Few things in this world compare with a great hunting lease, but nothing compares with the sucker punch that comes with losing one, especially when you least expect it.
Let’s face it – the going rate for prime hunting real estate in Texas is just that – with prices continuing to rise for a variety of reasons and no real end in sight as to just how high they might escalate.
Drought is hard on the pocketbooks of farmers and ranchers looking to make extra money off their family spreads and there are plenty of folks out there from the suburbs who gladly will pay more than you can afford to have their own slice of back-pasture paradise. Outfitters also looking to capitalize always seem to find the right things to say – usually with the accompanying help of zeros on the end of a check – to lock up more acreage that they too can charge a premium price to hunt.
Now that we’ve put another deer season in the books, it’s time to move on to the biggest responsibility for next fall and winter: provide your landowner with the most genuine and heartfelt “thank you” that you may ever muster. After all, the big city boys may already have come calling with their billfolds, and an offer that can’t be refused could be on a kitchen table somewhere.
If you’ve never lost a lease, consider yourself lucky because you certainly are in the minority. One of the best family leases we ever had in Central Texas was lost simply because the landowner’s friends could offer a few hundred dollars more per person for the season. However, the burden of losing that place was lessened somewhat by the fact that the landowner’s grandson had shot the biggest buck any of us had seen in those parts, while not giving his grandfather a dime to hunt during the same time we were on the place.
While that scenario may be somewhat different than others in the loss of a lease, I’ve also heard numerous tales of hunters who forgot their manners in every dealing they had with those who played host to their adventures. That kind of behavior typically doesn’t last long and isn’t tolerated by anyone I know who leases their land for the privilege of enjoying outdoor pursuits. Those conversations which usually involve some form of “My money is all the thanks they need” is far from the message you should be conveying, and any responsible hunter knows that.
I’ve known plenty of hunters who fell into that category, but I’ve also known many more who were genuine and sincere in their regards for their annual hosts. And without them, you and I likely don’t get to enjoy the bounty of wildlife that Texas lands produce.
Landowners bear the burden. They plant rows of crops, keep water sources flowing where they can and do all the necessary chores to keep fruitful lands in that condition. They also pay the taxes, whether it’s measured in hard work and sweat or dollar figures and bank drafts. They live there, you just spend time there.
I can remember every dove hunt I went on when I was a youngster. Some involved the transfer of funds and some didn’t. Either way, my father always stopped by the landowner’s house or gave them a call soon after we left the field. The conversations had numerous tangents, whether it was discussing the local talent playing college football, touting how quickly the children were growing or simply chatting about how the birds were flying that day.
There’s a good lesson there: it’s just old-fashioned manners, and it works in your favor more than you may realize.
Our current family deer lease has more mesquites, cactus and truck-rattling rocks per square mile than possibly any other locale in the state, but it also has some pretty good low-fence whitetails. Our landowner has had offers for more money to lease the acreage, and likely will have more, but he’s also a West Texan cut from the same cloth as those of previous generations. He is honest, even about those other people trying to cut in on the place by upping the ante from time to time. But he’s also loyal, offering the chance to stay on for a modest price increase. He and his wife also make sure to bring tamales and other goodies when we make our big annual foray to the place. They also try to drive from their home almost an hour away to say hello in person at least once. How many landowners do you know who do that?
With folks like that, it’s real easy to become attached, offering them minor tokens of appreciation during the year such as fish and game from other successful outings or even just a few family photos and an update about what’s going on near and far in everyone’s lives.
There always is the possibility that there could come a day when we’re hunting for another hunting lease, but I’d like to think that even a little common courtesy can and will go a long way in maintaining a good relationship.
You owe it to yourself and your landowner to do something courteous today, even as the memories from another hunting season remain fresh on your mind.
It might just lead to more memories next season that might have never happened otherwise.