Hunting Leases - Wildlife Recreation is Big Business

Landowners are have realized the opportunities for added income through recreational leasing. In fact, leasing land for hunting has contributed to the substantial increase in value of nonagricultural land in the state. For many landowners with this interest, leasing land for hunting may provide an opportunity to sustain the natural resource base, maintain quality of life and increase annual income.

Hunting leases are an example of the broader concept of a recreational lease - an agreement between the person(s) who controls access to property and the person(s) who wishes to use the property for recreation. A hunting lease is an agreement between the landowner (lessor) and hunters (lessees) to grant access to land to hunt game (and conduct other specified activities) for a certain period of time. Hunters usually pay an agreed-upon dollar amount per acre or per hunter.

Hunting leases differ in time, effort, and investment. Categories include:

  • Year round lease: requires the least investment of time, effort and money, but also returns less. An example lease situation would be a landowner leasing eighty acres for $20/acre/year including all species.
  • Limited duration lease: may be for a season, a few weeks, or a few days. A landowner may have multiple leases concurrently for different species or throughout the year. More marketing is required, but income potential is greater.
  • Day-hunting lease: demands more landowner time than the previous two types. For example, if deer stands are leased on a day-to-day basis, the landowner must retain adequate control over the movement of hunters. This may require taking each hunter to and from a stand. Daily leases and "package" hunts are also common for hunting waterfowl, small game and doves.
  • Guided hunts: may be the primary enterprise for a few landowners. Leases may provide for lodging, meals, guides, transportation during the hunt, hunting blinds, dogs and dog handlers, guns and ammunition, game dressing and cleaning, game butchering and packaging, cold storage, additional recreational facilities, refreshments after the hunt and pictures of the hunt. These operations require intensive management of wildlife habitat, population inventories, harvest management and advertising.
  • General recreational lease: short-term lease providing experiences such as camping, hiking, fishing, and swimming. Many are family oriented.

All recreational or hunting leases need to be written agreements. The written agreement delineates the rules of the lease and helps protect the interests of both the landowner(s) and the hunter(s). A well-written lease agreement helps avoid misunderstandings. Every lease should include:

  • Description of the recreational rights, services and facilities being leased
  • Names of lessors and lessees involved
  • Description of the property being leased, including legal descriptions and a map
  • Species to be hunted
  • Terms of payment
  • Duration of the lease
  • Definition of who has recreational rights
  • Any special rules and regulations concerning restrictions or responsibilities of either party
  • Signatures of all parties involved

Any special concerns of the landowner(s) or hunter(s) should be addressed in the lease. These may include references to abiding by all state and federal hunting regulations, hunter personal liability insurance, shooting or trespassing across boundaries of the lease, location of hunting blinds, collection of harvest data, game harvest quotas, use of alcoholic beverages, littering, subleasing recreational rights, guest privileges, camping location, responsibility to pay for damages, and ownership of any structures left on the property at end of the lease.

Source: Darla Campbell, MU Extension  Ag Business Specialist