It was good news but in a way it made me feel bad, especially in the wake of learning two co-workers had lost their places to hunt. A friend of mine had just purchased a 40-acre farm and said I could bowhunt deer if I wanted to. So last week I made time to check it out. Unfortunately, my first short scouting trip revealed the land was primarily occupied by corn and soybeans. The only significant cover was an eight-acre woodlot in one corner and an overgrown pasture in another.
Although I was a bit disappointed, I can’t say I was totally surprised. Small tracts of land are becoming more and more a fact of life for hunters. Now a day it seems there are either huge parcels owned by the same person or corporation (and already leased to groups of hunters) or many segmented smaller tracts. Most suburban hunters are limited to these smaller lots, what I call “hobby or recreational farms.”
It seems here in Indiana, and the entire Midwest for that matter, some large wooded areas are becoming fragmented as large landowners sell off parcels. People are gobbling them up in any increment they can afford, sometimes as small as five or 10 acres.
Is it possible to have decent hunting on a small tract of ground? Sure it is. Each season, many quality deer are harvested in areas not much larger than a couple city lots. But, to do this you need a dedicated plan and approach.
The first step is to spend some time and figure how the deer use the area and when to hunt it and when to stay out. Google earth is a great tool. I could tell the small woodlot on my friend’s property should be a perfect staging area for bucks waiting for the cover of darkness before coming out to feed on the corn and beans. But, because it is surrounded by fields, getting to it in the morning could be risky because of the good chance of spooking deer when going in. So if I hunt it, I will do so only in the evening.
In smaller tracts it’s hard to hang a tree stand without letting all the deer know someone is in their turf. If possible, set a stand as early as possible, even if that means putting up with mosquitoes and gnarly brush. If you don’t have the time, then set it when you can but definitely wait a couple weeks before going back. In smaller places it may be best to simply hunt from the ground, which eliminates all the clammering of hanging a metal stand.
If you show up to hunt your spot and the wind is wrong, turn around. In smaller tracts you get only one chance at a wall hanger and it’s not worth blowing it. Go hunt somewhere else, go fishing or help your wife with some chores. I know what you’re thinking — I would hunt somewhere else or wet a line, too!
Available land to hunt is easier lost than gained. So what do you do when you want to hunt private ground but are not a property owner yourself? How do you ask a complete stranger for permission to access their land with a firearm or bow? A friend of mine, Mark Barnett, has a unique approach in seeking out smaller tracts of land available for hunting. He treats it like a job interview.
Barnett has put together a professional looking resume he passes out to prospective landowners.
“Each year, while scouting out new places to hunt, I have given out dozens of them,” he said. “They have without a doubt resulted in new places for me.”
In it he lists a short biography about himself, including his job, family and a short reason why he is passionate about hunting. Also listed is his contact information, safety certifications and a few character references. He also explains his sincere appreciation if allowed on the property and how the land will be treated with the utmost respect.
Barnett also dresses appropriately.
“Think about it,” he explained. “You are trying to convey competence and responsibility and your appearance speaks volumes before you even open your mouth.”
The avid hunter always exhibits friendliness and respect even if denied permission. Remember the resume? Several years had gone by when a landowner in Miami County called Barnett asking if he was still interested in hunting on his property.
“That ended up becoming one of my favorite places,” he added.
The good thing with people buying up many small parcels, there are many more landowners, some of who might let you hunt. Even if you don’t gain any access to private property, don’t get discouraged. Persistence pays off. If not, you will at least meet some very interesting people along the way!
• Joel and Dave Edwards swept last Monday’s Kokomo Reservoir open team bass tourney, sponsored by Cardwell Built Construction. They won the event with three largemouth totaling 6.09 pounds. A fish topping out at just under 3pounds also gave them the tourney’s “big bass” award. Henry Cavazos snagged second place with three fish dropping the electronic scales at 5.10 pounds.
• Bob Rose and Wayne Nolder took first at last Tuesday’s Delphi-Delco team bass tourney with five fish weighing 13 ounces, 13 ounces. They also had the tourney’s biggest bass with a 3-pound, 8-ounce fish. Keith Milburn and Ed Lyke finished second with one fish topping out at 2 pounds, 1ounce.
John Martino is the Tribune’s outdoors columnist. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.