As many hunters can attest, acquiring hunting permission on private land is getting harder every year. The argument could be made that this is, in part, because of leasing. But an increasing number of hunters are deciding that if you can’t beat them, join them. Whether we like it or not, hunting leases are probably here to stay.
From the outside looking in, it seems that acquiring a hunting lease should be a breeze: if you have the money, opportunities are sure to open up. I can verify, from personal experience, that this is not necessarily the case. Based off the dozens of emails I receive every year about this topic, it seems others are struggling too.
The issue of leasing in the hunting world is a contentious one and the concerns are well documented. Private land access is getting leased up at a high rate by individuals and outfitters, making hunting by permission more and more difficult. This means getting a “no”much more often when asking for hunting permission and even sometimes having previously granted hunting permission revoked because someone else came in and offered money to hunt. Friends and I have experienced this personally.
I wish this wasn’t the way things were going, but it is. We can choose to bemoan it, or accept reality and figure out how to live within it.
Leases simply aren’t going to work for a lot of hunters out there, and for that reason it’s incumbent on the hunting community to continue standing up for public lands access and to explore other creative opportunities to open up access on private lands. But for those who see leasing as a viable option, here’s what I’ve learned.
Word of Mouth
Similar to my recommendations for acquiring hunting access by permission I shared several weeks back, the first avenue I’d recommend exploring is seeking leases through word of mouth. Letting your friends and family know that you’re in search of a property to hunt and that you’re willing to pay some kind of access fee, can open all sorts of doors. Put it out to the world as much as possible and see what comes back.
My friend and host of Heartland Bowhunter, Michael Hunsucker, explained to me that when it comes to finding a lease, you want to look for “a hidden gem.” To do that, he agreed that word of mouth and networking were the best options.
“It’s rare that a really high-end property comes available for lease, so you’ll need to do your research and put in the time,” Michael said. “Get to know people in the community you hunt so that when an opportunity arises you’re front of mind.”
I remember hearing about someone who made special business cards specifically for this purpose. When he chatted with someone about his desire to find a lease, he’d hand out his business card, and ask that they pass it along to anyone they thought might want to make a little extra money off of their property. I don’t know how this actually worked out for him, but the logic seems sound. With a card in their purse or wallet, your friend or family member is more likely to remember to pass it along to their land-owning acquaintance, who then is equally more likely to get in touch with you, since they now have your contact information handy.
I applied this word-of-mouth tactic in a slightly more targeted way by reaching out specifically to recreation property focused realtors. A handful of years back, after finally deciding to try a lease, I made a concerted effort to find a property by reaching out to realtors in the areas I was interested in hunting. Through the process of listing and selling properties, realtors often develop a wide network of land-owning contacts, some of whom might be interested in making extra funds from that land. While a realtor, of course, would rather you buy land, I’ve found that many are accommodating enough to point you in the right direction for a lease in the hopes of developing a long-term relationship that might turn into a sale down the road.
I was lucky back in 2013 to connect with a realtor in Ohio who ran into a landowner interested in leasing out their ground. After reviewing the aerial photograph of the place, I decided to go check it out in person with the realtor, and just days later I signed the contract on a very reasonably-priced annual lease. For the next five years, a buddy and I enjoyed some of the best deer hunting of our lives there.
Knocking on Doors
Another avenue to explore is the knock-on-doors approach, which I explained in detail in my aforementioned getting permission to hunt article. You can adapt this tactic, with leasing in mind, by making one small tweak.
I got this idea from a friend of mine who was hoping to acquire free hunting permission, but also was willing to pay a small lease fee if need be. Before heading out to knock on doors, he had his lawyer draw up a boiler plate lease agreement. If a landowner said no to his inquiry about free hunting permission, he’d ask if a lease payment might be of more interest, and showed them the lease agreement he had prepared. By having something available and ready to be reviewed, customized and signed, it makes the decision a lot easier for the landowner, as the legal and liability related concerns that might arise can be abated with this document.
A final option to explore for leases are online hunting lease network, such as Hunting Lease Network and Base Camp Leasing. The benefit here is that you can easily find and review a large number of available properties through their websites. Just like searching for properties to buy online, through this kind of service you’ll be able to see aerial and topographic maps of properties, photos and videos of the ground, and other helpful information about the land or surrounding area. This can all help you determine whether or not a given piece is a good fit for your goals.
The downsides to this option, though, are that many times you’ll find the lease prices on these sites to be much higher than you’d pay if you went directly to a landowner using one of the options I described earlier. Some of these sites also operate on an auction model, where leases are bid upon by numerous people, leading to higher prices. Finally, lease networks typically work on one-year contracts, with the potential for prices to rise each subsequent year.
I’ve lost free hunting permission because of leases and I’ve gained access because of leases. I know leases are not for everyone, but if they fit your budget and schedule, they’re a great way to enjoy the outdoors.
Feature image via Captured Creative.