Hunting 101: Part 1 – Finding Land To Hunt

By Johnny Mack

This last weekend Washington Backcountry had the pleasure of hunting mule deer with a new hunter who reached out to us for some help and guidance.  It was the first time that we had the opportunity to practice what we preach when it comes to mentoring new and prospective hunters.

Before our weekend trip to Eastern Washington, we sat down with Shawn over a nice meal and got to know him.  He shared with us that he has hunted a little and had some encounters with birds, but never successfully for big game.  When it came time to find a four legged critter in the woods, he spent most of his time taking long nature hikes with a weapon in tow.

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Shawn enjoying his time on OUR public lands

One of the first questions that Shawn had was,  “Where can you hunt in Washington?”  For those of you who are reading this that have multiple years of hunting experience, don’t forget that the answer to where you can hunt is not obvious.  The fine details of hunting and public land usage is not taught in public schools.  So where are people supposed to learn?  This is where we can help.

We explained that any state forest, Bureau of Land Management land (BLM), Department of Natural Resources land (DNR), national forest, and wilderness areas are available for public access and hunting.  The one caveat would be municipal laws regarding shooting firearms or types of firearms (which for the most part would not apply since the lands listed above are typically removed from urban areas).  Be sure to check local hunting regulations for specifics.  Access to public lands varies from state to state.  The one thing to know is that public land is available to use for everybody.  The same trail that you would use for a weekend hike is the same one you could use to get where you want to hunt.  Last year I shot my bear in front of 3 day hikers.  They were shocked and so was I, but what better way to get an education about public lands and hunting than to experience it first hand.

Access To Public Lands

Not all public land is accessible by motor vehicle.  In the state of Washington, most state lands are gated to prevent motor vehicle access.  The best way to get out and learn the lay of the land is to see it for yourself.  In the hunting world we call it “burning boot leather.”  You do not have to drive to get a feel for an area.  One helpful hint is to invest in a mountain bike.  It is much quicker to mountain bike a road than it is to walk it.

The other thing to remember is any trail head that leads into public lands is free game for you to use while hunting.  You might get some odd looks by day hikers or people unfamiliar with hunting, but this is where you as a hunter have the opportunity to be an ambassador for what you do.  Most people fear what they do not know.  If you can help educate others while pursuing your passion, it is a win win.

Access To Private Timber Company land

Out west there are multiple private timber companies that provide opportunities for hunting and recreating.  Each timber company has their own requirements for accessing their land.  Some allow public access for free and allow motor vehicle access.  Others require you to pay fees for permits to access their land. Paying to hunt is always an option for those who are looking for land to access.

Access To Private Land

Finding private land to hunt may be one of the most uncomfortable things to do for most people.  It can be somewhat awkward walking up and knocking on a strangers door to ask permission to hunt their land.  A few helpful tips that can go a long way are:

  1.  Ask permission when it is not hunting season.
  2. Do not wear camouflage when knocking on doors.  Dress to impress (within reason).
  3. Not everyone is a hunter.  Use language that is going to help (i.e. harvest rather than kill).
  4. Be polite and respectful.  You will be told no more often than yes.
  5. Offer to help the land owner with projects.
  6. Don’t be afraid.
  7. Start small and work your way up.  They might not let you hunt deer but they might let you hunt small game.

The other thing to know is that some private land is accessible to the public through different means.  In the state of Washington, certain land owners list their property on the department of fish and wildlife as accessible.  Some are listed as “feel free to hunt” while others are “must have written permission to hunt.”  There is even “register to hunt” lands listed.  Just be sure to on check what type of hunting is allowed as well as checking to see if scouting is permitted.

Private land accessible to the public
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Using one of many public hiking trails to access public lands
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Screenshot of OnX Hunt App

Who Owns What

After Shawn learned about what type of land was available to hunt he followed up with, “But how do I find where those are located?”

One of the best new companies in the hunting industry is OnX Maps & Hunt app.  If you are unfamiliar with OnX, they created a mapping software that gives specific and up to date information of land ownership and public access.  It is a subscription based GPS service for their web and phone app formats, but they also offer a memory card option to be used with GPS devices, such as Garmin.  Their subscription is offered in two different ways.  A single state subscription for which they refer to as their premium subscription is $29.99 annually.  Their elite membership is for all 50 states and is $99.99 annually.  For those that are skeptical about the importance and usefulness of their product, they offer a free 7 day trial of one state.

After sharing the information with Shawn, he felt confident in being able to find accessible land for hunting.  The next step once you know where to hunt is the knowledge in finding animals.  We will be addressing the topic of finding animals on part 2 of this series.

If you have any questions or want to know more, feel free to email us by using the contact link from the menu or direct message us on Instagram @washington_backcountry.  Thanks for reading.  For more helpful tips and insight on how to hunt be sure to check out our “This is how I hunt” series.

Enjoying our public lands

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