By Earl Taylor
I had parked at the gate and walked across the picked corn field in the dark. I set up my stand and was ready for first light. This was the first time hunting from this bottleneck and I was hopeful. I was hoping to see deer, but at first light, all I saw was headlights coming across the field. The truck parked within 30 yards of my tree and two noisy hunters began to throw tree stands and bows from the truck.
They were surprised at my voice and my disgusted remarks as I climbed down and left. They had permission to hunt the neighbors land, and the shortest route to their potential hunting ground was through my hunting ground. I knew I should have invested in a chain and a padlock to control who was driving in and out of my prime hunting ground!
We all have been bumped, invaded, and interrupted while hunting; nearly always on public land and occasionally while hunting on private land. A noisy, boisterous gobbler can seduce a nearby hunter to cross over the fence line to move in closer. The sighting of a large buck crossing the road in the evening will tempt others to push the limit and make an attempt to harvest the trophy. Or in many cases, former hunters return to hunt, having had permission ten years ago, believing that the permission they received earlier was still active. “No hunting” signs don’t work. Neither do “no trespassing” signs. Everyone assumes the sign was meant for someone else.
There is one way to ensure you have control of a particular property: lease it. It comes with a price tag, but it also gives you peace of mind knowing completely who has hunted, when it was last hunted, and if there was something harvested. When you are able to post LEASED PROPERTY signs, it speaks a different language to any wanna-be hunters who have hunted there in the past. Leasing a parcel of land to hunt can allow a hunter to do extra work in setting stands, clearing shooting lanes, and even giving him the ability to control all things related to hunting.
When looking for a piece of land to hunt, you don’t need to find the biggest piece of property, but it does have to have the right location; a smaller tract of land works if it butts up next to a larger parcel. It would be preferable if the larger tract owners did not allow hunting. During the rut, big deer will cross fences giving you an opportunity to harvest a love-sick buck. Leasing is still about location though. A piece of timber that joins a state or a county park where hunting is not allowed is more valuable than a parcel that has other hunters in all the surrounding timbers. The more isolated away from competition, human noise and smells, the better.
I had a friend who once had permission to hunt on private land that butted up against Ledges State Park. He consistently told me stories of huge bucks crossing the fence out of the park and feeding in the corn field. However, he also told me how frustrated he was that there were others that were allowed to hunt. He had the financial resources to lease it, but endured the constant hunter traffic. Later, someone else had the foresight and leased it themselves, leaving my friend without a place to hunt. Sometimes it is best to spend the money than to be left out in the cold.
Once you have identified a parcel of land, approach the landowner and begin the discussion. Know how much money you can afford. I have known some hunters who leased land by the acre and others who will give a lump sum to hunt the entire parcel. 500 dollars sounds better than $3 per acre. Regardless of the price, both parties need to know what this lease entails.
Make sure you have it in writing with the landowner about the time length of the lease and what it all encompasses. Can the landowner still hunt during shotgun season? Is this for the entire year that will include spring turkey hunting and fall and winter deer seasons? Does it include pheasant season? Squirrel? Coon hunters? Is the hunter able to invite his own friends and family to hunt on the lease? Whatever you want the lease to say and mean, write it down and have both parties sign it. Verbal communication is subject to interpretation, but what is written down is what is to be followed by both parties.
There is no set price for leasing. Farmers have big money invested in their farm ground and they do have lean years with crop prices. Much of the negotiation has to be done piece by piece. A small piece of timber next to the county park will demand more dollars than a larger piece of timber with more neighboring competition. Price is in the eye of the beholder and the owner. If a landowner is going to give up all hunting rights, expect to pay a premium. If it is just for bow season and allows the landowners family to shotgun hunt, expect a lower price. Both parties need clarity on words like “limited rights” and “exclusive rights”.
On the written lease, make sure you clarify what and when you can drive into the farmer’s fields. Farmers do not want you crossing a newly planted corn field to do some spring cleaning on a tree stand or to set up a turkey blind. Make sure you know where you can park your vehicles so that they will be out of the way as the crops are harvested. Have it in writing about tree stands and the need to cut smaller scrub trees to provide shooting lanes. If this is a multi-year lease, the farmer needs to understand that you will leave some of your tree stands in place all year long. Have an understanding of which gates can be locked by the hunter, and which ones need to stay open for access for the farmer.
Make sure you post leased hunting rights on the main gates. Former hunters who had permission last year need to see that their past permission is null and void. Posting no hunting or trespassing will not stop former hunters from entering your newly leased ground. Laminate typed lease arrangement along with your name and your phone number. Staple it on small pieces of plywood and nail it to a fence post in several key locations.
Review the property boundaries using a google map. Make sure you know which fence lines are property lines, and which fences are in place to control livestock. Many farmers run cattle through rougher timber ground and on corn stalks in the fall. Know that you might have to compete with cattle from your tree stand.
Sometimes money doesn’t have to exchange hands; working for the farmer could be the payment for exclusive hunting rights. Or if you have a specific trade that could benefit a landowner, exchange your trade for hunting rights. If you are a photographer, offer a family portrait every year. If you do lawn care, do a lawn spraying service swap.
Much of what makes hunting enjoyable is being able to settle into an area and know that you will not be interrupted. Perhaps leasing your next dream hunting ground will pay off with control which will lead to success in the field.
Deer Lease Checklist
There is another side of the story when leasing property too. Before you get to the point of signing on the dotted line you had better make sure the property is what you want and if it would be worth your hard earned money. Bottom line is you need to find out if any given property that you are interested in has the qualities or characteristics to hold and attract game, in this article’s instance we are wanting certain property features that correspond to whitetails.
The very first thing you should do is some homework. Right after you find a property you need to inspect it to see if it indeed would be a good piece of land to hunt. The best way to do this is first by viewing aerial photos and first hand info by getting out and walking the property. I would hesitate to lease any property without doing either of these two things.
After gathering all the information ask yourself the following questions. The more yeses you can compile the better the lease will be. Keep in mind though that no one property will probably meet every one of your needs or the questions on the checklist. There will have to be some give and take or you will never be able to lease a property. If you are stuck on the fence then resort to first and last questions. If both of those are a “yes” then go for it. If either one of those are a “no” then you might want to continue the search.
• Cost – Can you afford the property?
• Location – Is the property close to home?
• Size – Is the property the right size for your needs and wants?
• Entrance/Exit Routes – Can you get to and from your stands without busting or spooking deer?
• Winds in relation to stand sites – Does the property allow you to hunt a variety of wind directions?
• Deer Population – Is there a good population of deer in the surrounding area?
• Deer Sign – Is there plenty of sign that deer are using the property, either for travel, feeding, or bedding?
• Food Sources/Cropland – Is there a source/s of food to bring deer onto or keep them on the property during hunting season?
• Bedding cover – Is there cover to allow for deer to bed on the property?
• Funnels/Pinch Points – Is there timber or other deer security cover the narrows down into funnels allowing for natural ambush points?
• Water availability – Is there available water to consume on the property?
• Multiple Hunters – How many hunters will the landowner allow on the lease?
• Neighboring properties – Does the area get heavy hunting pressure?
• Long Term – Can you sign up for a long term?
• Land Improvement – Does the lease allow for implementing wildlife management practices, such as food plots, timber improvement, creating cover plot, etc.
• Seasons You Can Hunt – Is this lease only for a specific season or can you hunt all desired seasons?
• Multispecies – Is the lease limited to hunting only whitetail, or can you hunt other species too?
• Gut Instincts – Does this land feel like a good piece of property to hunt deer on?