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NOT A DIY: Hunting leases play a key role in how your operation would run but preparing a hunting lease isn't a do-it-yourself job.

Adding a hunting enterprise to your farm or ranch

Tough Decisions: Written leases are the key in how an operation runs and how profitable it may be.

By Randy Saner

Crop and cattle prices have dropped, but could you extract more profit by adding a hunting lease to your operation?

Hunting leases allow hunters to access land for a certain period by cost per acre or lump sum. These leases let you specify which game species can be hunted and hunting rights for yourself, your guests and immediate family.

Depending on the interest of the lessee and your willingness, these leases can be customized to the satisfaction of both you and the lessee, as well as the agreed-upon price paid for the privilege of leasing.

Written hunting leases are the key to how your enterprise would run and how profitable it may be. A hunting lease is an agreement between the landowner (lessor) and hunters (lessees) that grants the hunter access rights for hunting game animals (and other specified activities) on your property for a specified time period.

Hunters usually pay an agreed-upon dollar amount per acre or per hunter.

Looking at 2019 leases on the internet, the range is 85 cents (mainly deer) per acre to $64.99 an acre for land that would have waterfowl as well as deer and turkeys. Some short-term leases start at $225 per day for a turkey hunt.

If meals and lodging are included, the price starts at $550 a day. Another option is allowing a land leasing company to lease your land for hunting. These companies recruit hunters and cover the rules and some of the liability.

However, in some leases you may agree to a smaller combination of dollars per acre or per hunter with a written agreement that the hunter or hunters perform service exchange for the privilege of hunting access, such as helping sort cattle. Hunting leases can be categorized as long and short term.

Below is a list of common types in each category:

Long term

• Seasonal lease — all species of game legal to hunt

• Seasonal lease — specified animal or animals

• Annual or multiyear lease — all species

• Annual or multiyear lease — specified game animal or animals

Short term

• Daily hunting, often by permits

• Weekly hunts

• Multiday (three- to five-day) hunts

• Special season hunts — such as bow, muzzle loader, rifle only

If you are a landowner considering such leases as an alternative enterprise to supplement your income, you should understand the advantages and disadvantages of the leases. You also must consider and remember you are not selling wildlife, which is publicly owned. You are selling the opportunity and privileges that go with access to your land for the purposes specified in the lease agreement.

Having some idea of habitat quality and status of wildlife populations on your land will be important in making decisions. The sustainability of renewable resources is the key to long-term income potential as well as sustainability of the operation.

Recreational access or hunting leases can become an enjoyable and rewarding experience for you and sportsmen with advanced planning, preparation, management and communications.

Things you should consider when adding hunting to your farming or ranching enterprise include:

• Are you willing to let more people on your operation?

• Are you willing to manage for wildlife as part of your operation?

• What are your long-term objectives and sustainability goals for your natural resource base?

• Are you willing to find the resources necessary to get the enterprise up and running?

• Is the leasing program compatible with your other land management objectives?

Structuring hunting lease price

• Breakeven (including labor costs) + 10% — The lease price is based on management and cost associated with the lease operation, plus 10% to cover unforeseen costs and the need for the lease to cover operational costs and land taxes.

• Habitat valuation — The lease price is determined from a subjective rating of the quality and quantity of wildlife habitat available. For example, if the wildlife and population have been managed to provide high populations of wildlife and better-than-average hunting opportunities, the value of the lease may be higher, or if the lessee wants to limit or keep out other hunters that the property could reasonably sustain, they may have to pay a premium price for that.

• Baseline plus value-added — Charge a base price per acre plus charges on improvements made, amenities or services provided.

• Competitive pricing — Base the lease price on the going rate of other leases in the area or lease prices charged elsewhere for similar access, services and amenities provided.

• Sealed bid — Similar to timber sales in that you develop a description of the hunting lease, what it offers, and a request for sealed bids. This can be done via advertising or by directly contacting interested individuals or sportsmen groups.

Preparing a hunting lease is not a do-it-yourself job. A well-drafted hunting lease limits your liability exposure should hunting accidents occur. A poorly drafted lease leaves you open to personal injury liability.

Visit with your insurance professional and attorney before deciding whether to engage in any type of commercial hunting operation.

For a sample hunting lease, visit www.reynwoodforest.com/docs/SampleHuntingLease.pdf.

For a checklist of components to include in a hunting lease, visit nationalaglawcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Hunting-Lease-Checklist-Dowell.pdf.

Saner is a Nebraska Extension educator.

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