With many of Idaho's hunting seasons set to begin soon, Idaho Fish and Game urges hunters to be conscious of their actions and act responsibly when hunting private land.
"We are fortunate that the majority of hunters are respectful and considerate to landowners,” said Sal Palazzolo, private lands coordinator for Idaho Fish and Game. “But each year, we deal with problems related to irresponsible behavior of a few.”
Access to private land can be a challenge for Idaho hunters. Yet each year, landowners restrict access to their property because of conflicts with hunters. Trespassing, property damage, and discharging firearms close to livestock or buildings being three main reasons. Unfortunately, the careless actions of a few are causing access to quality hunting to disappear for the rest.
Whatever the reason for complaint, most circumstances boil down to a lack of common sense and lack of respect for landowners and their property.
“It’s important to remember that your actions represent all hunters,” Palazzolo said. "Always be the best ambassador of hunting that you can by treating the landowner as you would like to be treated and their land as you would like yours to be treated."
Getting permission to hunt private land may seem daunting, but the extra effort is worth it. According to a survey of rural Idaho landowners, 88 percent will allow hunting on their property if hunters ask permission first. However, how hunters behave before, during and after the hunt will determine if they are allowed back.
Before the hunt
Always ask first for permission, preferably before the season begins. But before contacting them, sportsmen should consider it from the landowner’s perspective. Hunting season falls during a very busy time of year for them, as many are rushing to get their fall work completed before winter. A steady stream of hunters calling and appearing randomly at the front door takes their time away from getting work done and can be overwhelming.
When asking, be polite, friendly, and ask during reasonable hours. Calling or knocking on a rancher’s door at 6 a.m. to ask permission the day you want to hunt is the best way of getting turned down. If you haven’t already obtained permission before the season begins, a face-to-face meeting at the landowner’s house a few evenings before you plan to hunt is usually appropriate.
“A little courtesy goes a long way, and those hunters who plan ahead and ask permission in advance are usually welcome,” said Palazzolo.
If allowed to hunt, both hunters and landowners should clearly understand what “permission” is being given. For instance, is permission for a single day or for the whole season? Is permission only to hunt deer, or is it for elk or just upland game birds? Also, are you asking permission just for yourself, or will others be hunting with you? And never assume because permission was granted last year, that the same applies this year.
“Never assume anything,” Palazzolo said. “Iron out all the details with the landowner in advance.”
Landowners want to know who’s on their property, and some even manage hunter numbers by setting a limit. The limit makes for a higher quality hunting experience, and helps the landowner keep track of who will be on their land and when they will be there.
If your request is denied, don’t take it personally. Be understanding and remain polite, whether or not the landowner explains the reason for the decision. Remember, your courtesy and show of respect may affect the outcome of future requests.
“Hunting private land is a privilege, not a right,” Palazzolo said. “If hunters respect landowners and show their gratitude whether the answer is yes or no, they can establish relationships that both will appreciate.”
Fish and Game encourages hunters to exchange contact information with the landowner. Provide them a business card or note card with your name, contact information, and vehicle description including plate number. Landowners feel more secure knowing who is on their property and how to contact them if necessary.
During the hunt
How a hunter behaves while on private land is critical. Many times this involves knowing where to park, keeping safe distances from livestock and buildings, leaving gates the way they are found, and knowing the property boundaries. Keeping vehicles off fire-prone vegetation and muddy roads are other concerns for landowners.
“Remember that you are a guest of the landowner,” said Palazzolo. “Follow their wishes, and chances are you’ll be invited back.”
Landowners also appreciate if you leave the area better than you found it. Again, this is just good manners and shows respect. This includes picking up your empty shell casings, other litter you may find, and not cleaning birds or other game near roads, ditches, or in areas frequented by people or livestock. Remember, not picking up your empty shell casings is considered littering under Idaho law. If you notice something wrong or out of place, notify the landowner immediately.
After the hunt
Landowners generally welcome those hunters who are thoughtful and respect their property. When you are done hunting, drop by and thank the landowner for allowing you access. Send them a thank you card, gift certificate to a local restaurant, or other tokens of appreciation. Simple gestures will help your relationship with the landowner and help build a positive image of hunting.
If mentoring a young hunter, consider providing them with an opportunity to ask a landowner for permission and to express their appreciation after the hunt. As part of the mentoring process, it is important that young hunters understand we must respect landowners and their land.
And at the end of the day, remember that responsible hunters do not have to harvest to have a successful day. One can have a great day by recognizing the challenge of the hunt, the pleasures of being out in nature, sharing companionship of friends, and being an ambassador to the sport.