Adding a Hunting Enterprise to Your Farm or Ranch

Adding a Hunting Enterprise to Your Farm or Ranch

a buck running through a field
Visit with your insurance professional and attorney before deciding whether to engage in any type of commercial hunting operation. Photo credit Troy Walz.

Crop and cattle prices have dropped, could you extract more profit by adding a hunting lease to your operation?

Hunting leases allow access to hunters for a certain period of time by cost per acre or lump sum. These leases let you specify which game species can be hunted, hunting rights for yourself, your guests, and immediate family.  In fact, depending on the interest of lessee and your willingness, these leases can be customized to the satisfaction of both you and the lessee, as well as the agreed-upon price paid for the privilege of leasing.

Written hunting leases are the key to how your enterprise will be ran and how profitable it may be.  A hunting lease is an agreement between the landowner (lessor) and hunters (lessees) that grants the hunter access rights for hunting game animals (and other specified activities) on your property for a specified time period.  Hunters usually pay an agreed-upon dollar amount per acre or per hunter.

Looking at current leases on the internet for 2019, the range is .85 (mainly deer) per acre to 64.99 an acre for land that would have waterfowl as well as deer and turkeys.  Some of the short term leases $225 per day for a turkey hunt.  If meals and lodging are included, the price starts at $550 a day. Another option is allowing a land leasing company to lease your land for hunting.  These companies recruit hunters and cover the rules and some of the liability.

However, in some leases you may agree to a smaller combination of dollars per acre or per hunter with a written agreement that the hunter or hunters perform service exchange for the privilege of hunting access such as helping sort cattle.  Hunting leases can be categorized as long and short-term.  Below is a list of common types in each category.

Long Term

  • Seasonal lease – all species of game legal to hunt
  • Seasonal lease – specified animal or animals
  • Annual or multi-year lease – all species
  • Annual or multi-year lease – specified game animal or animals.

Short Term

  • Daily hunting, often by permits
  • Weekly hunts
  • Multi-day (three to five) day hunts
  • Special season hunts – such as bow, muzzle loader, rifle only

If you are a landowner considering such leases as an alternative enterprise to supplement your income, you should understand the advantages and disadvantages of the leases.  You also must consider and remember you are not selling wildlife, which is publicly owned.  You are selling the opportunity and privileges that go with access to your land for the purposes specified in the written lease agreement.  Having some idea of habitat quality and status of wildlife populations on your land will be important in making decisions.  The sustainability of renewable resources is the key to long-term income potential as well as sustainability of the operation.  Recreational access/hunting leases can become an enjoyable and rewarding experience for you (lessor) and sportsmen (lessees) with advanced planning, preparation, management, and communications.

Things you should consider when adding hunting to your farming or ranching enterprise include:

  • Are you willing to let more people on your operation?
  • Are you willing to manage for wildlife as part of your operation?
  • What are your long-term objectives and sustainability goals for your natural resource base?
  • Are you willing to find the resources necessary to get the enterprise up and running?
  • Is the leasing program compatible with your other land management objectives?

Structuring hunting lease price

  • Breakeven (including labor costs) + 10% – The lease price is based on management and cost associated the lease operation plus 10% to cover unforeseen costs and the need for the lease to cover operational costs and land taxes.
  • Habitat valuation - The lease price is determined from a subjective rating of the quality and quantity of wildlife habitat available.  For example, if the wildlife and population have been managed to provide high populations of wildlife and better than average-hunting opportunities, the value of the lease may be higher, or if the lessee wants to limit or keep out other hunters that the property could reasonably sustain, they may have to pay a premium price for that.
  • Baseline plus value-added - charge a base price per acre plus charges on improvements made, amenities or services provided.
  • Competitive pricing – base the lease price on the going rate of other leases in the area or lease prices charged elsewhere for similar access, services, and amenities provided.
  • Sealed bid – similar to timber sales in that you develop a description of the hunting lease, what it offers, and a request for sealed bids.  This can be done via advertising or by directly contacting interested individuals or sportsmen groups.

Preparing a hunting lease is not a do-it-yourself job. A well-drafted hunting lease limits your liability exposure should hunting accidents occur. A poorly drafted lease leaves you open to personal injury liability.  Visit with your insurance professional and attorney before deciding whether to engage in any type of commercial hunting operation.

For more information and an example-hunting lease go to:

Hunting lease checklist go to:

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