The workshop smelled of home cooking, hard work, and a well-used scrubbing brush. Not a tool was out of place, not a speck of dust allowed to settle upon the gray floor. Four men and one small huntress sat around the well-loved table and mismatched chairs. Summer sausage was brought out, along with little, whole-grain buns, enough to satisfy the cravings of all, farmer and hunter alike.
Deer hunting here, albeit on public land, has been unfruitful so we tried our luck on private land. Given that the land is vast, the farms unlived-in, and the farmers unreachable, we haven’t had any success getting deer hunting permission. So, we’ve been doing more waterfowling because, generally, farmers are all too pleased to allow exterminators to deal with duck and goose “problems”, which suits us just fine.
A friend, more like a family member, of ours, aptly dubbed, “Uncle Buck,” brought us to this place, to shoot some divers, whack some geese, and introduce us to quite possibly the nicest farmers I’ve ever met.
Their farmstead is near a town with a population of 40 near the sinister sounding Devil’s Lake. The town’s post office is located in a blue, double-wide trailer. The bar hangs heavy with a ring of cigarette smoke billowing out the windows. The wind, with its screeching and whistling across the empty plain, is the loudest cacophony, making it the point of noise creation, beating out cars, children, and planes 100,000 to 1.
A lot can be said about the town, the farm, its menacing equipment, the landscape, but one thing can be said about hunters who visit this farm: they never have to pay to play.
“It was the year of the lobster,” the elder producer laughed. His eyes glinted as he took the assembled back to the days of yesteryear when he ran the farm and men came from all over to hunt his land.
“It was Christmas Eve and there was a knock at the door. A deliveryman stood there, shaking in his boots, practically buckling under the weight of a huge box. When the poor deliveryman left, obviously thankful to return to his family, we opened the package. Inside of it were lobsters, soups, breads and everything else we could ever possibly want for a Christmas feast. We have a big family and all that food lasted till after Christmas, which was a feat in itself.”
“There, at the bottom of the box, was a small card signed with one name, a name of a man who hunted our land every year, who said thank you, and who came with a big group, but he was the only one who ever took his thankfulness that far.”
Uncle Buck, looking astounded, turned to his old friend and proclaimed, “I put in for that basket, three of us did!”
The old farmer chuckled, looked at Uncle Buck with all the admiration in the world and muttered, “Well, your name wasn’t on the card.”
Anyone who hunts private land, especially with permission from ranchers and farmers, knows this outpouring of generosity comes from the urban legends heard year after year, a 101 on How To Get Permission To Hunt [Those Gigantic, Amazing, Corn-Fed, Sheltered, Mouth-watering] Deer On Private Land.
I’ve heard them all, from being nice to not toting your gun to the door, from coming early in season to coming the day before, from playing the “my little wife is with me” card (my husband, has, admittedly used this in the past to great success) to the “I have my three (possibly borrowed) kids with me for their first hunt” card (I’ve heard that no landowner can resist the smiling, camo-clad faces of little kids). So, I decided to see what really works with farmers, and what doesn’t*.
WHAT NOT TO DO
1. Attempted Murder
Do not, under any circumstances, shoot towards the farmer’s cattle, family members or homestead, even if a 30×60 mule deer, the biggest you’ve ever seen, is standing in their yard.
“I had one guy,” the elder farmer said, “who actually tried to shoot a pheasant about 20 feet from my house. My wife told me about it, since she was about 10 feet away from the guy at the time. I confronted him later, since he proudly said that he had tried to get a pheasant from the front yard of ‘that’ farm, which happened to be mine.”
2. Freeloading Friends
We’ve all done it, or had to deal with it. Your buddy just got permission to hunt some amazing land and, as his friend, you automatically think that since you’re an extension of him, you are best buddies, of course, that you get to hunt the land too. However, this is one way to lose permission with the swiftness of a North Dakota wind.
“I just want to know who’s on my land. We don’t charge for hunting privileges, and our land isn’t posted, but I just like to know who’s here because if I give permission to someone to hunt deer and 10 people show up on their acreage for a morning goose hunt, it causes problems.”
3. Farm Help
I’ve heard that, in order to make a farmer happy, you should exchange some of your time to help out, in exchange for access to hunting land. During hunter’s safety (course) in New York, this was, according to them, one of the best ways to get a farmer’s permission. The 1980’s movie that accompanied that lecture showed a hunter, fully camoed, driving a combine as a happy farmer looked on. Of course, the happy hunter killed the biggest buck of his life on that land and everyone lived happily ever after.
When I told this tale to the farming patriarch, he laughed and laughed and laughed.
“No one,” he said, “No one would ever get my okay to do that. You just don’t take a tractor and do work, those things cost in the upwards of $400,000 and beyond. It takes time and practice to drive one. It’s a nice thought but I don’t think I’d accept any help.”
WHAT TO DO
1. sk Questions
And keep asking them. Best areas to cover and be 100 percent sure of: where can I hunt, what seasons are in, where people have seen [duck, deer, pheasant, woolly mammoth], if the permission is for the day or for the season, how much the farmer charges, if anything, and always leave your information for the farmer’s records.
According to Uncle Buck, the best question to ever ask a landowner may mark the first contact you ever have with them.
“I met this family of farmers because I was lost, driving down a dirt road when I saw a big, red tractor in the distance. I stopped and flagged him down as he went past. I told him, ‘Hey, I’m lost, I just got here and I don’t know where I am, I want to hunt and I have a day to find land.’ He directed me to the farm and now, 20 years later, here we sit.”
2. Convey Thankfulness
[Reread introduction, that whole bit about the lobster and the cold deliveryman who lacked upper-body strength.]
Just saying thank you, according to this farming clan, is good enough.
However, if you ask Bucky, his friend M.W. will tell you there’s a system that works every time involving an end-of-farm-day visit and a cold (not lukewarm or room temperature) gift of hops, barley, and water.
3. Be confident
I abhor asking for permission. Before this visit, I was scared the farmer was going to be mean, that he wasn’t going to like my (585) area code, or would slam the door in my face. But, according to this producer, “most farmers, and hunters, are wonderful people.”
“Ninety-nine percent of people that we’ve met have been good people,” the farmer concluded. “Out-of-staters are usually just as welcome than in-staters. Out-of-staters are coming from a place where they don’t have what we have and are, generally, just as thankful to hunt here.”
“All you have to do is ask, take some time out and get to know the person you’re asking permission from. As you’ve seen,” the hunter gestured towards Bucky, “great hunts, and lifelong friendships can start with a simple, ‘Hey, I’m lost!’”
*Please note: The opinions and statements divulged here are from one farm and two generations of farmers. This is meant more as a general, huntress-approved guide but not as a reflection of the entirety of every farmer in North Dakota. Honestly, I want to hunt and that would be extremely time consuming, so please read and simply enjoy.