Key to gaining access? It starts by asking.
The public piece of land we hunted as the sun was setting on a beautiful South Dakota day looked like it should be an oasis for pheasants on Dec. 16.
This land was set up with a perfect mix of habitat—food plots, tree cover, CRP and cattail sloughs. With about an hour of daylight left, we released the dogs and were a little surprised to see hardly any pheasant sign. Not much for tracks, no birds that took flight. It was a fitting ending to a day where we bagged no birds hunting all public land around Webster.
This is not a column to bash our public land options. Not at all. My father-in-law hunts pheasants in South Dakota every year, almost entirely on public land, and gets plenty of birds. I too have shot roosters off public land in Minnesota and South Dakota.
These are all of our lands and having them at our disposal remains incredibly important as we try to curb the trend of lowering hunter numbers. Why? Because in surveys where people are asked why they no longer hunt, a lack of access is often a primary reason given.
Great public land opportunities are a part of fixing that problem, but they are not the only solution. Most of the land in our area of Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota is private.
The problem with that is there seems to be a popular thought that gaining access to these private lands are impossible if we don't want to drop a bunch of money on a lease. Maybe that's the case in a big-buck state like Iowa, but that notion is not true in areas I frequently hunt.
Is it easy to gain access to private land without having a connection? No. Impossible? Absolutely not. I have gained permission to hunt deer, pheasants and turkeys from people I had never met before in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. The toughest task is getting up the courage to ask.
We simply felt like that was our best chance of getting birds on this recent pheasant hunt to South Dakota. Our game plan after getting shut out on day one was to drive further south on day two. There was a good looking public piece we got to at about 9 a.m. From there, we split up to knock on doors. Craig Aamodt of Cottonwood and I went one direction. Our buddies, Marv Kremin and Dave Reishus, went the other.
In an hour of looking, we gained access to hundreds of acres for the next couple days. That was on a Monday morning when the majority of the landowners we checked with weren't home.
Craig and I teamed up on our first push through some narrow cattails around a big slough, while Marv and Dave hunted similar terrain on another piece of the section. In two hours, we had seven roosters, and easily could have gotten at least 10 if not for some poor shooting.
After lunch at the truck, Craig and I went to a different section about a mile away. It was the kind of piece many would not even bother asking about because of the assumption that it would be a sure "no" from the landowner.
This huge piece had it all—hundreds of acres mixed with CRP, cattails, food plots and a little tree cover. This had to be set up to accommodate hunters with big money, right? Marv was able to gain access to it for three bottles of Crown Royal that would be split up among the guys who managed it. That was a small price to pay for the kind of hunting we ended up having.
We finished out our four-man daily limit on that piece by 3:30 in the afternoon. Marv couldn't hunt the final day, so three of us returned the next morning for a couple hours of hunting before going back to Minnesota.
We were up to six birds in our vests when the dogs reached the end of a CRP field and started working a narrow strip of cattails. A rooster flushed that Craig folded on the first shot. Another took flight before Dave made good on his opportunity.
The rooster hit the ground and disappeared. My 6-month-old black lab, Gus, watched him go down and raced over there. I was working on calling Ole, my 7-year-old lab, off another bird to make the retrieve when Gus stuck his head under a tuft of grass and pulled out the rooster.
It was his first-ever retrieve where he had to find the bird himself. I was busy praising him for his efforts when another rooster flushed from the cattails off of Ole's nose. I took aim and pulled the trigger to finish out our limit.
I don't know if we would have gotten permission on this land in October or November when there is more hunting pressure. I do know the only way to find out is to ask.
We did nothing out of the ordinary to get these permissions. Our message to landowners was simple—we are four guys from Minnesota out here for two days who are looking for some land to hunt pheasants on. We chatted for a while with them and got the OK within a few minutes.
If a lack of land is what's keeping you out of the woods or field, know that it's not impossible to get permission on private acres. You will get rejected. You can also meet some great people and have great hunting and fishing opportunities by simply getting up the courage to ask.