For most of my life I hunted wherever I wanted. I don’t remember any posted land when I was growing up. The posting trend is a relatively new phenomenon. After we moved to Mount Vernon 37 years ago, I purchased two adjoining woodlots to assure that I’d always have a place to hunt. Lately, I’ve hunted deer in just four places: my woodlot, my neighbor’s woodlot, a nearby farm, and a nice piece of public land. I turkey hunt in a lot more places, but I have the permission of the landowners in every single place.
I don’t even think of hunting on someone else’s land any more– even if it isn’t posted – unless I’ve received the permission of the landowner. So that’s the first piece of advice. You’ll be surprised by the willingness of private landowners to allow you to hunt their land, even if they’ve posted it. Many just want to know who is out there, what they’re doing, and that they’ll respect the land and the privilege of using it.
I posted my woodlot this year, with Access by Permission Only signs, because I want to know who is hunting there and when they are hunting, so they don’t interfere with my own hunting plans and those of my neighbors who have my permission to hunt there.
Focus on posted property, I advised my friend. Ask permission, develop a good relationship with the landowner, keep him or her informed of your hunting experiences there, and thank the landowner after the hunt is concluded. I always offer some turkey or deer meat to the landowner, if I’ve been successful. Sometimes a bottle of wine, or a new book, or a gift certificate, does the trick. For years, I gave one landowner a small amount of money to go towards his property taxes. And I sometimes write and mail a thank you note after the season is over.
I also alert the landowners to the upcoming hunting season, and ask again for permission to hunt their land. Do this every year, without fail. Never assume you have permission because you had it the previous year. I visit the landowner in the off seasons too, to maintain a good relationship.
Sometimes it takes bit of work to find out who owns the land, but a trip to the town office and a look at the tax maps will get that job done.
Most public land is open to hunting, even sections of state parks. I was delighted one year in the 90s to work with the State Parks Director to open sections of state parks away from the developed areas and trails. Just be certain you know which areas in the parks are available, and which are not.
You can obtain a map of the public lands managed by Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Bureau of Parks and Lands from those agencies, as well as other information about hunting those lands. If the land is owned or managed by a land trust, contact the trust for information on its properties and rules. I have had good success in the past, hunting land trust properties in my area.
I see very few hunters on the public land that I hunt, and those I do see are there year after year, so we’ve gotten to know each other’s favorite places – and we give each other that space. I know this is not the case in some places – especially in southern Maine.
But the fact is that we continue to lose huntable lands, for many reasons, year after year, and we are blessed with lots of public land, so I urge you to check out the possibilities on public lands near your home or camp. If you are willing and able to walk a ways, you can often get far enough into public lands to be hunting alone.
Most farmers have problems protecting their crops from deer and turkeys – especially turkeys. Turkeys are our secret weapons! I’ve had many homeowners – some without a bit of huntable land – ask if we could come to their house and shoot the turkeys.
There was the year that I got a call one morning in December from a homeowner who wanted me to come – immediately – and kill the turkeys that were eating the Christmas decorations on her deck! She was quite disappointed when I told her the season didn’t start until the end of April. And yes, the following April, she welcomed us to hunt turkeys on her land.
Dad and I have shot several turkeys in a lady’s back yard, as we sat inside the tree line. But she loves the deer, so we don’t hunt deer anywhere near her house.
Farmers can shoot animals that are damaging their crops, without permits, but if they want someone else to shoot those animals, out of season, they have to get permits. A good relationship with a farmer can not only get you a place to hunt in-season, but sometimes out-of-season too!
The days when hunters could wander onto anyone’s property in any season to shoot any game animal are over. Yes, the law allows that on unposted land, but it’s a very poor practice, and that privilege has been lost – and will continue to be lost – on much of the private property in Maine.
Farms, posted property, public lands – they are all available, if you practice good landowner relations. Or, if you are able, you can just buy your own woodlot!