by Emily Lamb
One of most common questions heard from hunters is a simple one: where can I hunt?
While Alberta has some of the best hunting opportunities in North America, navigating the ins and outs of land access can be overwhelming. Let’s look at how we can make Alberta’s huntable land feel more accessible.
For simplicity’s sake, we can categorize land that can be hunted into two groups:
Private land is land someone owns, and you need their permission to use it. Easy enough. But permission from renters, friends, or employees is not always valid. For this reason, every private land hunter should acquire written permission if possible. This will mitigate any misunderstandings or legal risk.
Public land is the property of the people of Alberta. Under the management of the government and other public agencies, the rights to use the raw materials on this land can be leased out. For example, ranchers can pay for the right to graze their cattle, or oil companies can pay for the right to install and maintain wells. This is where the common term “lease land” comes from. Since these entities don’t own the land—they’re paying for the exclusive right to resources—there can be multiple users in one area. For instance, think of a logging road leading to a clearing with an oil well, where cows graze and people camp.
There are also large portions of public land kept pristine and not touched industrially. Your taxes pay for public land, and while you have the inherent right to access most of it, you do require the appropriate permits or licences (e.g., camping passes, hunting licenses, etc.) to use its resources.
With many different types of public land and leases, certain designations of the land or rights of the leaseholder may restrict your access. In most cases, you must ask the leaseholder before entering the lease to hunt. Contact information is typically found on signage, county maps, or referenced in such resources as Alberta Conservation Association’s listing of Conservation Sites (www.albertadiscoverguide.com/).
To better understand legal reasons a leaseholder may deny access, you can find information on the Government of Alberta website. If you are unsure whether you can hunt a piece of public land, the best and most certain way to clear up any questions is to contact your local Fish and Wildlife or County Office. While it sounds like some extra steps, don’t let it turn you off—60% of Alberta’s land is public, allowing ample opportunity for all users!
There are benefits to hunting both types of properties. Public land can offer vast tracts to explore that don’t require permission. Much of it is home to species that may not be as prevalent on private land, such as bighorn sheep. Often there is the option to camp, harvest and forage multiple species—an opportunity to make an experience of it all.
Though private land accounts for a smaller portion of the province, hunting opportunities can be greater, due to the fact that users are limited and harvest opportunity is more abundant. If you have good communication with the landowner, you can also mitigate potential misunderstanding by knowing about other users or potential hazards. Landowners sometimes provide insightful information about the wildlife you’re seeking.
When using land that is privately owned, it’s extremely important to remember someone has allowed you access to their home and livelihood. This is a privilege. Treat it with the utmost respect. Taking advantage of landowners affects the outlook on hunters, jeopardizing access for ALL users.
It’s a very valuable yet touchy subject—asking permission. In our day and age, this seems to cause more stress than it used to. With all the convenient options of communication available, it can be confusing or intimidating to know how to reach out to a stranger. Our first instinct is to take the easy way, finding a phone number or email to secure at sweet spot without having to risk an awkward in-person encounter. This may work with previous connections or extra trusting landowners. But generally? The easy way is not the best way.
Think of it this: would you allow someone you’ve never met into your backyard with a gun? The simple fact is if you have time to scout and hunt the area, you have time to knock on someone’s door and ask permission.
Landowners often make their feelings about access obvious through physical barriers and signage. However, even without these indicators, some landowners may still not want strangers on their property. More often though, you’ll find people are understanding and even grateful to see lawful hunters. When it comes to asking permission to be on someone’s land, nothing ventured, nothing gained!
You may not always be able to find the landowner. Apps or county maps can increase your success of locating the right person to ask, but due to legalities, can’t provide you with contact information. In this case, neighbours, phonebooks and the internet are resources that may help point you in the right direction. Again, try not to get frustrated and understand these challenges are part of a landowner’s right to privacy. It may be a bit of work but is all a necessary part of scouting private land, where you just might get exclusive access to the animal of your dreams.
Like many scenarios, you get what you put in when it comes to the art of access. A bit of research, some gas, and a few kms are all part of getting closer to filling your tags!