Hunting leases present a number of issues, which if not addressed in writing, can lead to misunderstandings at best, and unexpected liability or litigation at worst. Because both the owner’s and the hunter’s needs vary depending on the type of land and the type of hunting involved, each leasing situation presents its own set of unique requirements and expectations. An owner may be a farmer who allows hunting only during gun deer season or spring turkey hunting season. This type of lease will be very different from one between an owner of wild timberland and a trophy bow hunter who desires year-round access and exclusive hunting rights.
Leases are contracts and must be clear and unambiguous to be enforceable. This requires a well-written lease. A good hunting lease anticipates and addresses potential issues before they arise. A good lease also clearly defines the rights of both parties and helps to avoid misunderstandings. The following list provides examples of some of the issues owners and hunters should discuss and a good lease should document:
- What is the term of the lease? What seasons or dates does the lease cover? Can the hunter access the land before the hunting season and if so, to do what? Is it automatically renewable?
- Who specifically is allowed onto the land? Can they bring others with them? Can they assign the lease to someone else? Can they charge others for entering the land based on their right to enter under the lease? Can they guide other hunters on the land?
- Are the hunting rights exclusive to one hunter, or can the owner lease to other hunters as well?
- What property is covered by the lease? Is it accurately described to avoid trespassing, confusion regarding boundaries, or interference with activities on the premises or adjoining land?
- What are the terms of payment? Can the lease be revoked and if so, under what circumstances?
- Can the hunter cut brush, limbs, or trees, or otherwise alter the landscape, build blinds, or hang tree stands? Can the hunter place bait?
- Is RV camping allowed? Can the hunter build a fire? Can the hunter bring dogs onto the property and if so, are there any restrictions?
- Can the hunter take any legal game, or is permission limited to specific game? Is the hunter limited to harvesting a certain number of animals regardless of how many tags the hunter has?
- What vehicle will the hunter use and where should the hunter park? Is the hunter allowed to use an ATV on the property? What are the parties’ responsibilities, should unidentified vehicles or persons be observed at the property?
- Can the hunter use a drone or place trail cameras?
- Does the owner want the location of the land to be kept confidential? Can the hunter video the hunt and share it publicly on social media, and if so, under what conditions?
In addition to issues like the above, careful thought must be given to how potential liability is addressed:
- What happens if the hunter injures himself or another person?
- How is accidental damage to property addressed?
- Can the owner be liable if he or she contributes to a dangerous condition?
- What happens if the hunter causes injury to a third party or a third party’s property?
If you would like to discuss hunting leases, land use, trespass or legal rights pertaining to real estate, please contact me.