Leasing land for recreation has become more popular over the last decade, and demand for access to places to hunt has grown. While recreational leasing doesn't suit everyone, it can be a way for landowners to diversify their income, reduce trespassing and manage wildlife resources.
A recreational lease is an agreement between the person who controls property access and a person or group willing to pay for access to defined recreational privileges for a defined time on that property.
Recreational leases can include opportunities for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, bird watching, photography and more. Recreational leases are customizable. A landowner should tailor a recreational lease to fit within or supplement their individual goals for the property. For example, a recreational hunting lease can be very restricting and offer hunting for a single species on a day, weekend or seasonal basis. Or, it can be very liberal and offer year-round hunting and fishing for multiple species. The type and duration of the lease will influence the price someone is willing to pay. It is important to remember that the landowner is leasing access to land or facilities, not the native wildlife, since native wildlife is publicly owned.
Some qualities of recreational leases that can increase their value are proximity to home, multiple recreational activities available, abundant wildlife, trophy animals, comfort (i.e., a place to stay), roads to easily access the property, little competition from others, friendly lessors, communication of farm activities, guest privileges and opportunity for participation in wildlife management practices.
If you choose to lease your property for recreation, develop a written recreational lease agreement signed by both parties. The lease agreement should define the rules for the lease, protect the interest of both parties and avoid misunderstandings. However, no two leases are identical. It is important to remember that leases are customizable and the lease contract should fit within or supplement the goals for the property.
Recreational leases offer landowners additional sources of income by meeting growing demand for access to hunting places.
The biggest benefit to most landowners with successful leases is increased income from the property. Recreational leasing can afford landowners steady income when primary farm incomes are down because farm incomes can be subject to market demand, weather, pests and other environmental conditions. Another benefit to recreational leases is that they can help control trespassing problems. The increased presence of people and activities associated with the lease can deter trespassing and poaching activity. Wildlife can also benefit from recreational leasing through population management, conservation of habitat and increased consideration in land management decisions.
When recreational leasing is not the sole income source for the property, some compromise is often necessary to optimize income for recreation and agricultural use. Leasing increases a landowner's liability compared to allowing free or no access. It also forces the landowner to deal with people. Often, a landowner's potential to profit from recreational leasing depends on his or her marketing skills and reputation as much as natural resource abundance and land management/ag production practices. Lessees usually like to have exclusive use during the lease term, which may restrict a landowner's recreational use of the property.
Sample recreational leases are available at the end of the Texas A&M Real Estate Center's publication The Texas Deer Lease and Oklahoma Cooperative Extension's Lease Hunting Opportunities for Oklahoma Landowners.