Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Why I Lease Hunting Land

At $1500/year, I am not a member.  But this is how good (meaning...how convenient) it can get.

As my (too few) local hunting buddies and I have moved through our 30s and enjoyed what sometimes comes along with that - namely, fatherhood and more intense job requirements - in some cases it has caused a split between us when it comes to hunting. 

On the one hand are guys like myself who want to hunt with the minimal amount of stress, even if that costs money.   On the other hand are guys like several of my hunting partners who would rather work twice as hard to hunt than to fork over any cash - be it $100 or  $10,000  - for a hunting lease or a guide (several times per year).  Of course, in this area of the country, given our hunting restrictions and density of hunters, anyone with any common sense would..........probably give up hunting.   So let's eliminate "smart people" from our pool.   The Rabid Outdoorsman has agreed to post up his reasons for disagreeing with leasing, and I'll share that with you later this week.  But let's head down my rabbit hole first.

Why I Lease Hunting Land

I lease farmland and river blinds through a club on Maryland's eastern shore.  Why? First and foremost, it's stress and pressure.  Stress on me and pressure on the resource.  There are an awful lot of hunters per acre of public land and water in our state, and trying to beat some unknown competitors to a duck or fishing hole (that you previously scouted) at 4:40 am.......only to arrive there second....... is a pretty brutal proposition, especially in January, in 12 degree air temps. Yeah, it happened to me.  OK, it happened to me during the October "wood duck" season.  Not January.

Cheesiest game warden photo EVER!
Thanks, Texas!
Second, it's my line of work, which is habitat conservation.  Or I should say, "my inability to get multiple game violations and remain gainfully employed in my field." Leasing property means that I know the land and water, I know who is there, I have a clue about how birds, fish, and deer move across the property, and I know where I am supposed to be (and not supposed to be).  That eliminates about 75% of game violations, right off the bat.   This puts my mind at ease, because I can partially stop running through the multitude of scenarios playing out in my head........all the things you can't control on public land (like how well the boundary is marked). And yes, the adjacent landowner WILL call the game warden on you.  Posted property or not.


Knowing a property means knowing how wildlife
use it.  Photo: Mississippi Sportsman
That gets to another point.  Wherever and however you hunt, knowing how the wildlife uses the land is a key part of successful hunting.  Unless you have the spare time and the patience to scout public land at about 2 days per hunting day, you will not often be successful.  Leasing or owning a single (or several) properties allows you to learn the patterns of game animals with minimal interference and increased recon from your partners, i.e. "the river blind hasn't been producing ducks this week" or "the fish in the small pond aren't biting."  It's just one (or two or three) properties with which you should be intimately familiar.  Not every WMA in a 3-county area. Or a 20-mile stretch of swamp and river.  Again.....money vs. time - which do you have?

Last, and this is a very sad state of affairs, it's the lack of access to private land that drives the need for locking up more private land - especially for waterfowl hunting.  Depressing. In Maryland and Virginia,  you cannot hunt or fish a private property without explicit, handwritten permission from the landowner, which you must carry at all times while on that property.  That means that every property where a landowner hasn't given YOU permission to access, is already locked up as far as you are concerned.   And given what professional guides will pay landowners to not hunt an entire farm so they can hunt the farm next door.......yeah.....a knock on the door and a bottle of Crown ain't gonna cover it. Not for ducks and geese, certainly.

But to be honest, I can do better - by working harder -  without spending more money.  I now have an open invite to an offshore blind just 15 minutes from my office in Annapolis. The spot isn't amazing, but the company is great (other folks in my field, occasional politicians), and the blind seems to produce a few canvasbacks and scaup on nearly every hunt.  I have an open invite at an amazing farm 2 hours from home. I might be welcome at another farm in southern Delaware, 2 hours from home, where I hunted for two seasons (2006-2008) for free before letting the relationship drop..........and I've been too busy/lazy/awkward to start the conversation again.

So, you know, I'm going to keep my club/lease.  I like having it in my back pocket - I can always go there.  It (or another lease I pick up one day) will be just the place to teach my son how to hunt in a good, relaxed, and safe environment.  In an age where I simply can't take off for two days and scout.....this is the way forward for me.  Maybe that'll change one day (retirement).   And I'm not planning to hunt public land this year, with the possible exception of bow hunting.  But writing this post has made me realize that maybe I should also take a little extra time and maximize the opportunities I have based on old, old relationships.  Why shouldn't I? 

To fill blinds like this at $1200 per day (remember to tip your guide!), 
guides would gladly buy out the hunting rights for a mile in every direction

13 comments:

Ian Nance said...

I am the worst of all. I hunt private land/leases and draw quota tags for public lands. This maximize my opportunities for harvesting game and learning more about hunting in general.

Then there are those who think you arent real hunters unless you stay on wma's. It is more of a financial jealously in alot of cases.

Trey said...

Here in South Georgia, if you don't have a lease, you don't hunt!

tugboatdude said...

This is a good post but I think maybe you could have been a little more in depth.What about hunting out of a boat?What about qouta and lottery hunts?Is it strictly a financial aspect of who gets to lease land?I still think there are decent properties that can had just by knocking on doors and getting to know farmers.Will it take time and leg work,most definitely.

River Mud said...

Good point T - I have been in Maryland too long. As you know, you don't just "hunt in a boat here." If you don't have a blind or a blind stake issued by the state during the lottery, you do not hunt within 200 yards of the shoreline (without landowner permission).

Most other states - thank God - are different. Although, in VA you have ghost blinds erected right up against public water to stop the public from hunting, too.

I really think all these things really do come down to whether you want to spend money or time to get yourself a decent hunting opportunity. And some years, most of us have more of either time or money, but never an abundance of BOTH.

The Downeast Duck Hunter said...

I'll be interested in what Rabid has to comment on for Maine is quite unique in terms of no Sunday hunting, access without permission on unposted land but permission encouraged, and a release of liability to the landowner if someone accessing the property gets hurt.

I suppose down the road, we may want to explore trading outdoor experiences where the price tag would only be airline tickets and licenses. Trey Luckie and I are in that process right now as he's waiting on the right flight deal for some seaducking action.

Nice post, I sort of did the same response over at your brother's site. Have a good one,

DEDH

Rabid Outdoorsman said...

Leases be damned! :)

River Mud said...

You be quiet! You get your 2 cents (more like 75 cents) in about 13 hours!

River Mud said...

Ian - The worst? No!

I think you have to take advantage of opportunities - private or public - that's the bottom line, if you want to hunt. I didn't go for a public blind stake this year in Maryland and probably won't apply for quota hunts, but I applied for a quota hunt and a refuge hunt in Virginia for this season.


As a result of this discussion, I'm kind of coming around to a new point of view - one based on "taking advantage of reasonable opportunities" - and throwing away cliche's and labels, like the WMA hunters you describe.

If they saw how often I go home with less than my limit (or sometimes, without even firing my gun) on my lease, they'd know I'm really hunting, too.

Ian Nance said...

Well, duck hunting is totally different down here, so I can't speak to what it's like up there, but Trey is correct about leasing for deer. Georgia and Florida have alot of public lands with big deer, but leases are the way to go. Otherwise, its a ton of people on romp and stomps or you get a quota hunt with limited chances to scout and only one weekend to hunt - which doesn't usually breed consistent success. Securing landowner permission to hunt free in Fl is a rarity.

I think I know where Rabid is going to go on the lease thing...a buddy of mine is from Maine and it is incomprehensible I spend money on leases. At least as much as I am that you can park on the side of the road and walk into any unposted land as he describes it

River Mud said...

In Maryland.....

Bow hunting, you can get permission almost anywhere. Even places with leases (does only), because their members are primarily going to be muzzleloaders/shotgun/rifle hunters and mostly looking for bucks. The only no-go's are anti-hunters (plenty of them) and horse owners (who hate all deer hunters).

Waterfowl.....it takes a relationship, and usually it's on an invite-only basis (granted, you might get invited twice a week, all season). Often, the landowner will also have other hunters onsite and you will have zero control over what they do and how they hunt. Which (I've experienced), leads to land/water getting burnt out for hunting.

Gun hunting for deer - It's a touchy subject (for free) on private land, and a little bit of a safety issue on public land. But your chances of bagging a respectable (say, 8 point) buck or a solid doe are probably similar on private (free OR lease) or public property. A 12 point? You're gonna want a lease.

Turkeys - it's very random. Some public land gets hit hard. Some gets no hunting. Some landowners don't mind if you come hunt for free. Some have turkey leases. I don't go often enough to know how it really works.

Andy @ Bow Hunting Maryland said...

River Mud,

Interesting post, I enjoy reading what you have to say.

I would, however, love to know where these "land owners" that allow bow hunting for does are? I spent several years as a bow tech at a local store and built relationships and got invites, as soon as I left those relationships slowly but surely went away.

I have spent the past few years searching for private land to get free permission or to think about leasing and had no success.

Maybe I just don't know the right people, and in this day and age everything is about who you know not what you know.

River Mud said...

It's ONLY about who you know, and how you handle yourself when you're in front of them. I am fortunate that I work in a line of work that puts me on many peoples' property, and out in the woods (for work) with many other hunters and anglers. New spots come and they go.

I got two new bow-only spots last year in the Annapolis area. I lost one this year. Visited the landowner this summer to chat about hunting again, and he didn't invite me back (he's trying to sell the property or something), and I knew enough not to ask.

I am working on another bow-only spot near Loch Raven. I met a landowner through a hunting function and we hit it off. Maybe. He invited me to duck hunt with him and I just reminded him of his invitation today. We'll see what that really transforms into...could be a lot....could be nothing.

Gerald Vonberger said...

I had no idea that the private land access was so bad that you have to lease land that often. I'm convinced now that it's a pretty good investment. That first picture you posted of all of those ducks was pretty impressive. Do you lease the same amount of land every year?

Gerald Vonberger | http://www.nmranchproperties.com