Some farmers post their land against hunting. Others turn the fall rush of hunters into a profit center. If you lean to the latter group, one good idea is to lease your property for cash to a handful of hunters or to a hunting club.
You get to vet the people who will be on your land and you will see them often. You also have a good excuse for denying access to everyone else who comes up the lane with a gun rack in their pickup truck. In addition, managing wildlife by allowing hunting can help prevent crop damage and diseases in livestock by controlling the wildlife on the farm.
Be aware, however, that accepting payment for use of the land likely will cost you any protection you enjoy as a landowner under the recreational use statutes common in most states.
More than a handshake
In every case, leasing land for hunting should go beyond the traditional handshake deal to protect all parties. Leases need to have the names and addresses of all parties involved in the deal from the landowner (that’s you) to the lessees (the hunters). If the agreement is with a hunting club, it is a good idea to have everyone who is part of the club sign.
It is perfectly valid to allow hunting only on certain parts of a property. If the area is restricted, say to avoid hunters shooting near the calf hutches, the land needs to be described so both parties (and a judge or jury if there ever were to be a dispute over the lease, added Tiffany Dowell, assistant professor and extension specialist at Texas A&M) can understand exactly where the lessee had permission to hunt.
Here, a farmer can use legal metes-and-bounds descriptions, a photograph or diagram showing the specific locations available to the hunter, or just words if a specific description can be conveyed clearly.
Steps to leasing success
Set a good price. Exclusive access to a piece of land is valuable for hunters. The fee will vary based on the species of animals to be hunted, the hunting methods allowed, and the number of acres available. Land backing into state parkland or state game lands will fetch a good price. While a flat fee is simplest, consider drafting a lease that requires payment per animal harvested, per acre, per year, per person, or any hybrid of these.
Don’t be shy about asking for a security deposit, too, just as you would if renting an apartment.
Avoid leases that assure hunter success. There are just too many variables to make it worthwhile.
Beware of monthly payment programs unless you know the people involved and are fairly sure you won’t be turned into a debt collector.
Also be wary of leases that allow the lessee to sublease the rights to someone else. If this is important to the hunters, be sure you get those rights defined in writing. Lawyers term the rights of the parties to assign or sublease “transferability.”
The time and duration of leases varies widely. It can be for a few days – say doe season in Pennsylvania – or can be for a calendar year. Dowell noted that some states require any agreement for longer than one year to be in writing.
It is a good idea to have a clause that says violation of any term, covenant, or condition of the lease agreement by the lessee allows for the landowner, at his option, to terminate the lease upon notice to the lessee. This gives the farmer the option of terminating the lease if any term is violated, rather than merely having the right to sue the hunting club for damages.
Cover yourself. Consider demanding the lessee acquire and maintain liability insurance prior to hunting on the property. Get yourself included as an “additional insured.” This gets insurance coverage for you, the landowner, in the event of a claim brought by a third party against the lessee and landowner. Be sure the coverage level is healthy – it should be well into six figures, if not more.
Get a “Release of Liability and Indemnification” clause in your contract. If there are to be guests with the lessee, a similar document should be required to be signed by each of them. The legal requirements for a valid waiver of liability and the scope of such a waiver may vary by state, so it is important to understand the requirements for this release to be effective.
Some states require any such release to be conspicuously written or to contain specific language.
WHERE TO GET A LEASE
There are numerous online sources offering sample hunting leases. They are a good place to start solidifying ideas but not a substitute for legal advice.
Here are a few links:
In addition to the liability release, the lease should provide that the lessee will indemnify and hold the landowner not responsible for any claim, demand, loss, damage, attorney fees, and cost resulting from any such claim. It is important to discuss this type of clause with an attorney to ensure that the clause includes all required information to be valid in your state.
As with any contract, look out for No. 1. Be sure you and your operation are covered. If the hunter balks, walk away. It will not be long before a more reasonable person comes up the lane to ask about hunting.
Cover photo: Courtney Keating/istock