Scott Rall: Hunters, take care to be ethical on private lands

Scott Rall

With many of the year’s hunting seasons just around the corner, I thought it an appropriate time to cover a few things that I feel are critical when trying to get permission to hunt on private lands. These may seem elementary, but I have seen and heard of many situations that ended badly because an individual did not follow common sense hunter rules.

First is never trespass. This bears repeating, never trespass. All agricultural land and land in set aside programs like CRP are considered posted to no trespassing even if there is not a sign that says so. Anytime you want to go set foot on another person’s private land you need permission. There is one exception and it is a narrow one.

If you shoot a rooster and it lands over the fence into private land, you may enter that land to retrieve your game if it is not posted as no hunting/no trespassing. If it is posted, you may not enter to retrieve your game even if it is 10 across the fence. Retrieving a deer or other game on posted lands requires the owner’s permission every time.

Follow this rule and your life will be a lot easier.

So how you go about asking permission on private land? Here are a few tips to improve your odds at getting a yes when asking a landowner. Number one is ask in person. Get a plat map or use a phone app to find out who owns the property and get the address of where they live.


Stop out to that location in early evening or on the weekend. Knock on the door and introduce yourself and ask the question. Know the township and section number of where you want to hunt. Many farmers and ranchers own large expanses of property and they will not likely give you permission for the entire lot.

Tell the owner what you would like to hunt and how many are usually in your party. Pheasant permission is easier to get than deer hunting permission. If the answer is no, say thanks and write the person in a notebook so you can remember to ask them for the next year. A no is not always a no forever.

If the answer is yes, ask the owner if they would like to share in the game you harvest from their lands. Some will take a bird or two or a few rolls of summer sausage from the deer processor. Most will just say no.

If you indicate you normally hunt with one or two other hunters, never take a large group to that spot. This is the very best way to get kicked off the spot for life. Leaving trash around or forgetting to close a gate is also a great way to be asked to leave and not come back.

The golden rule of private lands permission is to understand that that permission might be for one weekend, it might be for that season, but it is never permission to hunt on that property perpetually. Hunting permission is a yearly thing and taking permission for granted is a great way to lose it.

I am running out to Leola, S.D., this weekend to help my cousin John Bender do some farm maintenance. We pull or repair fences. Tree trimming and general clean-up is on the list of things to do.

I do this not only because my cousin is a cool guy, but he also lets me and my friends hunt on the family land the last week of the South Dakota pheasant season. When asking for permission, offer a day’s labor for the privilege. Most other hunters’ won’t, so you will stand out just because you did. It might cost you a day’s labor but a good hunting spot is worth a least that.

On lands you have permission to hunt on, be sure not to shoot close to or in the direction of any buildings or livestock.


Milk cows take poorly to gunshots in close proximity. What if you were to spook the cattle and they ran through a fence? This will always end badly for you and every other hunter that follows in your footsteps in the years to come

Remember, your actions will affect every other hunter who might ask a farmer for permission for the next 30 years. One bad experience might close that person’s private lands to all hunters for the rest of that land owner life.

Hunters need to respect and ensure that all others in their party respect the benefits of private lands hunting permission.

Unethical or slob behavior is not done by hunters. Those people go by a different term I cannot use here. You must choose to be ethical, legal, courteous and display good sportsmanship and leave a good impression.

If you can’t or won’t be that person, then stop calling yourself a hunter and take up a different sport instead. Consider alligator wrestling, All other hunters will be better off for it.

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