I love to gain opportunities to duck hunt. Accessing public lands is where it starts, but like most, more places to hunt are better. Many years ago my friends and I engaged in a lease. It was good, but eventually was sold and we moved on. Money for most of us is the critical factor. Some can afford to own or partner in clubs, pay for private hunts or lease property each year. Yet others still love to hunt and are willing to reach out and find new places to access in exchange for working on the property.
I start by saying get the OnX app and use this to get to know who owns lands you are interested in accessing. The app will provide the names and addresses of owners. It is invaluable when you are driving around and trying to find birds. Keep in mind that some counties, parishes or districts do not provide names or ownership, but as more employ technology, more public information will become available. Use the app to identify owners and simply send them a letter. I do this every fall and set a goal of ten to twenty letters. In those letters, I introduce myself, my interests, and ask if they have any possible opportunities for waterfowl hunting. Also to make sure both are on the same page, I cut and paste a map of the property I am asking about. Most will respond and while many may not provide you an answer you like, over time I have indeed made connections that worked out.
Follow up with a meeting. Show your maps and develop a plan that benefits both. Since you do not know them yet, offer to do something to help. Farmers love people willing to give back. I have driven grain wagons, helped with mowing and many times just hung out and made conversation.
One other avenue is flat out working for private organizations that cater to paying customers. Most often this occurs all spring and summer in preparation for fall and could include clearing brush, building blinds, or general farm labor. Come fall this might roll into a guide job or worker to take care of customers. In return, you may get paid, but might also have some hunting rights.
Next, ask around to see who are hunters you know that own property and hunt. I recently ran across an old college friend and after some catching up he called me and ask me to go hunting on his lease. In fact, I got to hunt an area I had known about for years but never hunted. Meet up with friends at banquets, social events, and even in the draw room before each day.
Next up is asking a person to go hunting with you. Even though you might tend to hunt with the same folks if you want to expand your opportunities take someone else hunting. This often closes those degrees of separation. If there is anything I have learned duck hunters know each other and the network is expansive. Those degrees of separation are smaller than you think.
Always talk duck hunting. You never know who you might meet that hunts and is willing to take you. The quid pro quo is always going to expand. Share your experiences and see what common ground exists.
As I have also learned over the years offering to work goes a long way. My best friends that hunt are property owners and have been for many years. In exchange for opportunities to hunt, I work. This includes multiple days of fixing well pipes, moving blinds, building blinds, planting, mowing, dirt work, and whatever is needed. In exchange for hunting, I put in the work. While it might seem you have nothing to offer, I found my drone to be something they liked so I have done hundreds of aerial photos of their property that they never had before.
One more idea I would add is to consider what you have in regard to equipment you can use on someone else’s property. Skid steer loaders, tractors, trailers, and backhoes are among the most popular, but even if you don’t own equipment you might have a friend that does so this can start a parlay to get everyone what they want. I have a nice trailer that I can haul a tractor on. This saves the landowner the expense of renting one so my participation at really no cost to me gains me some hunting time.
You should always thank those that do take you hunting. This typically will lead to more opportunities and make sure you offer to work. Take a weekend, or anytime you have to repay those that have taken you hunting. Thank them with a letter, or perhaps a gift. They appreciate your attention. I have even subscribed them to magazines to keep them thinking about me all year. Do something to make sure they know you appreciate the opportunity to access their property or lease.
Now is the time to start thinking about fall – get those letters out, stop by and visit and be active in your efforts to find a great place to hunt this fall.