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Does Leasing Increase the Cost of Hunting?

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I am often called upon to give presentations regarding the management of lease hunting enterprises. Many times following such a talk, someone in the audience will walk up and say, "Yeah, it's great for landowners, but it sure doesn't help an income-challenged hunter like me! This complaint sounds logical, but perhaps is shortsighted.

Inarguably, if a hunter has permission to hunt a specific tract of land for free and the landowner decides to begin charging a fee, and that hunter decides to pay the fee to continue hunting there, his individual cost of hunting has been increased. However, such a chain of events is rare and affects a very small fraction of hunters any given year.

What does happen over a large acreage every year is the conversion of native vegetation (game habitat) to introduced forage, crops, or trees, golf courses, houses, ranchettes, etc. Though there are exceptions, the majority of these decisions are simply economic: an alternative land use is perceived to be more profitable. These land conversion decisions reduce the acres available for hunting every year.

To change this trend, the economics of the decision must be altered. For most landowners, leasing is the most efficient way to tip the economic balance in favor of maintaining high-quality game habitat. Some landowners who prohibit hunting or only allow family members to hunt increase the pool of huntable acres when they begin leasing.

Presently, cost is not preventing many people from hunting. In 2001, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a survey of hunting and angling participation and expenditures1. One of the questions asked was why hunters did not participate more in their sport. The majority (70 percent) of the responders indicated simply a lack of time or other family, work, or school obligations. Of the hunters who did not hunt as much in 2001 as they would have liked to, only 4 percent indicated it was because hunting cost too much.

But what about the future?

The economic principle of supply and demand predicts that as the supply of huntable acreage shrinks, the value of all the remaining hunting opportunity increases. Perhaps this is best illustrated by the cost of wild quail hunting in the southeast United States.

Primarily because of land conversion to other uses, quail habitat and opportunity to hunt wild quail is now uncommon across the southeastern United States. According to Dr. Ron Masters, director of research for Tall Timbers Research, Inc. of Florida, "Wild bird hunts are not generally available for individuals across the southeast. Corporate hunts do occur occasionally and are generally in the $50,000 range per week. The going rate for leases on the plantations that let to colleagues, partners, etc., is $5,000 to $7,000 per day."

Though it doesn't have short-term appeal to most hunters, widespread, relatively low-cost lease hunting might be a preferred alternative to exclusive hunting available only to the affluent.

1U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau. 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.