By Denny Quaiff for Whitetail Times
Hunting private land should be considered a privilege. In Virginia, more than 90 percent of the statewide huntable territory is privately owned. This access can be attributed to the generosity of private landowners and corporations with special hunting programs.
When I started hunting back in the late 1950s and 60s with my father and uncle, looking for a place to hunt was never a concern. Very little land was posted and landowners who put up no trespassing signs would usually welcome a friendly phone call or knock on the door for permission.
Back in the day the large timber companies sold hunting permits. Continental Can, Bear Island, and Chesapeake were three of the large land holders in Virginia. In the 1960s their hunting permits were $2.00; yes, a season hunting permit was $2.00. I can remember going down to Chester and purchasing my Continental Can permit for access to hunt thousands of acres in the surrounding counties.
Today things have greatly changed. Most private landowners post their property and the large timber companies lease their land to hunt clubs. I have personally been handling hunting leases for over 35 years. This requires contact with local landowners and timber companies throughout the year. Hunters who wait for opening day to seek permission to hunt private land or join a hunt club are usually very disappointed.
Looking for Hunt Club Membership
Joining a well-organized hunt club can be a step in the right direction for gaining access to private property for an enjoyable hunting experience.
One of the places to look for a hunt club to join would be Facebook. The Virginia Wall Hangers, Virginia Whitetail Hunters, and our own Virginia Deer Hunters Association are all about deer hunting. I’ve seen posts on these sites by hunters looking for a club to join and it’s no doubt you would be reaching a captive audience. Outdoor Access is another site that promotes hunting properties. This page advertises the locations by counties with landowners offering day and season permits for hunters.
Another method is finding a club sponsor for a hunt club membership. Most hunters talk hunting year-round and many of them belong to a club. When you hear one of their hunting stories take advantage of the conversation and learn all you can. If you find a sponsor, provide them with some references that relate to your hunting experiences.
Before joining a club make sure you understand how they handle their hunts. In eastern Virginia, a high percentage of clubs hunt deer with dogs. This long-standing tradition has been passed down from one generation to the next. Dog deer hunting clubs are proud of their heritage while enjoying great success. This may or may not be what you are looking for and should be discussed to make sure it’s the right fit for you and the club.
If serious deer management is what you’re looking for, see if the club is enrolled in the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP). Many of these clubs practice Quality Deer Management by taking mature bucks and harvesting does to balance the resident deer herd’s carrying capacity.
Hunt club membership dues vary. Some clubs that are made up with landowners and only lease small tracts of land may charge as little as $300 to $400 per member. Other clubs that lease large tracts of land and own a large pack of hounds may charge as much as $1,000 per member. Clubs that practice Quality Deer Management with 3,000 – 4,000 acre leases and food plots throughout the property may be in the $1,500 – $2,000 range per member. Much of these costs depend on what goals the club has set for their game management program.
Many hunting leases today carry with them certain requirements. Very often clubs are required to install gates and be responsible for road maintenance. Many clubs are required to carry liability insurance and name the landowner as an additional insured. These are very common previsions pertaining to a hunting lease today.
I feel it is always a good policy to hunt with the club as a guest before joining. This is the best way for everyone to get better acquainted and to guard against any misunderstanding.
Requesting Hunting Permission from Private Landowners
Farmers and landowners with a huntable piece of property feel encroached by folks looking for permission to hunt a month before opening day. Most of these people say “no.” If they were approached back in the spring or summer, they possibly would have been more likely to say “yes.”
One good place to probe for information is the county courthouse. Property records are considered public information. These records will indicate the size of the property, the owner, when the land was purchased, and a drawing of the boundary lines. Be sure to always research the property in question before contacting the landowner. One of the things I would do is reach out to the local Conservation Police Officer. These men and women can often be very helpful. The officer may know some of the local landowners personally and know they are looking for help with the deer harvest. They may also know about property that is up for lease and get you headed in the right direction.
Before Opening Day
Offer to post the property for the landowner each year and become familiar with the property lines. Let your landowner know you will keep watch for poachers on the property. (Make sure you read “Advice from a CPO: What to Do—and Not Do—If You Encounter a Trespasser.“) Make a point to learn who your adjoining landowners are and be a good neighbor to gain their trust. Regardless of whether your adjoining landowners are hunters or non-hunters, respect their rights and never infringe on their property without permission; your landowner will appreciate your commitment to good hunter ethics.
Before the season opens have a clear understanding with your private landowner of what they expect. If you have a hunting lease, be sure all parties involved have a clear comprehension of the contract. Make sure the landowner has a list of your members so there is no confusion of who will be hunting the property.
During the Season
Always carry out all trash, even what was left by others. Be careful when using all-terrain vehicles and abide by any of the landowner restrictions related to travel on the property. When leaving, make sure all gates are locked and be sure your landowner has a key.
If you are successful, be sure to let your landowner know. Show your appreciation by sharing a portion of your harvest with them. Make sure they are on your holiday card list; some cookies, cake, or pie for Christmas would be another small token to show your appreciation.
Over the past six decades deer and deer hunting have experienced many changes that I have witnessed. Today, hunters who belong to a well-organized hunt club in the heart of some prime wildlife habitat, or those who have the right to hunt private property, should value these opportunities.
When we hunt private property, we should never forget that we are a guest of the landowner and should always treat their property like it’s ours. Being a good steward is one of the most important things we can do to build confidence with the landowner and demonstrate our commitment to the betterment of their land. President Teddy Roosevelt once said, “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased; and not impaired in value.”
We should be mindful that hunting in the Old Dominion is a long-standing American tradition of our freedom that should not be taken for granted. Recognizing that good hunter and landowner relationships are the pillar to ensuring that this opportunity will continue for future generations!
©Virginia Deer Hunters Association. For attribution information and reprint rights, contact Denny Quaiff, Executive Director, VDHA.