Sometime this past spring, you had a vivid dream of a hunting trip where you shot a huge, cunning 8-point buck after two days of patience and intensive tracking. The shot was through the lungs — a perfect and clean kill. With family members by your side, you struck poses by your trophy to commemorate the moment. The congratulations and smiles were so great, you could feel the euphoria pulsing through you. But then you woke up with cold beads of sweat forming around your temples, your heart pounding, and one question gnawing at you: Where am I going to hunt this fall?!
If you have your own land, or you live near large tracts of national forest, this dream-turned-nightmare never happened. But for many hunters, this is a reoccurring question. Public lands might be the first choice, but there’s no longer a certainty that hunters will have access to them during hunting season. Having a friend or acquaintance with land is great, and best of all, it typically costs very little to nothing for the privilege of hunting. It doesn't, however, mean that you’re guaranteed a place to hunt because, as you know, “things” can come up.
So, more and more, people are turning to hunting leases or other paid options from landowners who want to make a little money from their resources after crop season has ended. But, finding reputable and fair leases can be a difficult process. So, we've gathered some information that should help you on your next search for the perfect hunting spot … and giant 8-point buck.
Favors for Private Landowners
They say nothing in life is free. There isn't much to say otherwise, but hunting as a favor to a landowner is as close as it gets. Once you move beyond the suburbs and into the rural areas of the country, you’ll find plenty of property owners with acres of land between one house and the next. If you thought mowing the yard every week was difficult, try keeping up with rambunctious wild pigs that destroy property and deer with insatiable appetites attacking your crops.
It’s a lot to manage, and some residents will employ the help of hunters to tame the wildlife populations that threaten their property. You’d be surprised how many farmers are not hunters. The exchange is simple. The hunter patrols the land and has the opportunity to take some of the wild game. The landowner receives protection and damage control — and, if you’re smart, a gift of game meat, sausage … and perhaps a bottle of Kentucky’s finest at Christmas.
These opportunities are rare. It will take time and effort to develop the right type of relationship. If you find a landowner open to the idea, don’t be offended if they take certain precautions. They are, after all, trying to protect their investment.
Hunting — It’ll Cost You
If public land is out of the question and you’re short on friends, a hunting lease is the next most accessible option. Leases are great secondary sources of income for landowners — not to mention a way to manage the carrying capacity of the land.
Landowners can define the lease details for their property. This includes:
- What game is available
- What types of hunting are allowed (bow, gun, etc.)
- The hunting area
- How many hunters are allowed
- Upfront cost and kill fees
- Duration of the lease
- The use of hunting dogs
- Other amenities
There are four main types of leases, and we'll use properties listed in the Texas Parks and Wildlife registry to outline each one.
If you’re looking for a quick, one-off hunting trip, a daily lease will be your best bet. It doesn't, however, give you much time to scout the area, which lowers your chances of a successful hunt. Landowners may remedy this by offering guides or hunting dogs. The Texas Parks and Wildlife registry has 34 properties offering daily leases. Prices are listed from $40 to $4,500 per hunter, and property size is between 67 and 23,000 acres.
The most important thing to consider with daily lease options is how many hunters could be on the land at once. An area can only support so many hunters. Hunting on 23,000 acres sounds like an unlimited opportunity, but if you're competing with 120 other hunters in 13 hours … the odds may not be in your favor.
Also referred to as short-term, these leases allow hunters more time on the land. The explicit timeframe is determined by the landowner and can be a week or longer. With longer visits, some hunters can anticipate accommodations or at least campsites on the property, but it’s not always a given. For landowners, the longer the hunter is on the property, the more trust that is involved. Take the time to develop the relationship to make it an arrangement you can use for more than one season.
In Texas, seasonal leases are available for $200 to $12,000 per hunter on 50 to 15,000 acres.
Avid hunters will be most interested in year-round leases, but they also require considerably more commitment from the hunter and trust from the landowner. For a group of dedicated hunters, yearly leases provide substantial benefits — namely not having to worry about your next hunting spot for an entire year and the ability to improve your odds of success by scouting and setting up multiple stands. You can set your strategy in motion months in advance of a season opening.
As the hunter, you become just as invested in the health of the land as the owner. The Texas Parks and Wildlife site lists yearlong leases that cost $580 to $7,000 per hunter on 150 to 21,289 acres.
Finding a suitable place to hunt can take a lot of legwork, and many hunters simply don’t have time for that. Hunting clubs are the stop-gap between hunters and landowners. Not only do they establish the relationship with the landowner, they also provide liability insurance. This can be a huge relief for a property owner.
Hunting clubs also provide several amenities — sometimes including multiple properties under the same umbrella. The downsides are that you won't always know who you’re hunting with and a property can be over-crowded.
To combat this, multi-state hunting services like Hunting Sports Plus (HSP), provide hunters with access to private lands in multiple states. Missouri-based HSP is an affiliate of the American Wildlife Association, which gives members access to more than 250,000 acres in 17 states. Its members also enjoy exclusive rights to the property for a desired amount of time. Prices are need-based, but if you’re a bargain shopper this could work in your favor.
To avoid watching this hunting season from the couch, plan your trips early in the year. Research all of your options before making a decision on a lease, because not every property is suitable for every hunter. If you’re a hunter or property owner interested in more information on leases, read this article on how hunting leases work.