For those of us that do not own land to hunt, our options are generally limited to hunting public land, hunting on a friend or family-owned land, or leasing hunting property. When I first started hunting, land was fairly easy to come by. I remember my Dad getting frustrated when we wouldn’t be able to hunt parcels of land that we had hunted on for years because someone had now leased the property. That land is now closed off with “No Trespassing” signs.
My Dad would always say, “I feel it is my God-given right to hunt, and I will never pay a dime to hunt someone’s property.” While that stuck with me, the dynamic of hunting in the new millennium changed to a point that leasing had become a reality in my world. The percentage of hunters taking to the woods was growing every year, and more of that land that I hunted when I was a boy was now leased, which left very few opportunities to hunt premium land any more. While public lands are a great option for many of us, they also pose many challenges. This is why many turn to leasing property.
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If your frustration has reached an all-time high and you are considering a lease, don’t jump at the first opportunity that presents itself. Take your time with your decision. It’s your hard-earned money, and the last thing you want is to regret your decision halfway through the hunting season. Here are a few things to consider before purchasing a hunting lease…
One of the single most important decisions in leasing hunting property is choosing your partners to share the cost of the lease. Do you share the same hunting ethics? Is everyone willing to put the preseason preparation work into the property? Is everyone willing to split costs beyond the lease? (e.g. Treestands, food plots, travel, etc.) Do you all share the same opinions on quality deer management practices? Do you all have a clear understanding of the do’s and don’ts of the property? (e.g. Can your kids or close friends use it?) Are your hunting partners going to respect the land as if it was their own? Remember, nothing will turn a landowner off from leasing the property quicker than disrespecting their land.
Once you have your partners, select a location. Set a few specific areas or a certain mile radius you are willing to travel. Let’s face it, a 5-hour trip one way to get to your lease is a commitment versus having something half that distance or less. If hunting in a specific area is important to your group, then take that into consideration. The surrounding properties should also be taken into consideration. How important is it to you that others are practicing QDM in the area? It can be quite frustrating passing several 3 ½ year-old bucks with good potential throughout the season only to find out that your neighbors are shooting them.
Some leases can get quite pricey. Set a range to which you and your party are willing to spend. When someone overextends themselves by paying more than what they should be, expectations go up. And if those expectations are not met, the outcome is usually not good.
Make sure you have solid communication between your group and the landowner. Write up your expectations of the property and the landowner. Ask about common things that the farmer may be concerned with, such as how to approach livestock or how/where they prefer you cross their fences. Depending on the type of property, there may also be opportunities available for you to store some of your equipment in a barn or shed (which is always nice).
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Be sure to clearly outline any food plot plans. Explain what you are putting in the ground and why. Let the landowner know which vehicles will be on the property. If you have an ATV or UTV, make sure you clearly state when and how you plan on using them. Tread lightly! It’s always a good practice to let the landowner know when you intend to be on the property hunting.
Obviously, property owners are going to be concerned about letting people use their land and climbing into 20-foot high treestands, along with anything else that poses an injury risk. There are many states that will protect the landowner from those who hunt on their land, such as Wisconsin (WI statute sec. 895.52). If you live in a state that protects the landowner, it is always reassuring to bring this to light in case the landowner has reservations about leasing their property in fear of someone getting hurt and having the hunter sue as a result.
Going above and beyond
Building a relationship between you and the landowner of your lease should be high on your priority list. Their comfortability of leasing the land year after year depends on your relationship. Continuous communication between both parties is essential. As I mentioned before, clearly understanding expectations, letting the landowner know when you intend on hunting, and asking if there is anything that the landowner would like you to do differently are just some examples of keeping up that communication. Beyond that, ask if there is anything you can do to help out with the property during the year. If you have a skillset that you can offer that can save the landowner some time and money, I can guarantee it will be greatly appreciated. If you notice something on the property that needs repair (a fence, for instance), offer to repair it.
In the end, treat the land as if it were your own. During the holidays, send a card. If you happen to harvest an animal or 2, offer to share some of the meat. If you follow all these steps, you’re sure to find the leasing experience to be an enjoyable one.