By Russell A. Graves
More than 94 percent of Texas’ 171 million acres is privately owned. Because of the minuscule amount of public land in Texas, most hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities take place on private land. Users pay a trespass fee—usually referred to as a lease—for the privilege of access. Protecting that privilege and maintaining a good relationship with the landowner takes effort. The following tips can help keep your landowner happy.
Respect the land as if it were your own.
When you invite people into your home, you expect them to treat it with respect. Let that concept be your guide as you tread upon land that belongs to someone else. Garry Mills owns a spread in northeast Texas that he season-leases for duck and hog hunting. “The cattle, people, wildlife and land are all tied together on my ranch, and I like people who recognize that relationship and respect it,” she said.
The golden rule of leasing is not to do anything on someone else’s property you wouldn’t want done on yours.
Stay on established roads. Ranchers spend thousands of dollars to build and maintain roads throughout their ranches. The reason for roads is twofold: to give ranchers access to remote parts of their ranch and to maintain the integrity of the pastures they carefully manage.
Royce Siebman, a retired conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Childress County, often day-leases his land to hunters from all over the country. Siebman looks with disdain on people who drive off his established roads, and he has the professional expertise to recognize the impact. “Grasslands are fragile ecosystems, and soil conditions affect how grass grows,” says Siebman. “I have seen tire tracks made on a pasture that still exist several years later.”
Ranchers such as Siebman who raise beef cattle on their land are basically grass farmers. Their goal is to maintain healthy stands of forage so that their cattle can eat the grass and convert it into beef. Ultimately, the profit they make from their cattle depends on the health of their grass.
Driving your pickup or all-terrain vehicle off-road can be deadly to grass. During dry weather, simply driving on grass can kill vegetation by crushing it beneath the tires. Soil compaction compounds the problem. When soil becomes packed hard from the weight of vehicles, roots can’t penetrate the soil, and rain can’t soak into the soil. Water that runs off creates erosion.