Farm Progress

Country Counsel: Hunting leases should specify species and dates.

Robert Moore, Co-owner

April 23, 2018

3 Min Read
MORE POPULAR: Hunting leases are more prevalent since Ohio passed The Tort Reform Act, which allows landowners to receive lease payments from hunters while maintaining liability protection.

The popularity of hunting leases in Ohio has increased significantly in the last 10 years. Like any type of lease, landowners should be sure to protect their interests and their land. Consider some of these more important issues when entering into a hunting lease.

A change in Ohio law is mostly responsible for the increase in popularity of hunting leases. For many years, Ohio has had a Recreational Statute that basically holds landowners harmless for injuries or deaths to hunters (and other recreational users). However, historically, the law did not allow landowners to take money from hunters and maintain their liability protection. It was well known among landowners to not take payment from hunters.

In 2005, the Ohio Legislature passed the Tort Reform Act. The new law affected many aspects of tort (liability) law and included a specific change to the Recreational User Statute. The Tort Reform Act allowed landowners to receive lease payments from hunters while maintaining liability protection. Shortly thereafter, hunting leases started to spring up in Ohio and are now standard practice.

One of the first items to consider in a hunting lease is the term and species covered. A hunting lease can be of any term — a week to multiple years. The lease should be very specific, with a starting date and an ending date. A lease for “this year’s hunting season” is just asking for trouble. A hunting lease for more than three years must be notarized to be enforceable.

The lease should also specify which species are included. A lease that does not specify for species likely covers all species. For example, a landowner and a hunter enter into a hunting lease for Sept. 1, 2018 through Aug. 31, 2019. No mention is made of specific species for the lease. The Landowner assumes the lease is for deer and turkey. The Landowner permits a neighbor to hunt groundhogs during the summer.  The hunter objects, stating that he has all hunting rights during the term of the lease and does not want the neighbor doing any hunting. In this situation, the hunter probably is correct and would be entitled to not allow the neighbor to hunt. A better strategy may have been for the landowner to have the term of the lease be from the first day of deer season to the last day of turkey season. Additionally, the lease could have included a provision that allows the landowner to have nuisance specie hunters on the land, as long as they do not interfere with the hunter’s use.

Another issue to consider relates to population management. Many farmers allow hunting on their land to help control deer populations. However, some hunters are only interested in the trophy buck. As landowners know, killing trophy bucks do not do much for population control. To address this issue, the lease can include a provision that the hunter must kill a doe for every buck killed. This allows the hunter to kill the trophy buck they seek, but also to help the landowner with population control. If the hunter does not kill a doe, the lease can require the hunter to pay the landowner a penalty.

Like all leases, a hunting lease should be in writing. A written lease protects both the landowner and hunter from misunderstandings. Hunting leases can and should include many different provisions, the more detailed the better. Problems involving leases are rarely due to the leases being to detailed, problems almost always result from the leases being deficient in some way.

Moore is an attorney with Wright & Moore Law Co. LPF. Email him at [email protected], or call 740-990-0750.

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