Access. According to surveys, access or lack thereof is one of the biggest impediments to hunter recruitment and retention.

Finding a place to hunt is intimidating to a new hunter, and holding onto the ones you have is a daunting challenge to a veteran. I’ve been hunting Cumberland County for nigh onto 30 years now and on average, lose about one hunting spot every year. The good news is while it hasn’t been a one-to-one exchange, I’ve been able to lessen those losses with occasional gains. Accessible hunting grounds are out there if you know where to look.

For me and my hunting partners, the process used to consist largely of studying topographical maps, driving back roads and tromping woods. Once we found the right habitat we had a place to hunt.

With more land being sold, developed or posted that’s not so easy anymore, especially in southern Maine. Though Maine has a long-standing tradition of implied consent, there’s nothing in the law books to support that, and state agencies strongly encourage hunters to ask permission for access to unposted private land.

PUBLIC LAND

Public Land sometimes gets a bad rap, much of which is carried in from other states where public lands are often overcrowded and in many cases under-managed or not managed as wildlife habitat. Overcrowding, at least, isn’t necessarily the case in Maine. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife manages over 100,000 acres, aggregated into 62 Wildlife Management Areas.

The Bureau of Parks and Lands coordinates management on another 600,000 acres of state lands. Nearly all of this is open to public hunting. So are thousands of acres in National Wildlife Refuges, National Forests and parts of some Monuments. Most of this land is up north, but there are a few pockets in central and southern Maine, if you do your homework. Keep in mind that municipalities often own land as well, much of which is (has to be) open to public access.

SCOUT, LOOK, FIND

As our search for hunting grounds grew more sophisticated, my pals and I visited town offices and scoured tax maps for ownership information. Thanks to modern technology, that often tedious process has become much simpler. No more trips to the town office on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 1 and 4 p.m. to try to match plat maps with aerial photos or pencil marks on paper maps.

One of the most useful apps I’ve found and use daily during hunting season, is ScoutLook – www.scoutlookweather.com. On a base map of satellite imagery, users can overlay all kinds of information like the location of rubs, scrapes, deer trails, treestands and camera stations. Select a location with your cursor and the app will give you a brief weather summary as well as show a scent cone indicating where your scent will blow should you choose to hunt there. The app’s newest feature also shows property lines. Select a parcel and tap on the info button, and the app will tell you ownership and acreage.

TRUST THE LOCALS

Perhaps the most overlooked source of public access is your local land trust. These non-governmental, nonprofits own outright or hold conservation easements on hundreds, in some cases thousands of acres of public, quasi-public and private land, most of which is accessible to the public. And despite what many think, much of this land is open to hunting or with permission of the landowner, trust or municipality.

Any lands that use public funding must allow public access. While many trust lands use public funds to partially fund purchases, long-term leases, easements and maintenance, most funding to purchase land and access comes from donations of private citizens who use these properties.

Like it or not, fee access is the future. In most places outside northern New England, it’s the present. If you don’t own or lease private land you have to pay to access it. And increasingly more public lands charge an access fee. You may sense resistance or resentment at first, but compare the cost of a season’s state park pass or a year’s membership in a local land trust to a single movie ticket or the gate fee at the local fair and it’s a mere pittance.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer, registered Maine guide and certified wildlife biologist who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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