Late last year, my hunting buddies and I learned some troubling news: The land where we’d spent countless hours deer hunting had been sold.
Some of my friends had been tromping around on that land for 40 years or more, and knew it so well, they often talked about specific spots in that peculiar Maine way, referring to roads or trails that used to be there but had disappeared years before.
Since then, we’ve made contact with one of the new landowners and were happy to learn that he plans on keeping the land open to hunters.
I’m lucky in that I have a longtime hunting spot, but many Mainers aren’t so fortunate and regularly find themselves seeking a spot to hunt in a state where 94 percent of the land is privately held.
On Wednesday, I called Rick LaFlamme, the landowner relations specialist for the Maine Warden Service, and asked him if he had any hints for hunters or recreationists seeking to gain permission to access land they don’t own.
The most important thing to avoid: Don’t show up at the last minute — the evening before opening day of deer season, for instance — and expect to get the answer you’re hoping for, he said.
“The best practice is to go way ahead of time,” LaFlamme said.
You may not even know who owns the land you’re trying to access. You can learn that at the local town hall by asking to see the tax maps. In some cases, that landowner may not even live in Maine. But that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook: Asking for permission is a common courtesy, and doing so via phone is better than not doing so at all.
If you’re asking for access in person, making a good first impression is key, LaFlamme said. Dress neatly. Be polite. Have a business card made up so that you can let the landowner know who you are and how they can get in touch with you.
“Be part of that community with them. When you knock on that door, introduce yourself, be professional, be courteous,” LaFlamme said. “And if they say ‘no,’ it’s ‘no.’ Don’t give them a hard time. It’s their property.”
While arguing with a landowner won’t likely change his or her mind if he or she doesn’t want you hunting there, there are ways to convince some folks that you’re the kind of person worth having around.
“There are things you could offer them, even if they say, ‘No,’” LaFlamme said. “If it’s a farmer who’s got some hayfields or some corn or whatever, and you’ve got your kids there, offer to go throw some bales of hay for a day. Offer to go help harvest the corn or to pick up the trash that’s on the property. Or if you’re a trapper, offer to help [the farmer] with the problem skunk he’s got in his yard.”
LaFlamme said that after a season is over, thanking the landowner with a portion of whatever game is harvested is a nice touch. Or a simple thank you gift such as a Christmas wreath is often appreciated.
The key, he said, is to try to build a relationship, instead of just using the landowner for access to his or her land.
“It’s not just an ‘I see you once a year’ [situation]. Make an effort to really befriend them, and [earn their trust] that you’re a steward of their property,” LaFlamme said. “[Help them understand] that by allowing you on their land, they can rest easier.”
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke.
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