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Secrets to Tracking the Best Hunting Leases

It’s peak season to begin finding a backwoods getaway to call your own. Here’s how to do it.

Deer camp in Union County, FL. Photos by John Radcliffe (a.k.a. flydown on the FS Forum).

Public land, private land, hunt club, lease: Where will you hunt this fall?

The days when someone could knock on a farmhouse door and get permission to hunt are long gone. As pressure has increased on both private and public land, access to hunting has become more difficult. Landowners want to see some return for letting hunters onto their property, and hunters want access to property that other people aren’t hunting.

The exchange between the landowner and the hunter can be difficult to navigate. Finding a lease, evaluating the property and negotiating terms all have their challenges. But finding a good lease is possible.

Step 1. Explore The Possibilities

The first step is to locate property that’s available for lease. Shine a bright light when you start looking; if you’re willing to be flexible in terms of geography you’ll have more options.

Timber companies don’t just cut trees
anymore; they actively manage their forests for multiple uses, including hunting.
Consequently, many companies’ websites include an interactive list of properties that may be leased for hunting.

Timing is important here. You should start looking for a lease in late April or early May at the latest. That’s when last year’s lease holders start relinquishing properties and those properties start appearing on websites. Good leases go fast; you will have to move quickly to get the one you want.

If you’re looking for a lease in the Southeast, the lower Midwest, New York or Washington, take a look at Rayonier’s website at www.rayonierhunting.com. You’ll have to create an account and log in to bid on property, but it’s free and you can cover a lot of ground. The Westervelt Company, formerly Gulf States Paper Corporation, has an entire division dedicated to managing hunting leases through out the Southeast; their website is www.westerveltwildlife.com.

“Whether it’s Rayonier, St. Regis or Plum Creek, that’s where most of the leased hunting land comes from in north Florida,” said Tony Young, media relations coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “Each company has someone who’s responsible for hunting leases.”

At the end of 2012, Plum Creek owned 6.4 million acres of timberland in 19 states. At www.plumcreek.com you can click on the “Recreation” button and, under that, “Hunting Programs,” and that will take you to a page with much information about leasing land for hunting.

Go onto the St. Regis Paper Company website at www.stregispaper.com; the link to hunting lease information is top and center on the page. From there you
can search for hunting leases in seven Southeastern states.

Some consulting foresters have information on hunting leases. Begin at The Association of Consulting Foresters of America at www.acf-foresters.org. Mouse over the link that says “About ACF” and scroll down the drop-down menu to “Find An ACF Forester.” When you click on that link you can choose a state and pull up a list of consulting foresters in the state where you want to search. Follow links to the various foresters’ websites and see whether or not they offer the management of hunting leases.

For instance, if you search on Florida, the first listing is The Forestry Company in Perry. Click on the link associated with the entry and you’ll get an expanded view that includes a link to The Forestry Company’s website at www.theforestrycompany.com. Under the “Services” tab you’ll find hunting lease information.

Legacy Wildlife Services in Lake City also manages hunting properties. Their website at www.legacywildlife.com provides a list of properties throughout the Southeast.

Real estate agents also have gotten into hunting leases. Saunders Real Estate in Lakeland lists hunting leases on its website at www.saundersrealestate.com.

If you’re looking for hunting land in Alabama, go to the Alabama Forest Owners’ Association (www.afoa.org) and click on the link that says “Lease Hunting Land.” You’ll pull up a list of properties that are available in Alabama. Wouldn’t it be nice if every state had this level of information available? If any other states have this kind of information, it’s fairly well hidden.

Keep in mind that good hunting leases won’t last long on any of these sites; some of them may disappear in as little as a day. If you can’t find what you want, or can’t react that fast, keep your eye on classified ads in outdoor magazines as well as in local and regional newspapers.

Don’t overlook good old-fashioned networking. Many small landowners don’t put their property onto any website or directory. The only way to find these leases is because you know someone who knows someone. Whether you’re a member of Ducks Unlimited or the National Wild Turkey Federation, or you work with people who hunt and fish, keep your ears open and be on the lookout for hunting lease opportunities. The online Hunt Camp Forum at www.floridasportsman.com is an excellent place to check around and get feedback on regions or parcels of interest.

Will permanent or mobile structures be permitted? Lessors may have various terms for camping.

Step 2: Get More Information

Once you find a piece of property you like, move quickly. Most listings will have a link to more information about the lease, as well as a map. Look at the features of the map and try to find a parcel number, road name, intersection, or any other names or locations that will help you find the same piece of property on another source.

Then start researching. If you have the landowner’s name, go to the county Property Appraiser’s website. Find the piece of property and look to see what’s around it. See if there is a link to an aerial photo/map or to Google Earth.

If you just have a landmark or a road number or name, put it in Google Earth along with the county name. Look for the piece of property there.

Study the lease as you would any piece of property for deer hunting. Where are the wildlife corridors? Is the property cut off from bedding or feeding areas? Are there any land features that will funnel deer to (or away from) this property? Some of the potential leases you’ll look at may be quite small. Don’t reject them until you see what’s around them. A 25-acre tract between the railroad tracks and a shopping mall may not be very desirable, but put that same 25 acres between a national forest and a big soybean farmer and it could be a nice spot for bucks.

Step 3. Make Contact

As soon as you’ve found a lease you think you like, make contact with the managing biologist, forester, landowner or real estate agent. Let the person know you’re interested in the property and ask for details. Try to get a sample lease.Ask if anyone else is looking at it and try to gauge how fast you’ll need to proceed.

Ask questions about changes that may have taken place since the aerial photos have been taken. Ask for references, names and phone numbers of former lessees. If those aren’t forthcoming, consider that a red flag. There may not be anything wrong—the previous lessee may simply not want his name released—but that also may be a signal that there are issues the agent doesn’t want you to know about.

Step 4. Practice Due Diligence

If everything you learn makes you think this is the lease for you, let the agent know you’d like to see the property. Take a road trip. If the idea of going to see the property makes you groan, then it will be too far for you when hunting season rolls around.

Walk the property thoroughly, and meet the agent face to face if you can. It helps to have personal contact when there are issues you need to iron out.

Some lessors allow year-round placement of a group structure of limited specifications.

Step 5: Negotiate the Contract

Once you decide that this is the property for you, look closely at the terms of the contract. Contracts are not set in stone, and they can be negotiated. Read carefully and be sure what is your responsibility and what is the landowner’s or the agent’s responsibility.

Here’s a sneaky little thing about hunting lease contracts: Sometimes they contain maintenance clauses that really are part of the timber managers’ responsibilities. For instance, several years ago we were considering a hunting lease in north Florida. The lease called for us—the lease holders—to plow and maintain the fire lines.

Plowing fire lines is a typical, normal thing for a forest manager to do. Almost every piece of woodland in the Southeast—including pieces that never are burned—have plowed fire lines around them. But this forest manager was looking at a slick way to reduce his work load: let the lessee maintain the
fire lines.

We politely told the forest manager that we lived several hundred miles from the proposed hunting lease and that we didn’t own a tractor capable of doing the job. We asked if that clause of the contract could be rewritten, and he agreed.

Sometimes it’s just that simple; if you have an objection to something in the lease, ask politely and negotiate a change. - FS

by Carolee Anita Boyles

First Published Florida Sportsman May 2013