the lottery and bought your own killer hunting ground, how many people other than family or friends would you let hunt it?
Yes, it is getting tougher for the largest group of sports people, the average hunter, to gain access for a handshake and a holiday card. It is still possible but you have to knock on doors until your knuckles turn bloody, and then hope luck is on your side. Of course, we can always take our chances with lottery tickets.