“Freestyling” your way to great hunting spots in the countryside.

It’s amazing how many great places you can hunt just by plugging in some small towns in your GPS and hitting the road.  A bit of planning will make it more successful.   My “yes” percentage is quite high at non-manicured homes in rural settings.  I refine this all the time.   It currently runs at around a 70-75% success rate on non-manicured, non-gated country homes.  I suffer from generalized anxiety disorder so it’s especially difficult for me to ask permission.  I’ve developed coping skills that everyone can use for this.

Hundreds of acres of permission

Hundreds of acres of permission

First… go and read Goes4ever’s Permissions FAQ on his site.   I don’t really have a “script” for talking with a homeowner that is better than his.  But I do modify the small talk based on who I’m speaking with.  This cannot be taught… it’s just banter.   I will say this.. IN PERSON IS ALWAYS BEST.   Your chances go to half if you try to use the phone – people just react better that way.  The phone is sometimes required – you cannot drive hours to see if someone is home – but always try to shake their hand.

It’s nice if you have the person’s name and will double your success rate.   While not always possible when freestyling,  this can often be determined from neighbors or via various online resources.  I then add the owners’ names to my Google Earth database or sometimes just in my notebook (I use a moleskine mini-reporter notebook… it’s tough, flips over at the top and is great for making field notes.)

Without getting creepy or overly-slick,  I also try to figure out what they do for a living.  Knowing “he’s a Harley rider” or “Her family has been in that house for generations” gets you off to a good start in small talk.  Remember Google is your friend and McDonalds and many coffee shops have free WiFi and it works fine from the parking lot.   “In my research I saw that you and your wife sometimes speak at the historical society.”

Leave your gear in the car!

Leave your gear in the car!

In Winter:  Save your best permission prospects for longer days.  “Open permission” and ability to return is not guaranteed.  Don’t go out in February and ask permission to hunt an awesome place at 2pm, or you’ll get in about 2 hours of hunting before it gets dark!   I save my top hopeful spots until longer days.  If you’re out and see an amazing spot and it’s getting late, eyeball it to see if someone is home (outside is ideal.)   Pull up and talk with them, asking if you can come by at a later time.  Or, save the GPS coordinates and try to do the research on the place.  Write a date range on your card and tell them you’ll call during that range about a day to come by.

Dress nicely, but hunt-ready.  The key is to be approachable, but not overdressed (or you’ll look like you’re selling something.)  The way I do this is with a fishing shirt and Dickies work pants (Flannel lined in winter.)  These are available around $30 a pair on sale, warm, tough and have “stain release” on them. Have a nice jacket you can put on if your hunting shirt is shabby.  Stop at McDonalds or something and wash your hands before offering it to a little old lady for a handshake.

An honest smile and a bit of banter goes a long way!

An honest smile and a bit of banter goes a long way!

When you knock on the door, leave your gear in the car. Do not have your knife and stuff on your belt.    If you’re walking, leave your gear a distance from the house if security allows.  In super cold weather, it’s awkward to ask the permission owner to keep their door open letting heat out.  So be ready to ask them concisely.  If you step in, make sure to step on the rug.  Recognize they might be nervous, so do what you can to set them at ease.  Play it by ear.

Take secondary roads to towns. Interstates are designed around efficiency, as are GPS systems. Old roads were designed around terrain.   Drive slowly and carefully.  If you want to mark locations, and have a smartphone, use my GPS marking technique while driving – or use whatever your favorite geotagging method is.

Have a hobby card. See my other posts about this.  Don’t “leave the card” except in the most extreme cases – it is not a replacement for a face-to-face and handshake.  If you try to let the card do your work, you’ll fail 95%.   Just use it to legitimize yourself after meeting them and to give them your phone number.  Tell the owner to call your cell number if they need to talk to you during the hunt, and that this is the number they’ll get calls from when you arrive and leave the property.  Handing the card is a great “first action” when people are nervous to … people naturally think “A thief wouldn’t hand me a card.”

These coins were found in 2 hours. Virgin sites like this don't usually just fall in your lap!

These coins were found in 2 hours. Virgin sites like this don’t usually just fall in your lap!

Have plenty of batteries, food, drink, etc... you may get a one-time-only invite for a killer location.  I have backup headphones, digger and pinpointer in my box.  Don’t get halfway through the day and burn sunlight supply yourself.

Bathroom Breaks during hunts.  I don’t recommend asking the owner for the bathroom, ever.  They may be nervous and you may be filthy.  Try to use the john right before you arrive…. just leave and come back if you need to go badly mid-hunt.  Take note as you’re driving of nearby bathrooms, and there are some smartphone apps that list them, too.

Of course situations may be different out in the country where trees / bushes are plentiful (and bathroom’s aren’t.)  Bring whatever supplies make sense, such as wet wipes and toilet paper ;-).  And for goodness’ sake don’t leave a mess where people will find it.  You have a shovel, bury it.   If you’re with someone who needs to really commit to the activity,  let them know that you’re happy to be lookout so they can just use the car as cover on one side (an open door can provide a bit more.)  I’ve done this for female hunting friends.  Ok, enough on that.

Bring Props.  Bring a “finds box” with 7-8 items in it, preferably finds that have a neat story – no matter how valuable.  Your goal is dialogue and rapport.   I include examples of previous finds such as coins, 3-ring bullets and small artifacts.  This makes it concrete what you’re looking for.  I even have coins that are meant to be given away to people I like.  Even some buffaloes for kids.

Research Packets (for those excellent spots.)  Another prop is a neat little pack of research about their area.  It might include the map you’re using and other things (even if you’re not truly using it.)   If you can teach people something about their home or neighborhood, you’ll impress them.

You would not see that place from the Interstate – or know it was a 1800s hang-out.

Don’t leave tracks on the owner’s porch or foyer! (cc) image by oosp on flickr

Leverage the “yes” locations for more “yes” locations.  People know their neighbors, and are often willing to provide you with their name.  I’ve even had people pull out their cell phone on the spot and call the neighbor without me asking.  Permission x2!!!  This is called the network effect and it can supply you with sites for years and years.

Once you’ve hunted in the neighborhood you can then refer to that location/hunt with the next people you hunt with.  “We just had a great time hunting Sam Smith’s place down the road and wanted to ask if I could swing the detector over here for a while?   Sam will have to show you some of the stuff we found for him! ”

Use GPS to record places to come back to.  Keep marking places (I use HandyGPS for this on my phone) that you can come back to.  I import them into Google Earth in a “Prospects” folder.  You can also just take a photo with GPS location tagging on the photo app.

The key here is to have a plan that has courtesy as its core.  Make a good first impression, build a loose social network around the spot, and leverage that to lower the defenses of the property owner by recognizing they may be nervous, and they may have had a bad experience in the past.    Then, form a friendship with the property owner and get an “open permission” to the land.

(road photo -cc- Doug Kerr)


Edits:  See Hugo Borchardt’s excellent post on permissions.