MRMT # 225: Do It Yourself Hunting – with a Little Help & Overview
Here is a way to hunt private land and not pay the large expense to hire a guide. Paying a trespass fee to a rancher allows hunters to conduct a “do-it-yourself” hunt, access a great place to hunt and keep expenses at a minimum.
When a Montana hunter and his son want to hunt mule deer they decide on a “do-it-yourself” hunt. They reasoned that if they could gain access to good hunting ground they could do the rest themselves. Prior to the hunt they located a rancher who would give them access to good hunting land. They took a guided tour of the ranch and got some advice from the ranch owner about how to conduct the hunt. Both men achieved their goals during the hunt.
MRMT #225: Do-it-Yourself Hunting…With a Little Help
Bob Johnson from Bozeman, MT wanted to take his son, Jeremy, to eastern Montana to hunt white tail deer along the Missouri River breaks, but he didn’t want to pay a guide. He thought that if he could secure access to hunt on good private hunting ground then his experience in the field could make it work from there.
Both men had hunted deer for many years throughout the United States including western Montana, but they had never hunted the eastern plains. Bob’s ultimate dream was to hunt for big whitetail deer in Montana – Jeremy just wanted to shoot a deer.
After some research they found plenty of public land and public access, but they also knew from past experience that public land can be crowded with hunters. This time they decided to spend more time locating where they wanted to hunt and try to find some private land with access to good deer. They decided to stay in a motel and take their meals at restaurants in town to keep expenses down. This would cost less than hiring a guide or outfitter to hunt whitetail.
There are a number of outfitters who will provide hunting access to private ranches. The areas are good, but they can get even better when heavy hunting pressure on public land pushes deer onto limited access private land. Private ranches offer deer security cover, water and a good supply of alfalfa, corn and hay.
Many times outfitters have access to more land than they have clients to hunt so they allow do-it-yourself hunters to pay a trespass fee to access the land without offering lodging or meals during their hunt. Additionally, some ranchers don’t allow outfitters to have access to their ranches, but they will allow individual hunters access to their land after charging them a trespass fee. Most of the do-it-yourself hunters enjoy a high success rate while hunting deer under this arrangement.
After watching newspaper ads and checking the internet for leads they found opportunities, but none offered private land whitetail hunting. One Saturday morning they drove from Bozeman to eastern Montana where most of the land was made up of private ranches with little or no National Forest land. It was time to knock on doors to make connections in the area where they wanted to hunt. Bob was convinced that this was the way to go. They visited a few ranch houses before they got the hang of it, but most of the people were friendly and offered suggestion even if they couldn’t allow them to hunt.
They drove up to a ranch house which had farming equipment and cattle corrals that suggested that it was a big ranch. The main house backed up to a river bottom – things looked good.
They were greeted with a smile and explained what they were looking for. The rancher looked at them then said,” You’re from Bozeman you say. I have a sister who lives in Bozeman – big town. That’s why I like it out here. I don’t hunt and my wife likes seeing the deer come up in the back yard in the winter, but I have 12,000 acres and there’s a lot more river bottom than that behind my house. How about I charge you a trespass fee of $300 each and I’ll take you for a ride and show you the fences. There are some pockets in the bottoms where the whitetails stay all the time. No one ever goes back there so they have no reason to leave. I guided on my land for years then I got older. I don’t enjoy the early morning cold and the work involved. Guiding was the only job I ever just quit.”
For the next two hours the rancher drove them around looking for the best places to hunt whitetail deer while they glassed the draws and river bottoms. They were amazed at the number of big mule deer that popped up as they traveled. The whitetails were in the river bottoms and it took cross-pasture travel to get to them so they certainly wouldn’t spook out before the opening day of the season.
The rancher recommended a place for them to hunt on opening morning – it was a deep river bottom that was thick with tangled trees. It appeared to be an oasis in the dry land with a spring in the bottom that fed through the pasture and into the river.
He said, “All of the animals in the area visit this spring either during the day or after dark. It’s the only water available for miles around other than my stock tanks. If the two of you would sit at each end of this bottom you’ll see most of the deer in the area.”
On opening morning Bob shot a nice whitetail buck and Jeremy shot the first deer he saw which was a nice mule deer. The two hunters regretted not waiting to see more of the deer that were in the area.
Jeremy said to his Dad, “That was money well spent and that rancher is great, but there is one thing I would like to do next year. Next year you hold my bullet and I’ll hold yours until noon on the first day. There were some big bucks in here that will keep me from shooting too soon.”
Tips: land access is available, but you have to search for it. Check the classified ads in newspapers, web sites and other media to find these opportunities. You may even knock on a ranch door to see if the owner will allow you to hunt after paying a trespass fee. Ask the ranchers you contact if they know of any neighbors who allow hunting on their ranches. It’s much easier for a Montana hunter to get permission to hunt from a Montana rancher than it is for a non-resident to get permission.
Asking permission to hunt is one thing and being willing to pay a trespass fee to get onto premium land is much easier. In our “down” economy money talks so you’ll probably get the rancher’s attention when you offer to pay a trespass fee. Putting a few hundred dollars in his pocket could open the door to getting the “royal” treatment.
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