Lease Hunting Options
Hunting has a strong heritage and presents both opportunities and problems for today's forest landowner. As "parcelization" reduces the number of sites for hunters, landowners are often faced with numerous requests for permission to hunt as well as trespass problems. Demand for a quality hunting experience has increased such that many hunters are willing to pay for exclusive hunting rights. A hunting lease can provide income and access control for the landowner.
Current Leasing Conditions
Although some landowners have been leasing hunting rights for years, there is no formal market for leases, and it is difficult to determine how much land is being leased. Average corporate hunting lease prices for ten southern states range from $1.08 to $1.90 per acre per year. Many timber companies have more requests for leases than can be accommodated.
In the past, hunting clubs were interested only in larger parcels of land (1,000 acres or more), but as demand and prices increased, smaller tracts have become more attractive. Tracts as small as 100 acres are currently being leased and may provide significant income to the landowner. In many situations, a lease of $2/acre/year can add 15 to 20 percent to the net present value of timber investments.
Important Points to Consider
Lease hunting may not be beneficial to all landowners. Before entering into a hunting lease, landowners are advised to consider potential conflicts with other uses of the land and what their personal liability might be.
- Threat of suit for personal injury incurred by lessees. This
possibility prevents many landowners from leasing hunting rights.
Under the Code of Virginia, if no fee is charged, the landowner is not responsible for the lessee. In this situation, the lessee assumes all responsibility while on the landowner's property. See § 29.1-509. Duty of care and liability for damages of landowners to hunters, fishermen, sightseers, etc.
If a landowner charges a fee for the use of their property, the Code of Virginia considers them liable for accident and injury that may occur to users of the property.
Depending on their situation, the landowner should maintain liability insurance that provides adequate financial protection and legal representation, and should also require the lessee to carry insurance. The National Rifle Association has an insurance program for hunting clubs, and the Farm Bureau has insurance policies many landowners consider adequate.
- A no fee lease. This agreement helps landowners, who are hunters themselves, to allow family members and friends to hunt on their property. A "no fee" lease details responsibilities for posting, hunting conditions, and liability protection. These leases also provide a diplomatic means of saying "no" to requests from others for permission to hunt.
- Finding a compatible lessee. Leasing to local hunters allows the landowner to investigate the character of the prospective lessees. Local hunters can provide reliable trespass enforcement, but often they will spend a lot of time on the property and may not be willing to pay as high a lease fee as a group residing outside the community. Running an ad in metropolitan or local newspapers is a good way to attract prospective lessees. Don't be afraid to ask for references.
- Setting an appropriate lease fee. Determining what to charge can be difficult, since no market analysis is available for hunting leases. Leasing to the highest bidder may provide maximum short-term income, but may result in high lessee turnover and overexploitation of the wildlife resource, as lessees try to "get their money's worth" and recoup their costs.
- Controlling access. This issue is often more important than the income from leasing. Many landowners will not allow free and unrestricted access to their land because of potential liability, trash dumping, and damage to roads and property. Most hunting clubs will post and police the land and can be held accountable for any damage by club members.
The Lease Agreement
The lease agreement should be viewed as a partnership for long-term management of wildlife resources. The landowners' long-term interest may best be served by a lower lease fee that will accommodate lessee longevity and the welfare of the wildlife resource. Consult with state wildlife biologists for current lease fees in your locality.
The lease agreement protects the rights of both the landowner and the hunters and should detail:
- property boundaries
- duration of the lease
- lease fee
- animal species which can be hunted
- hunting rights retained by the landowner and family
- game harvest limits or species
- number of club members and guests
- provisions for cancellation by either party.
Most hunting clubs are interested in a long-term arrangement that guarantees them a place to hunt. Leases are usually renewed annually and should contain provisions giving the hunting club rights of first refusal if the lessor wishes to change lease conditions, especially the lease fee.
The lease agreement should also identify prohibited activities, such as:
- firewood cutting
- building of stands
- wet-weather road use.
A properly prepared lease agreement will prevent most conflicts between landowners and hunters. When entering into a legal binding agreement, an attorney should be consulted.
Enhancing the Lease Value
Income from private forestland can be supplemented by hunting leases. Since lease prices are often tied to game abundance, landowners should consider wildlife habitat enhancement in timber management plans. Maintaining wildlife populations on intensively managed timberlands demands protection of critical habitats and satisfying the needs of each species. As the demand for quality recreational opportunities increases, proper management of valuable wildlife resources will become more imperative.
Hunters who invest in a lease will help guard against vandalism and unauthorized access. Meanwhile, relatively simple forest management strategy can improve forage and favorable habitat for desired species of wildlife.