Finding a Place to Deer Hunt

One of QDMA’s new mission goals is to recruit 1 million new hunters over the next five years. It’s an aggressive goal, but one we feel is achievable through our dedicated network of Branches, volunteers and members. One of the challenges these new recruits will face is finding a good place to hunt. Most states in the whitetail’s range are comprised of over 90 percent private land, and as a result, that’s where the majority of deer hunting takes place. There was a time, back in the proverbial “good old days”, when getting permission to hunt private property was as simple as a knock on a door and a handshake. While those days are long past, it is still possible to gain access to private hunting land. It just takes a little more legwork than it once did. 

Locating Private Land

The best way to start looking for land to deer hunt is by putting the word out to the people you already know, such as friends, family and co-workers. Even if they don’t own land themselves, they may be able to point you to someone who does. And having a common acquaintance can help tip the odds in your favor when it comes time to ask for permission.

Besides friends and family, another potential source of leads on private hunting land is your local wildlife conservation officer.  They are often the first point of contact for landowners who are having problems with deer damaging their property, whether it be their crops, garden or landscaping. These types of folks are primed for allowing hunting access, as they have suffered financial loss due to deer, and typically have a keen interest in seeing the local deer herd thinned back. 

A third option is to work in reverse, finding the place you would like to hunt first, then finding out who owns the property and initiating contact with that person to seek permission. The success rate of this method will probably be lower, since you don’t share that mutual connection, but in the end, the worst they can say is no. The up side, however, is you can focus on places that look good and are within a short drive of your home. If you find a place you’d like to deer hunt, but you’re not sure who owns it, the the local tax assessor office or website is a good starting point.

Another option, right at your fingertips, is the onX Hunt app available for both Android and Apple smartphones. With a membership plan, onX Hunt maps show property boundaries as well as ownership information. It can be a great resource to have available as you are out driving the backroads looking for potential hunting properties.

There was a time, back in the proverbial “good old days”, when getting permission to hunt private property was as simple as a knock on a door and a handshake.  While those days are long past, it is still possible to gain access to private hunting land. It just takes a little more legwork than it once did. 

Regardless of how you find the potential hunting property – either through a friend, family member, or phone app – getting face to face with the landowner and actually asking for permission is the next step. How you handle “the ask” will ultimately have a big impact on the answer you get. Here are are some steps you can take to help tip the odds in your favor.

Hunting Leases

Rather than taking on the daunting task of knocking on countless doors to gain permission to hunt, many of today’s hunters have chosen to lease land or join a hunt club to have access to quality private land. If you have the financial means to pursue this route, it can be a great option. Just be sure to do your research before handing over your hard-earned money. Here are some tips on choosing a quality hunting lease. 

Public Land Hunting Opportunities

If your search for free private land access doesn’t result in a place to deer hunt and you’re not in a financial position to lease land, don’t fret. There’s a good chance that some excellent public land hunting opportunities exist within a short drive of where you live. While hunting private land may result in a more controlled and high quality experience, many deer hunters enjoy the freedom and challenge that public land hunting provides.

Public hunting land typically exists in the form of national forests, national wildlife refuges, state forests, state Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) and sometimes even state parks. Most states have a variety of these opportunities available, and there’s a good chance, with a little research, you can find one or more within a short drive from home. A quick Google search of your state’s “public hunting areas” or a phone call to your state wildlife agency should point you in the right direction. Start by compiling all the areas within a reasonable drive of your home, and if you are fortunate enough to have several options available, you can then dig a little deeper into the specific deer hunting opportunities on those areas to see which ones work best for you.

As you research these options, be aware that season dates and bag limits on public hunting areas are often different than those on private land, and some areas even require that you apply in advance for specific deer hunts.

A great starting point for area-specific information is the internet. Most wildlife agencies provide details and maps of their public hunting lands online, and some go as far to post hunt participation and harvest data. This can provide you with an idea of the quantity and quality of animals on the area, as well as the amount of hunting pressure the area receives.

Another great point of contact is the person who actually oversees or manages the area. This is often a wildlife technician or wildlife biologist, but their title may vary from state to state. Since this person is on the area on a regular, sometimes daily basis, he/she should have a good understanding of the quantity and quality of deer on the property, their movement and travel patterns, as well as the amount of hunting pressure the area receives. Don’t overlook the local conservation officer as a source of information, either. Since they patrol the area on a regular basis, they will have a lot of insight on which areas are hunted the hardest, as well as where deer hunters seem to have the most success.

Once you’ve located an area to hunt, make sure you do your homework and know all the rules and regulations of the specific area before heading afield.

Here are five tips on hunting public lands

Conclusion

While finding a good deer hunting property can be a challenge, the rewards of having a good place to hunt make all the effort worthwhile. Whether you ultimately decide to focus on private land or public land, your success will be determined by the effort you spend researching, scouting and eventually hunting the property.


About Brian Grossman

Brian Grossman joined the QDMA staff in August, 2015 as its Communications Manager. Brian is responsible for amplifying QDMA’s educational message for hunters through social media, e-mail, the QDMA website, and Quality Whitetails magazine. He has been a freelance writer, photographer, videographer and web designer since 2003. A trained wildlife biologist, Brian founded the Poor Boys Outdoors and Working Class Hunter web shows and associated media during his free time while working full time as a wildlife manager. He came to QDMA from the Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division, where he was a field operations supervisor, overseeing management of 15 Wildlife Management Areas. Brian currently lives in Thomaston, Georgia with his wife, Tina, and his two children, Dakota and Brooke.