Interest is growing in the southern states, as well as the United States in general, for landowners to permit recreational access to their land for sportsmen and others to hunt, fish, and enjoy other types of outdoor recreation by means of leasing the land. For many farms, ranches, forests, and other landowners, this alternative income stream may provide an opportunity to sustain their natural resource base, maintain their quality of life and increase annual profits.
Offering access to private land for recreational use by the public can be a viable option on private land from producing products such as pine straw for mulching, to providing access for bird watching, trail riding, and hunting and fishing.
The demand for access to private lands for recreational uses continues to grow with the loss of publicly owned land availability. When these leases are appropriately developed and implemented, they will contribute to local economies in many ways. However, there are many things to consider before putting a hunting or recreational lease into effect.
This business model is not for everyone, but for those who feel they would like to explore the idea of leasing their land, some trade-offs will be necessary. Leased land is not a stand-alone enterprise but must be weighed along-side the other uses of the land. Landowners must also keep in mind the long-term goals and ecology of their natural resource base on which their whole operation depends.
Types of Hunting Leases
A hunting lease is an agreement between the landowner (lessor) and individual hunters or clubs (lessees) that grants the hunter/club access rights for hunting game animals (and other specified activities) on your properties for a specified time period. Hunters usually pay the landowner an agreed-upon dollar amount per acre or per hunter. However, in some leases you may agree to trade services performed by the club in lieu for money. It is always best to have a written agreement and not just a verbal or handshake agreement even if you know the people well that you are allowing to use your land.
Following are some of the types of leases that you may want to consider:
- Seasonal lease-all species of game legal to hunt OR
- Seasonal lease-specified animal or animals
- Annual or multi-year lease-all species OR
- Annual or multi-year lease-specified game animal or animals
- Daily hunting, often by permits
- Weekly hunts
- Multi-day (three to five) day hunts
- Special Season Hunts-such as bow, muzzle-loader, or rifle only.
The most common types of leases are the long-term annual and long-term seasonal. Under these types of leases, the landowner grants individual hunters or groups of hunters the privilege of access to your land for hunting for a season, a full year, or for several consecutive years.
This type of leasing generally permits the hunter or hunters the privilege of hunting legal game species during the specified open seasons. Fees can be assessed on a cost per-acre, cost per hunter or lump sum basis. These leases can be very flexible allowing you to specify which game species can be hunted, and you can even reserve hunting rights for yourself, your guests, and immediate family. Depending on the interests of the lessee and your willingness, these leases can be tailored to the specifications and needs of both you and the lessee, as well as the agreed-upon price paid for the privilege of leasing.
For many landowners, a long-term seasonal or annual lease, for a set price per acre or lump sum, are easier to negotiate and require the least oversight. If you are satisfied with this type of arrangement, the lease fee is agreeable to both parties, and the lessee(s) has shown appropriate and responsible care of your land and resources, you can continue such annual leases on a multi-year arrangement.
Long-term Leases Advantages and Disadvantages
Long-term leases have pros and cons. The advantages are that such leases generally result in better landowner-sportsmen relationships, because you get to know the lessee(s) personally, with trust building between you over time, and the sportsmen get an understanding what your objectives are. They often become interested in helping manage the properties to meet these objectives. The longer time that lessee(s) lease a property, the better acquainted they become with it, and the more likely they are to become willing parties in working with you to improve habitat management for the animals. This can translate into prevention of trespassing and poaching. If you are satisfied with the long-term arrangement, you can anticipate that income every year.
The disadvantage is that sometimes such long-term lease arrangements make it difficult to make changes when you need to, like raising your lease fee or the lessee may begin to have feelings of ownership and forget to honor your initial requests. However, knowing that there is a long term agreement can make it so both sportsmen and landowners are more willing to make time, labor, and financial investments in leased land. Such long-term leases can be for specific game species only or offer hunting for all legal game species to the lessee(s). It can include such other activities as scouting, putting out food plots, brush hogging etc., before hunting season begins. If you are active in the day-to-day management of the property, you may choose to lease access rights to one group for fall deer hunting and another group for spring turkey hunting. Obviously this works best when seasons do not overlap, and it generally requires more hands-on involvement by you or someone to whom you assign management responsibilities. These leases will usually return the most annual income but can be overwhelming to manage. They can also require more labor, time and habitat management if you are providing dove fields, food plots, waterfowl blinds, and other requirements.
Short-term leases can be permitted on a daily basis, such as for dove hunting; on an individual weekend basis for deer or bird hunting; a weekly basis if there is a special season offered, such as bow or muzzle-loader hunting; or for a one-season, special management type of hunt, such as a late-season does. Some of these hunts can be packaged and can include guides, lodging if available (on the lease property or at a local motel), and meals. This is another type of leasing arrangement that requires more management and may need to include marketing for greatest success. However, it can still benefit you financially and does not obligate the entire property for the full hunting season or year. It allows the landowner greater flexibility and control over his land by allowing him to limit access to selected portions of your land for shorter periods of time and can limit the hunting to the species desired.
Sportsmen may contact you directly about the possibility of leasing land from you. Or you may choose to work with a broker to make the arrangements. Newspaper or magazine ads or a web site may help you locate a willing hunter or group of hunters interested in leasing land. There can be some benefits, particularly for non-resident landowners, in having a broker take care of the advertising, locating and generally taking on the responsibility of dealing with lessee(s) and with neighboring landowners.
The broker can help ensure the lessee(s) honors their lease and pays on time. However, hiring a broker will decrease your profits from leasing as they are an added expense.
There are a number of things you need to consider before deciding to lease land for recreational purposes. You need to be willing to spend some time and money to determine the value of your resources, how to best manage and sustain them as renewable natural resources, evaluate what your long-term objectives are, and other land management considerations. Below is a more concise outline of the advantages and disadvantages of leasing land, discussed in detail above, which may help you in making a decision whether you want to lease your land out or not:
- Can be a dependable source of additional annual income
- Can provide some labor assistance from lessee(s)
- Can help reduce trespass problems
- Can help you gain better control of who is using the land for what purposes
- Can complement other land management operations
- Can improve other recreational opportunities
- Can benefit local community economy
- Can help you better manage wildlife habitat and populations
- Increased liability concerns and costs
- Will require increased land owner or manager involvement of dealing with lessee(s)
- Could mean some trade-offs in other operations
- Could present conflicts with neighbors
- Likely to require some investment in habitat and access management
- Will require record keeping, evaluation, and business management