In parts of the West, vast tracts of public land allow for easy access for hunters. In many other areas, however, the public land that’s available is in small tracts and the number of hunters permitted often are limited to prevent undue pressure on wildlife resources.
Getting onto private land is not much easier. Gone are the days when you could knock on a farmhouse door and get permission to hunt. A farmer may allow his friends to hunt for free, but even that has become less frequent as landowners appreciate some return for allowing hunters on their property.
If you want to hunt private land, you have three choices: Join an established hunt club, get together with some friends and create a new hunt club, or enter into a private hunting lease. If you choose either of the latter two, you’re faced with finding a suitable tract of land that accommodates the number of hunters involved and the type of hunting you want to do. Therein lies the challenge.
Explore the Possibilities The first step is to locate available property. The best source for hunting lease information is the Internet. Timber companies don’t just cut trees anymore. They actively manage their forests for multiple uses, including hunting. Consequently, many companies’ websites include an interactive list of properties that may be leased for hunting. But don’t limit yourself to only looking at timber companies’ offerings. Consider looking into what other industries that own large tracts of property can offer hunters. Start looking for a lease in early spring when the previous year’s lease holders start relinquishing properties and those properties start appearing on websites.
Don’t overlook consulting foresters as many of them have information on hunting leases. A little research is in order, depending on where you’re looking for a lease. I suggest beginning at the Association of Consulting Foresters website. Click on the “Find a Forester” tab for various search options. You can select a state and pull up a list of consulting foresters. Follow links to the various foresters’ websites and see whether they offer the management of hunting leases.
Also check the websites of forest owners’ associations. If you’re looking for hunting land in Alabama, for instance, visit the Alabama Forest Owners’ Association website and click on the link that says “Lease Hunting Land” for a list of available properties.
Good hunting leases won’t last long. If you’re unable to find what you’re looking for, check classified ads in outdoor magazines or local and regional newspapers. Some outdoor publications and newspapers have their classified ads online, which makes searching simple. For those that don’t, pick up a print copy.
Don’t overlook old-fashioned networking. Many small landowners don’t put their property on websites or in directories. The only way to discover these leases is through networking. Whether you’re a member of organizations such as Ducks Unlimited (DU), the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) or the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), or you work with people who hunt and fish, be on the lookout for opportunities.
Get More Information Once you find a piece of property you like, move quickly. Most listings will include a link to more information about the lease along with a map. Scan the map’s features and try to find a parcel number, road name or intersection that will help you find the same piece of property on another source and start researching. If you have the landowner’s name, go to the Property Appraiser’s website for the county where the property is located. Find the property and observe what’s around it. If you just have a landmark or a road number or name, type it in Google Earth along with the county name.
The point is to look at the entire area surrounding the lease as you would study any piece of hunting property. Where are the wildlife corridors? Is this property cut off from bedding or feeding areas? Are there land features that will funnel wildlife to (or away from) you?
Keep in mind that aerial photos may be outdated. Check the date of the image. Don’t make a decision solely on an aerial photo, but use this information to ask further questions about the property.
Some potential leases may be small but don’t reject them until you see what’s surrounds them. A 25-acre tract between railroad tracks and a shopping mall may not be desirable, but 25 acres between a national forest and a soybean farmer could be great.
Make Contact Once you’ve found a lease, contact the managing biologist, forester, landowner or real estate agent and ask for details. Try to get a sample lease and ask if anyone else is looking at the property to gauge how quickly you must proceed.
Request references, names and phone numbers of former lessees and whether changes have taken place since aerial photos were taken. If the references and former leesees aren’t forthcoming, consider that a red flag. While there may not be anything wrong—the previous lessee may simply not want his name released—it may be a sign of issues.
Practice Due Diligence If you think a particular lease is for you, let the agent know you’d like to see the property. Most agents will give you a few days to look at the property before they commit to someone else (unless that person has already visited the property).
Be aware of how far you are willing to travel to hunt. Once you sign a lease, you’ll be visiting it multiple times a year. If it’s too far to go see, it’s too far for you to go hunt. Walk the property and meet the agent in person if possible.
Negotiate the Contract Read the contract’s terms thoroughly and note that they usually can be negotiated. Be sure the contract is clear about what your responsibilities are and what the landowner’s or agent’s responsibilities are. Here’s a sneaky little thing about hunting lease contracts: Sometimes they contain maintenance clauses that are actually part of the timber managers’ responsibilities. For instance, several years ago I was considering a hunting lease in north Florida. The lease called for the lease holder(s) to plow and maintain the fire lines. Plowing fire lines is a typical responsibility of a forest manager. Almost every piece of woodland in the Southeast—including pieces that never are burned—have plowed fire lines around them. But this particular forest manager was looking for a slick way to reduce his work load: Let the lessee maintain the fire lines.
I politely told the forest manager that I lived several hundred miles from the proposed hunting lease and that I didn’t own a tractor capable of doing the job. I asked if that clause of the contract could be rewritten, and he agreed. Sometimes it’s just that simple. Ask politely and negotiate a change. Once you’ve worked out any bugs, sign the lease, make your payment and go hunting!