Are You Ready for a Hunting Lease?
Articles in this Series
By Sean Ferbrache, COO, American Hunting Lease Association
The following is the first in a five-part series of informative articles written for hunters of all experience levels, passions, and expectations.
From your first thought of a hunting lease to the moment you send an arrow or bullet in his direction, this series will guide you through the entire process of finding, securing and enjoying a quality hunting lease.
I have a mantra. When executed properly, the 'hunting lease' works for everyone involved.
Ok, yes it's my job to say that. I get it.
But, it's true. When hunters and landowners share expectations and there are fundamental levels of both courtesy and stewardship, the hunting lease arrangement delivers the goods. No other arrangement provides hunters with access to quality wildlife habitat for a fraction of what it would cost to purchase land of their own.
Furthermore, most hunting leases are written for one full year. That means you get full access to your lease/property all year long. That makes a lot more sense than spending $5,000 to hunt with an outfitter for 5 days. You have the opportunity to hang cameras, plant food plots, scout the pre-season, shed hunt and even hunt other game.
And that's just from the hunter's standpoint. As a landowner, the benefits of offering your farm or property for lease are significant. Besides the obvious revenue stream a lease will generate, issues like trespassing, crop damage, safety and game management are all dramatically improved.
But, is a hunting lease right for you? It really comes down to two considerations.
Money and Expectations.
Let's jump right in and talk about the one thing that matters most... money.
Any quality, hunting lease is going to cost you some of your hard-earned cash. That's just a fact. It is no different than playing a nice golf course or buying a new truck. The nicer experience you want, the higher the price. That certainly doesn't mean that you can't find a very enjoyable hunting lease in your price range. It just means that you may be looking for a smaller property or maybe you need to look in an area not known for big deer (or lots of ducks etc... you get the picture.) A popular misconception is that leasing is unaffordable or it is only for the rich. I assure you that the latter is absolutely laughable! I am living proof of that.
Our first lease was nearly 10 years ago. We had just experienced the dreaded phone call that every hunter inevitably receives. Our landowner, the grandmother of a friend, called to tell us she had sold her farm and we would no longer be able to hunt it. Gutshot! After battling minor depression, I vowed to never suffer that kind of "pain" again. My group of 6 began to consider a hunting lease. We scoured the internet looking for the right piece of ground at the right price. We finally decided to use a broker (hunting lease company) that knew the ins and outs and could advise us of our best options. Hunting lease companies are easy to find online, but make sure you are dealing with a reputable company. The surest way to know you can trust a company is to look for the AHLA Certified Associate logo on the company's homepage. (logo inserted here) These companies have agreed to a set standard of best practices and can be trusted to serve you professionally.
Within a few days we were standing on a 200 acre farm in the middle of the best whitetail habitat around. Southern Indiana was thick with big deer and turkeys and we felt like we were back in the game. Before we paid a dime, we were allowed to walk the entire farm, speak to the landowner and decide for ourselves if it fit our needs. Frankly, it was perfect.
The cost of that first lease was $4200. To be honest, that looked like a pretty big number sitting out there. After all, I still had to explain this to my wife! But, remember we were a group of six and for our investment, we were given exclusive access for one full year. Now we are looking at $700 each... for a full year? That's not just manageable... that's downright doable.
Three of my friends were firefighters. They each figured out that they could pay for their share of the lease AND buy a 'community' tree stand by working a couple of overtime shifts. Each of us made a small sacrifice, like cutting back on golf, working an overtime shift or holding off on buying a new bow. The reward for our sacrifices was a year of hard work, excitement, great hunting and ultimately some of the best times I can remember. We hunted exactly how we wanted to hunt, when we wanted to hunt and had the place all to ourselves. Simply stated, it was the best decision we could have made. We held that lease for 5 years before a couple of guys moved away. We killed some great deer, a handful of turkeys and created some of my all-time favorite memories.
I understand the financial impact that $700 can have on a family. Especially a young family. We were all there once and have vivid memories of harder times. Spending family income is something to be taken seriously. Balancing real-world needs and expectations with your passion to hunt is a serious conversation to have with yourself and/or your spouse. However, it has been my experience that a closer look at disposable income (extra money you don't use for bills, food, gas etc.) usually reveals a couple of opportunities to save money and make your hunting dream a reality.
Let's keep the honesty going.
If you have 5 buddies in your hunting group (club) and each of you expects to kill a Boone and Crockett buck on your 150 acre lease. You can expect to be disappointed.
A hunting lease is no guarantee that you need to put your taxidermist on speed dial.
As a group, it is imperative that everyone be on the same page when it comes to expectations. The hunting lease experience can mean different things to different hunters. A meeting to establish these expectations at the beginning will help you avoid hard feelings or disappointment later. This set of expectations will guide you on how large a tract of land you will need, where it might be and what kind of money you might need to spend.
Once your group decides on a lease and pays for it, expectations can suddenly skyrocket. You begin to feel pressure to kill a big buck to justify the investment in both time and money. It's simply human nature. As soon as you feel the pressure to be successful, then you start to forget everything you ever learned about hunting. You will hunt too often, hunt questionable winds and overpressure your lease. You will push every mature deer in the area out and be left wondering what was wrong with the property.
Let me give you some advice.
Let your expectations grow naturally. Begin with the modest expectation that you and your friends are going to spend time hunting with each other and sharing all the great things hunting has to offer. Whether it's harvesting a doe, putting your tag on a nice 125-inch buck or even helping one of your friends drag the dominant buck out of the woods, these are great times. If luck is on your side and you have a 160 show up on a camera or you discover a sign that only a real giant can leave... then let your expectations grow realistically. Start the game of zeroing in on him until you get the opportunity you have worked for. After that it's all on you... and that is the great thing! The ability to make your own decision on 'what' or even 'if' to shoot may be the biggest benefit of a hunting lease.
There is one more set of expectations that need to be considered. Those are the expectations of the landowner. The hunter/landowner relationship is the cornerstone of the hunting lease. Whether you used a broker to find your lease or found a landowner on your own, establishing and maintaining a friendly relationship will pay dividends over and over. Prior to securing your lease, your group should be crystal clear on what the landowner expects from this relationship. If you think you will have free reign of the farm because you paid money, you are sadly mistaken. ATVs, screw-in steps, camping, smoking, alcohol, surveyors tape and pruning are just a few of the many questions that need to be asked and agreed upon. Sit down with your landowner over a cup of coffee and make sure you are on the same page from the beginning. I go out of my way to make sure I have cleaned up any sign that I was there (food wrappers, soda cans, used hand warmers etc.), your landowner will notice this attention to their property and be appreciative enough to have you back year after year. Common courtesy is always the order of the day.
Btw... here is an extra little tip. An occasional visit to your landowner to say hello can usually result in a little valuable information. i.e. "Boy, you should have seen the big deer that came out last night! Seems like I see him about every third night right over there by that white oak tree" Bingo!
Remember my mantra? When executed properly, the 'hunting lease' works for everyone involved.
How is a hunting lease executed properly?
There are two components that absolutely must be included in every hunting lease. The lease agreement (money, number of hunters, game to be hunted etc.) must be written and signed by all parties. It's just good practice and makes the agreement clear to everyone. Additionally, a Hunting Lease Liability Policy must be purchased listing the hunting group and the landowner as additional insureds.
Hunting is a relatively safe sport, but there is more than enough risk to justify an insurance policy. This type of policy will protect everyone against property damage and/or injury caused by another insured. Landowners simply cannot risk losing their considerable assets due to an unforeseen accident. When you use a hunting lease broker these details are usually included or provided for you.
The American Hunting Lease Association is proud to offer both a hunting lease liability policy and a time-tested leasing agreement to its members. Most policies are $185 and protect leases up to 500 acres.
Ultimately, the decision to lease or not is yours. Your expectations, whether realistic or not are yours. I offer this article simply as a guideline for you and your hunting group to consider so you get every bit of satisfaction out of your experience.