Growing up in Iowa, I’ve witnessed firsthand a dramatic change in the rural landscape (particularly in regards to hunting and fishing) that I knew as a child. It’s really quite astonishing how quickly things have changed in this state in a mere 10-20 years. When I was younger, I had permission to hunt and explore thousands upon thousands of acres in various counties across the state. Seemingly overnight, that situation changed and it became obvious that the days of wandering aimlessly across the countryside were over. No longer was it acceptable to ‘just hunt’. People look at land differently now. ‘No Trespassing’… a phrase we know well these days. Some look at the phrase with contempt. Others don’t abide by it. Some see it as a sign of respect and protection of a resource. In this article, I want to explore a little into the concept of ‘No Trespassing’…. What it means to me, what it means to Iowa nowadays, and maybe just interject a little food for thought into what I’ve come to realize land access is becoming…. a ‘Sportsman’s Darwinism’.
Laying the Framework
If you’ve been around Iowa for very long, you’ve undoubtedly experienced and noticed what HAS happened over the years: —- the changing demographic of landowners (landowners from out of state… landowners from the city… landowners that don’t farm…. landowners that don’t know squat about farming…), the changing attitude to which private property is owned…how it is utilized by sportsman…. how it is monitored, protected, and policed. It was like a light switch flipped and people realized that the phrase, ‘They aren’t making any more land’ is absolutely true… Land (particularly ‘rough ground’) was finally recognized as a scarce commodity, a limited resource, something that is finite… and in Iowa, something that is limited enough to spark a fierce competition for access to recreate on.
A ‘No Trespassing’ Tidal Wave
When I was growing up, most of the land I hunted was owned by local row-crop and cattle farmers…… Everyone knew each other in most of these smaller Iowa communities. Land was owned as a means of making a living… it supported the owner’s way of life. If you wanted to go shoot some pheasants, catch some fish, or try and kill a deer (especially with a bow… which was unusual), then all you had to do was ask, and it was fine. There was an implied trust among the communities because they all knew each other… pretty laid back. It’s not that people didn’t hunt, it’s that people had a different attitude about it. Even just 10 years ago, this was true in many areas… still is true in some areas, but change is blatantly evident in most of the state now.
There are likely a whole host of things to attribute to the land access ‘denial’ that we see so often these days. At the root of it all, I believe it’s a side-affect of the world getting smaller. No doubt about it, the world has shrunk! (Not literally of course). The information superhighway (a.k.a. the internet and such), combined with the general diversification of the way people live their lives, has effectively put a wide range of ‘irons in the fire’ in regard to land ownership and usage. In much of Iowa, people that own land, use land, and control land, are much different now than 20 years ago. Go to a plat map and try to put a finger on which landowners live where, what their careers are, etc. …… It’s hard to do! With a wide array of land buyers/owners/users/managers comes a wide array of attitudes and actions as to whether a property is/should be accessible to others, which essentially means that more and more people are being displaced to the other side of the ‘no trespassing’ signs.
Personally, I don’t know a single person that hunts in Iowa that hasn’t lost ground that they hunted in the past, and I don’t know a single person that isn’t at least a little bit bummed out about it. It has happened to everyone, young and old. As land switches hands, and as more and more people are pressuring for access, the ability to obtain that access becomes harder and harder, BUT not impossible. We just have to adapt.
Its no secret most hunters are reluctant to change their ways. I know I am…. I don’t like change. Why would I want to change something that has given me enormous opportunity in the past…. hunting amazing property in Iowa? I’d be happy to be able to hunt every farm that I grew up hunting…. But I can’t, and it’s really no fault of my own, it’s just a bi-product of the land diversification. As sportsmen, we are at a crossroads these days. Adapt or die…. Darwin’s theory…. How do we adapt to a changing environment? How do we adapt to land being increasingly difficult to access? We can either get bummed out, or we can find a way to survive. Personally, I love hunting way too much to roll over. The solution really… is simply to recognize the change and increase our efforts.
I know it’s difficult to accept that we might have to put forth increased efforts to do something that is supposed to be, at it’s core, a purely FUN undertaking. I’m not saying don’t have fun. All I’m saying is it might take added effort to sustain the fun…. Good or bad I suppose. If you think about it, is there really anything in life that we can slack off doing and continue to enjoy infinitely? Nothing is handed to us, as well it shouldn’t… But I digress….
Here is what I’ve found to be my niche into the current way of life as a sportsman, a ‘strategy’ that I’ve found has gotten me access to properties rather than losing them, and what I believe will help me survive doing what I love. It’s simple; Wear a Lot of Hats.
Solution: Wear a Lot of Hats
In my job selling land and consulting landowners, I am forced to wear many different hats on a day-day basis. It was a truth only recognized after visiting and working with a ton of different players in the land ownership and management business. Everybody is different. I’m not sure why it took me so long to realize that blatantly obvious fact about humans, but it is so so true. Not only is everyone different, but oftentimes they have different opinions than I do on things… WOW!! SHOCKER!! Coming from a stubborn person, believe me when I say that was a hard truth to swallow… somebody having a different opinion than I did, but once I actually accepted that truth, it opened up my eyes to why land is tougher to access nowadays. There are just a hugely diverse number of opinions from the people in control of land. Each person has his or her own unique reason for keeping you out, so why not figure out what those reasons are and work to get past that barrier? Sometimes it’s difficult. Other times it’s much simpler than perceived to be.
Develop the Relationship(s)
It sounds somewhat funny to say that you have to develop a relationship with the people in control of a property, but it’s true. It probably sounds like I’m advocating putting on a false persona as well, but I’m not saying that at all. All I’m saying is there is a truth behind land access that has been around for a long time, and that is TRUST. Find a common interest… make the connection… be a human being, and gain their trust.
Think back to what I discussed earlier in the blog. Landowners come from many different areas with many different backgrounds nowadays. It’s not as simple as knocking on ‘Farmer Joe’s’ door to gain access and trust, and to have that trust reciprocated through other landowners…. Neighbors don’t know each other as well anymore. It’s amazing how often I speak to landowners that don’t know their neighbor… mind boggling in my opinion but that is just the way it is now.
There isn’t a blanket scenario that applies to every property. And I know that it isn’t as black and white as this blog may paint the picture to be, but there is truth behind the logic. You may run into some bad apples from time to time, but it never hurts to step out of your comfort zone and get into the world of the landowners in today’s landscape.
One landowner might live in Chicago… find a way to connect. Another might live on the farm itself…. Find a way to gain their trust, and start small. I have properties that I’ve been communicating with the landowner for years and haven’t hunted their properties. Gaining access to hunt relies on so much more than the hunting itself. It’s about being a human being, learning about the individuals themselves, and developing a relationship. Hunting is just a sidebar to how we live our lives and interact with other people.
Ever think about accessing a property from a landowner that doesn’t allow hunting at all? Why would you want to do that? Well, I’ve seen that scenario actually play out. A connection was made, a trust was gained, and even though the property isn’t being hunted itself, the person can now access it to shed hunt, run cameras, utilize as a sanctuary while hunting the neighboring parcels…. All on a farm that has never before been accessible to anyone.
On the flip side, suppose a landowner bought a farm solely to deer hunt on? Suppose it was a farm you’ve hunted your whole life… and it bums you out to no end that you can’t access it anymore? Should you just roll over and die? Absolutely not…. You can’t control who buys a farm unless you own it, so make peace with it, take the steps to connect to the new landowner, and find a way to fit into their management scheme.
Just because we can’t access every property in the county freely anymore doesn’t mean that we have to be shut out from doing what we love to do. You never know what opportunities might present themselves one day if you step out of the comfort zone, meet new people, learn from others, and prove be a good, honest person (which I firmly believe is a defining characteristic of sportsmen in general). So, like I said, wear a lot of hats, get involved, and the ‘No Trespassing’ barriers will start to open up!