Opportunities to hunt private lands
With the spring turkey season underway and other hunting seasons approaching, you may be scouting for a place to hunt. With more than half the state’s land privately owned, the options sometimes seem limited. If you do your homework in advance though, there are opportunities to hunt privately-owned lands through WDFW’s private lands program. Please keep in mind that public access to private lands is a privilege — not a right- and abuse like in the photo below could ruin this opportunity for all of us.
Private lands biologists are located across the state. They work with landowners and provide technical assistance to maintain and enhance fish and wildlife habitat. One part of their job is to develop and maintain relationships with private landowners so that you can have the opportunity to hunt their land. This gives the hunter a better chance at hunting success as there is often less hunting pressure on private land than public. Hunting helps the landowner manage wildlife populations and reduce potential damage to crops from hungry deer or elk. For WDFW, private land hunting means distributed hunting pressure and healthier wildlife populations.
In Washington, huntable private land ranges from large swaths of farm and ranch lands to private industrial timber land, and even wetlands and water access sites. Lands enrolled in the program are as small as five acres and as large as tens of thousands of acres.
No matter the size, if you hunt private property, remember that many landowners depend on their land for their livelihood and may have justifiable concerns over allowing strangers on their property. Please respect landowner’s rules and minimize your impact on the land. Leave things as your found them (which includes closing gates that were closed or leaving gates open that were open), park in designated areas, and ask if it is okay to field dress an animal on their property. Be sure to pack out what you pack in.
Unless you have specific permission in advance, activities that aren’t acceptable on private hunting properties include: target shooting and sighting in your firearm, starting camping or cook fires, and driving off-road.
Funding for WDFW’s Private Lands Program comes from several sources. Staff time is supported largely by Pittman Robertson funds, a federal excise tax collected from the sale of firearms and ammunition that is matched with hunting license revenue.
Landowners who qualify for payments and enroll in access programs are paid out of the Voluntary Public Access — Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) grant awarded from the Natural Resource Conservation Service. There are also other Farm Bill Programs that provide support to landowners that may also involve payments for maintaining habitat and providing access. There are also nonprofits, conservation districts, and conservation organizations that improve wildlife habitat on private land.
WDFW offers four kinds of private land hunting opportunities:
· Feel Free to Hunt- WDFW has a management agreement with the owner to provide public access for hunting. If the property is posted as Feel Free to Hunt, hunters do not need to secure permission, they can access the property at their convenience. Click the link to see a list of Feel Free to Hunt properties across the state.
· Register to Hunt- WDFW’s agreements with owners of these properties requires hunters to sign-in to hunt, then sign-out afterwards. Some have a limit on how many people can use the property at one time. A list of Register to Hunt properties is at the link.
· Hunt by Written Permission- Hunters must contact the landowner to obtain written permission before using these properties. Signs with the owner’s name and contact information are posted onsite so hunters know how to reach the owner. Statewide Hunt by Written Permission opportunities are at the link.
· Hunt by Reservation- To use this program, hunters must create an online account using their WILD ID, then make a reservation in advance through the online system to hunt a property. Permits are issued on a first-come, first-served basis and reservation dates become available two weeks prior to the day of the hunt. Hunt by Reservation properties and information is at the link.
Some ways to make sure you will be welcomed back to private hunting properties in future years is to pick up litter while hunting, offer a helping hand around the property, or share some of your harvested game meat.
Remember that hunters who choose to disobey signs or cause damage to private property may result in the loss of public access.