Hunting access on private lands

To see private lands eligible for hunting in Washington, please visit our private lands access webpage.

Finding places to hunt in Washington is becoming more of a challenge. With more than half of the state's land in private ownership, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) works with landowners across the state, developing relationships and providing technical assistance for a variety of programs to increase public access to private lands.

The Private Lands Program encompasses two main areas of emphasis; recreational access and habitat conservation through Farm Bill programs. Staff across the state work with private landowners to develop the best strategy for their lands, and for wildlife. WDFW regional private lands biologists are strategically located across the state to provide assistance to landowners looking for help with hunting access, technical assistance with habitat conservation programs, or a variety of other access issues.  

WDFW’s Private Lands Program is focused on working with landowners throughout the state of Washington to provide recreational opportunity to the public. WDFW works within formal agreements with the landowner to outline and develop a plan for enrolled lands. Private Lands Program staff work with a variety of landowners who may own agricultural farm land, private industrial timber land and/or wetland/water access sites. WDFW also works with landowners big and small; some landowners have as few as 5 acres, while others may have tens of thousands of acres.

WDFW  provides all signage, technical assistance and aids in communication with enforcement for all lands enrolled. As of fall 2018, WDFW offers four different types of access agreements to landowners; Feel Free to Hunt, Hunt by Reservation, Register to Hunt, and Hunt by Written Permission. To find specific private properties enrolled in any of these programs, please visit our private lands access website.

It’s important to remember that hunters who choose to disobey signage or cause damage to private property may result in the loss of public access. Public access on private lands is a privilege – not a right!

Types of private lands access

The following are the types of hunting programs available on private lands where hunting is possible in Washington. Different agreements with landowners mean differing requirements to hunt on those lands. Please make sure to obey all posted signage and any directions that are available on the website for specific properties. In some cases, landowners may have specific information or requests for hunters. This information will be posted on the website under the specific property. Hunters should ensure that they are aware of all restrictions, directions or information prior to hunting on private lands. To see all properties and for more information about signage on private hunting lands, visit the private hunting lands website.

Feel Free to Hunt

See Feel Free to Hunt Lands

Private lands where WDFW has a management agreement with the owner to provide public access for hunting. Hunters are not required to gain additional permission when hunting lands posted with a Feel Free to Hunt sign.

Register to Hunt

See Register to Hunt Lands

Private lands in which WDFW has a management agreement with the owner where hunting is regulated by registration. Hunters are required to sign in and sign out to hunt on properties posted with a Register to Hunt sign. In many cases, Register to Hunt properties have designated parking areas. These parking areas are first-come, first-served and limit the number of hunters onto the property. Once the parking lot is full, the property is at capacity. Please ensure to read the specific property information on the website prior to hunting. 

Hunt by Written Permission

See Hunt by Written Permission Lands

Private lands where hunters must contact the landowner to obtain "written permission" before hunting on their property. WDFW provides signages and perforated permission slips to landowners who make their lands available through this program. A landowner name and contact telephone number are placed on the hunt by written permission signs so hunters can contact the appropriate landowner for permission. In some cases, contacting the local Private Lands Biologist may be necessary.

The Hunt by Written Permission program is our most popular program for landowners. It is also the most restrictive, and places control in the hands of the landowner. Hunters are required to carry their half of the permission slip on their person at all times while they are hunting on the property. Landowners enrolled in this program are also required to submit all of their permission slips to the local private lands biologist at the end of the hunting season. Huntable species, overall access and other restrictions will vary and are at the discretion of the landowner. 

Hunt by Reservation

See Hunt by Reservation Lands

The Hunt by Reservation System requires hunters to create an online account using their WILD ID. Properties enrolled in the Hunt by Reservation Program require an advance reservation permit issued through the online reservation system.

Permits are issued on a first-come, first-served basis and reservation dates become available two weeks out from the day of the hunt promptly at 8 a.m. Permits provided to hunters through the reservation system are required to be left on the dash of the vehicle near the identified access point.

It is important that hunters pay attention to the specific information for each property. Some properties allow access to entire parcels, while others restrict the reservation to a single blind. Some properties also allow group reservations, while others only allow single reservations. Please pay attention to the information listed on the website. In some cases, landowner contact may also be required. All rules of the WDFW Hunt by Reservation Program must be followed in addition to any special rules for the individual property including those posted at the site. 

Upgrades to the reservation system are planned for 2019. WDFW Private Lands Staff are eager to provide a better customer service experience through an upgraded system, while also maintaining public access and continuing to meet landowner needs. For questions related to the Hunt by Reservation system, please contact the Wildlife Program customer service desk at 360-902-2515 or via email at wildthing@dfw.wa.gov. 

Landowner Hunting Permit (LHP)

The Landowner Hunting Permit (LHP) program is a private lands access program that provides public hunting access to private property, allows for specialized hunting seasons on LHP cooperator lands, and, in some cases, helps landowners manage deer and/or elk damage to agricultural crops. Landowners are allocated permits based upon geographical area, population management goals and/or damage issues. These permits assist with providing hunter assistance to landowners outside the regular hunting seasons and follow Commission Policy C-6002.

Under this policy, permits are available to the landowner and WDFW. The landowner can use their permits in various ways (Public Raffle, Personal Use, Auction etc.) WDFW’s permits are a special draw opportunity available through the WILD Licensing System and advertised in the Big Game Regulations. Landowners enrolled in the LHP program work closely with private lands biologists, district biologists and wildlife conflict staff to ensure that the landowner and the public are having their needs met. LHP landowners are required to go through an application process and are ultimately approved by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. All landowners are required to reapply during the three-year season setting cycle. To see the next application deadline, please see the Landowner Hunting Permit Application link. The LHP program is designed to complement the other WDFW private lands access programs (e.g., Feel Free to Hunt, Register to Hunt, Hunt by Reservation and Hunt by Written Permission).

Resources for landowners

WDFW has been helping private landowners who open their lands to public hunting since 1948. The department helps landowners manage hunting on their property by providing technical assistance and signage. Many of the private landowners who are part of the private lands access program also get assistance from WDFW staff to help improve fish and wildlife habitat on their lands. Department staff are available to help landowners plan habitat improvements and may also help landowners apply for or implement federal- or state-funded habitat improvement programs.

Are you a landowner who is interested in conserving fish and wildlife on your lands, or opening your land to hunting? Visit WDFW's private lands website to learn more about our available access programs. You may also contact your local private lands biologist or your nearest regional office to learn more.

Funding sources and program statistics

Funding for the Private Lands Program comes in many different forms. Staff time is supported largely by Pittman Robertson funds which comes from the sale of hunting licenses and equipment. Landowners who qualify for payments and enroll in access programs are paid out of the Voluntary Public Access – Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) grant awarded from the Natural Resource Conservation Service. The VPA-HIP grant is a competitive grant that states can apply for to aid in enhancing and supporting access and habitat opportunities to landowners and the general public. There are also other Farm Bill Programs that provide support to landowners that may also involve payments.

Private Lands Program staff work with a variety of nonprofits, conservation districts, and conservation organizations to improve wildlife habitat on private land. Through these relationships and other avenues, various funding sources may become available throughout the year. When these funding sources become available, Private Lands Program staff work with landowners to continue to promote access and habitat enhancement opportunities throughout the state. 

Program Statistics

WDFW tracks the number of properties enrolled in its access programs, as well as the overall acreage. See a county-by-county breakdown.
 

Landowner Hunting Permit Application

The Landowner Hunting Permit (LHP) Application is now open. Interested landowners who meet the following criteria should download the Standard Operating Procedure and Application Packet, complete Appendix A, and mail to the following address (postmarked by August 1st 2020):

Attn: Ciera Strickland

Private Lands Access Program Manager

PO BOX 43134

Olympia, WA 98504

Minimum Criteria to Qualify for the LHP Program:

  1. LHP contracts must provide at least one of the following:
    1. Hunting opportunity that otherwise would not exist AND/OR
    2. Hunting opportunity that helps resolve chronic crop damage problems that have been documented by WDFW.
  2. Minimum acreage: 1000 acres
  3. Landowner must provide substantial public benefit beyond the allotted WDFW public permit opportunity. Two additional forms of public access are strongly encouraged (ex. Fishing, upland/small game hunting, waterfowl, wildlife viewing etc.). Providing these opportunities allows the applicant to score higher ensuring a higher probability of being selected. For more information on what is considered as “substantial public benefit” please see the SOP.
  4. Abide by the terms of the standard operating procedure and contract for the entire three-year period which includes the annual reports.
  5. Landowners can only be involved with one LHP statewide.

Application Procedure:

  1. Interested Landowners must mail the completed application to Ciera Strickland (address above) by Aug. 1, 2020 to be considered for the upcoming three-year season setting cycle (2021-2023). Applicants need to complete Appendix A of the packet. The Standard Operating Procedure is provided for applicant review and informational purposes. Incomplete applications will be immediately disqualified from further consideration.
  2. After the initial review, all completed applications will be distributed to regional staff.
  3. Regional staff will review the applications for their respective areas and contact potential landowners to perform site visits. These site visit reviews will be based upon the LHP Acceptance Evaluation Criteria (Appendix D of the SOP), the LHP Consultation Checklist (Appendix B of the SOP) and local professional knowledge.
  4. The top-ranking applicants will then be recommended to the Private Lands Section Manager. It is at this time that applicants will be notified if they have been preliminarily chosen to participate in the LHP program.
  5. These recommendations will be made to the Fish and Wildlife Commission in March and final versions will be adopted as rule by the Commission in April. Selected landowners should expect to be in contact with WDFW regional staff to assess seasons and permit numbers during the Fall/Winter timeframe.
  6. All LHP hunting seasons adopted by the Commission in April will be implemented that hunting license year.
  7. After the April Commission meeting, all accepted landowners will be notified of the final decision and the process moving forward, including the formal contract process.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the Private Lands Access Program Manager at 360-902-2247.