For years, I've survived on the generosity of others, getting permission to hunt a piece of land here, a piece of land there, maybe a piece of land somewhere else - all without cash changing hands. Just a signed permission slip, a handshake agreement, maybe help keep unwanted visitors off the land, put up a few posted signs, put up a few gates or cables across logging roads to keep the place private.
But the past four years, we've lost the last three pieces of land where we've done the majority of our hunting for the past 15 years. We hunted deer on one big farm for about 15 years, and that run ended four years ago when the landowner decided he needed to lease the land to recoup higher property taxes and bolster his faltering 401K.
For a couple of years, we had a little piece of property, maybe 80 acres, within 10 minutes of the house, that was a convenient place to hunt deer. The caretaker had given us permission as payback on a favor. Between three of us, despite the best efforts of coyotes, we killed, I think, 11 deer. But we knew going in it was only a short-term deal because the property was destined to be the site of an elementary school and a hospital.
This past October, without warning, we lost the third place, a piece of mountain land that was full of turkeys and home to some huge bucks. We hadn't deer hunted it until 2011, after our first two places dried up, but over a period of 10 years, we'd probably taken better than a dozen turkeys there. My son killed his first gobbler there, and later his biggest gobbler; I had a handful of great hunts and another handful of near misses, and it had become my go-to place.
What happened? The elderly couple who owned the land had died in the past year, leaving a middle-aged son and daughter in charge. It was the son who had first given us permission - we'd met him through real-estate dealings 20 years ago, and my hunting buddy and I steered him plenty of customers and commissions. It was the daughter who'd gone ballistic when one of her sons was dirt-biking one Saturday and rolled past one of our deer stands. She had never known anybody had ever hunted the place, didn't like it, and then pitched a fit to her brother. He asked us, politely and almost apologetically, if we wouldn't disappear for a while. I'm just hoping he gets something worked out before the first turkey gobblers next spring.
My hunting buddy is seeing if he can get us on a farm that his boss at work controls so we can have someplace to deer hunt the rest of the season, and he swears he's seen a flock of longbeards on the property. Still, I can't help thinking that the days where you could get permission to hunt without money changing hands are in our rearview mirrors.