IF TEXAS WANTS to retain its hunting heritage and rightful reputation as a hunter-friendly state, its sportsmen must reacquaint themselves with how to conduct themselves on other people’s land.
Up front, I know that presenting this piece to the readers of Texas Fish & Game truly is like preaching to a pitch-perfect choir. I know that you know.
However, to protect your own leases, and ultimately the leases of your children who follow you into the hunting lifestyle, you’d best learn this sermon and preach it loudly. There’s a handful of folks who could ruin the lessee-lessor relationship for us all.
We know that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, try as it might, can never provide enough public-land hunting opportunities to satisfy all of its hunters. It tries, and does a pretty good job, but can only do so much in a state that’s almost entirely private property.
We know that, here in Texas, landowners can charge whatever the market will bear for hunting access. It’s worth noting that in Canada, you can hunt on private property with permission from the landowner—but without any exchange of money.
Landowners can’t legally charge you to hunt on their land, and you cannot legally pay them to hunt on their land. That said, there’s no harm in showing up to ask permission with flowers for the farmer’s wife or a fresh-baked pie for the farmer’s family. Been there, done that.
Down where we hunt, most of us forego pies and flowers for formal lease agreements, including significant amounts of money, with landowners. Leases have gotten longer over the years, too, thanks to landowners being sued by their lease-holding hunters. I’m sure there have been some legitimate cases of landowner negligence, but I’m equally sure what’s caused leases to get longer is frivolous suits filed by hunters whose own negligence caused them to be hurt.
It’s a ranch. While on a ranch—most any working ranch—you can expect to come across things that might scratch you, cut you, bite you, break you or otherwise hurt you. You’re leasing a ranch, not a beach house.
Lease prices, where you can find a decent opportunity, are rising faster than biscuits in an overheated oven. In fact, quite unfortunately, they’ve escalated to a point where many Texans have been wallet-whipped into submission and quit hunting altogether. Not because they lost interest, but because they couldn’t afford a place to hunt.
That should never have happened in a state so large with so much open ground, but it has. To a small degree, hunters brought it on themselves.
A minority still walk among us who don’t understand that access to private property, no matter how much you paid, is not an invitation to tear the place up like a drunken rock band in a hotel room.
Manners and respect get cast aside by people who think lease money covers damages. It doesn’t. It’s not a rental deposit. Those few bad apples are making it harder for the rest of us apples to find hunting leases.
The list is long of things that can either get you an invitation not to let the gate hit you in your back pocket on the way out or a welcome back next season. Here, in no particular order, are a few slices of that list.
TRASH: Actually, that’s a big one. On any hunting lease, when you leave it, there should be no physical signs of your presence other than boot prints and maybe a barrel of burned trash. Protein bar wrappers don’t fall from the sky onto trails between roads and stands. Neither do water bottles. Neither does toilet paper. Spent shotgun shells don’t pile themselves along fence rows. If you carry it out, bring it back. Or, as appropriate and allowed, bury it.
GATES: Most ranchers can tell you at any moment whether a specific gate on their place is open or shut—and why. Don’t do the rancher a favor by closing open gates. Leave open gates open and closed gates closed.
For bonus points, if you pass through an open gate, leave it that way and contact the landowner to make sure it’s supposed to open.
FENCES: Animals tear up fences. If you find a breach in the wire, notify the landowner. Don’t throw a couple of sticks in the hole and forget it.
For bonus points, offer to repair it (and have the tools to do so).
ROADS: Just because your ATV can navigate muddy roads doesn’t mean you should be on them. Before the season, get clear instructions from the landowner as to where you can and cannot go in vehicles that are likely to leave deep ruts in their slushy wakes.
Bonus points are earned by offering to drag or grade ranch roads at the end of a wet season.
PREDATORS: Lots of us enjoy predator hunting, and most of us can hardly resist knocking down wild pigs. Before you start drilling bobcats and coyotes, and even hogs, take the landowner’s pulse about where and when and how many of those animals you can take.
Bonus points are earned by keeping a head count on predator sightings and offering those stats to the landowner.
CLEARING BRUSH: Hunters value clear lines of sight, but a paper lease doesn’t give you the right to clear another man’s land. Strategic limbs here and there, yes. Felling trees to get a better view of your corn feeder, no. To stay in good graces, ask before cutting and offer to use your tools to clear something the rancher wants cleared.
Texas, as major landowners die and leave their parcels to multiple children, is getting smaller. Worse for hunters, many folks who inherit land these days are lawsuit-shy—with good reason—and uninterested in leasing their place at any price.
Be patient if you’re looking for a good lease. They’re available, but they don’t become that way often.
If you already have one, stay friendly with your landowner. Maybe send that family a pecan pie a couple of times a year.
Email Doug Pike at [email protected]