The old man’s words stung: “You can hunt it this year, but next year it will be $500 a gun.” The lease we had on his little rundown farm was coming to an end. A cable access hunting show hit the area with a big budget to fund access to private land, and every landowner was hoping to cash in. At season’s end, as we bid him farewell and presented a gift of appreciation, he made sure to remind us of the new arrangement.
For the right lease, money isn’t an issue. But this tired, old farm was in need of improvements and the landowner refused to allow food plots or water structures; he wouldn’t even let us cut paths through the invasive multiflora rose bushes that threaten to overtake the once-vibrant farm. So, even with many fond memories of the property, we weren’t willing to shell out any money to continue to hunt it.
Whether you're a landowner or lessee, a hunting lease can be a rewarding arrangement. Consider the following land leasing experiences and tips before you put your pen to paper.
A Landowner’s Leasing Perspective
Mike Weber leases out the hunting rights to his 200-acre farm located in central Missouri. He looks for an agreeable, respectful lessee with solid knowledge of firearm safety. “I look for someone who will take care of my property as though it was their own,” said Weber. He has experienced the downsides of leasing firsthand—a trashed, makeshift campsite, unlocked gates, cut fences, and not to mention a poacher. However, Weber still believes the benefits of leasing his property outweigh the costs.
Many leased hunting properties are owned by farmers who have faced financial struggles. A lease brings extra dollars to their household. For Weber, “The money helps out. We get a big part of the taxes paid with the lease money.”
Security and peace of mind from having another set of eyes on a property are other advantages of leasing, especially for absentee landowners.
Weber rents out the hunting rights for the 5-month archery season as well as Missouri’s primitive weapon season. “We keep the rights to hunt during the 10-day rifle season,” Weber explained. “Guys are turned off by not having exclusive hunting rights, but I explain everything upfront so there are no surprises. Everything is in black and white.”
A lease is a binding contract, so both parties should address any concerns before signing.
Finding Property To Lease
Where do you look for a property to lease? Weber advertises in a local newspaper, but the Internet is another great resource. Search websites such as BaseCampLeasing.com or MissouriHuntingLeases.com. There are dozens of websites targeted at bringing lessees and lessors together. Don’t discount the potential of Craigslist for the area you’re interested in hunting. You can also look to realtors who specialize in rural or recreational properties and basic word of mouth from other hunters. John Hoffman, a photographer for Ducks Unlimited, leases hunting property exclusively for waterfowl hunting outside of Dyersburg, Tennessee, and found his lease through another duck hunter who leases an adjoining farm. Hoffman advises, “Keep up on which leases are available and if the birds are using them. The good ones will go fast, so you have to be ready for them.”
When leasing, get as many particulars as you can about the property—in writing. Does the landowner allow camping or fishing? Can you use rifles? Some landowners only allow shotguns for hunting. Do you get exclusive rights or are you sharing the property? Can you plant food plots? These concerns should be addressed before the lease agreements are signed. The lease document should include the period of time for which you are leasing the property, the amount you are paying for the lease and any other details agreed upon by both parties.
Need more ideas of what to include or a copy of a lease? There are plenty of websites that offer fill-in-the-blank lease forms. Some are free, while others require you to buy the forms. Click here to visit a website that offers a free hunting lease form.
Hunting Lease Etiquette
Treat every property as if it’s your own. Be mindful of fences, crops, livestock and houses on or near the property. Abuse or blatant disregard for any of these will put you on the street looking for a new lease. If you don’t intend to renew a lease, let the landowners know as soon as possible so they have time to advertise for upcoming seasons. The middle of August is short notice if your season comes in mid-September. Once you have a bad reputation and get kicked off a lease, word gets around quickly and you’ll find yourself without a place to hunt.
Landowner Investment Pays Off
A piece of vacant land with no cover, food or water won’t attract much game, nor will it attract many willing lessees. Landowners who take proactive steps to attract wildlife to their properties will see increased marketability. Weber doesn’t mind going the extra mile for one of his lessees. During a particularly wet spring, he pitched in to plant food plots. “The guys just couldn’t time planting right, so they left the seed and I drilled it in the ground for them,” said Weber. This willingness to work with the lessee helped to foster a long-term, win-win business relationship.
The Almighty Dollar
As with any real estate transaction, the key to leasing is location, location, location. The hunter is trying to pay as little as possible while the landowner is trying to get as much as possible. Areas with a good reputation for hunter success—big deer, full bag limits—will bring more money per acre than mediocre spots. For example, in my home state of Missouri, Interstate 70 dissects the state. Anything north of I-70 costs several dollars more per acre than southern counties due to the trophy potential of whitetails.
Another Option: Hunting Clubs
Looking for a lease, but are not sure of where, when or how? A membership in a hunting club might be for you.
Hunting clubs do the legwork to lease hunting properties and then sell individual or group memberships. Hunting club members are typically allotted a particular piece of land to hunt within the terms of their membership. The club will typically find and maintain leases, handle food plots, deal with paperwork and carry the burden of insurance.
Hunters will see little cash outlay difference between a private lease and a membership into a conventional hunting club.
Other hunting clubs such as Hunting Sports Plus offer properties to a limited amount of members on a first-come, first-serve basis. Members pay an annual fee and get unlimited access to more than 200,000 acres with a simple phone call or click of a mouse. Each hunter secures their own 100 acres per reservation.
Insure Your Future
It’s in the best interest for landowners to protect themselves, so responsible landowners usually insist to see proof of insurance from lessees.
Many organizations, such as the Quality Deer Management Association, offer hunting club insurance, which offers coverage for high-risk activities including treestands, ATVs or other potential hazards. The cost of a policy is per acre leased. You don’t have to be a member of a hunting club to get this insurance, but if you hunt with the same group each year, list the hunters on the property to protect yourself. Look for specific coverage with a minimum of $1 million per occurrence, general liability coverage, and a $100,000 fire legal liability policy. Be sure to compare policies when shopping for insurance.
The hunt for a new lease is on—just in time to get it ready for next season and make new memories.