I think most deer hunters would agree it’s much more difficult to gain access to good, private hunting land today than it was 20 years ago. What could once be handled with a knock on a door and a handshake has now become a much more complicated process. As a result, many deer hunters are turning to hunting leases — or “hunt clubs” as they are commonly referred to in the South — to provide that access. And while hunting leases can certainly be a great way to gain access to quality hunting land, not all leases are created equal.
Leases can vary widely in the quality of game and hunting opportunities they provide. That’s why it is critical to do some research before handing over your hard-earned money to join one. In fact, there are several factors you’ll want to consider before pulling the trigger (pun intended) on a new hunting lease, including cost, location, size, membership, as well as how it’s managed.
For most deer hunters — myself included — cost plays a big role in finding the right hunting lease. By establishing a budget you are comfortable with, you can quickly weed out those outside of your price range. And while you don’t want to spend more than you can afford, don’t go cheap either. Quality hunting leases aren’t cheap, and if you find one that is, you’ll probably have to get in line to join.
Once you have established a budget, you’ll want to consider location. Are you looking for something close to home, where you can get maximum usage, or are you willing to travel to find an an area known for big, mature bucks? The answer to this question will undoubtedly affect the cost of the lease, as well as the number of leases available to you. Be prepared to expand your potential lease area if needed.
A few years back I was in a 700-acre lease with 12 other members. However, only one other member bowhunted, so during archery season I generally had the place to myself.
This is another important factor in your decision-making process, but its relevance is really tied to other factors we will cover below. While total lease acreage is a consideration, just as important are the types of habitat that make up that acreage. If it’s a 200-acre property consisting of 180 acres of cow pasture and 20 acres of woods, then it’s going to hunt a lot differently than a 200-acre property that’s 150 acres of woods and 50 acres of corn and soybeans. You should take into consideration how many acres are actually huntable and whether the habitat quality is adequate to provide the quality and quantity of deer you are seeking.
This is the factor that can quickly turn an otherwise great hunting lease into one in which you want no part. You’ll want to know how many members are in the lease. Again, total acreage is an important figure to know, but in most cases, the real figure is the number of acres PER member. In some cases, you may be better off with a small tract you have to yourself or share with one other hunter than you would be with a large tract shared with a bunch of members. It really depends on the number of hunters, where those hunters live, how often they hunt, and how easy — or difficult — they are to get along with.
For example, a few years back I was in a 700-acre lease that had 12 other members besides myself. That’s a little crowded for most folks. However, only one other member bowhunted, so during archery season I generally had the place to myself. Additionally, most of the members lived far enough from the lease that they only hunted a handful of times throughout the season. So I got the benefit of a relatively inexpensive lease and rarely had to compete with any of the other members to hunt where I wanted.
Another key piece of the hunting lease puzzle is how the lease is managed. This can range from “anything goes” to very strict QDM guidelines. Before committing to what otherwise sounds like a great hunting lease, make sure you fully understand what rules are in place. You’ll want answers to questions such as:
- What harvest guidelines are in place?
- Are family members allowed? Guests?
- Does each member have an assigned area or is it a first-come, first-served system?
- Are there community stands?
- Do you have year-round access or only during deer season?
- Can you plant food plots or manage the habitat in any way?
- Is there water and/or electricity on site? Is there a campsite?
- Are there required “work days” for members?
- Can you hunt turkeys or other “bonus” species?
Where to Look
Now that you know what to look for, the question becomes where to look. Fortunately, today’s technology puts a lot of great hunting information at your fingertips. One of the first places to look is any online forums dedicated to hunting in your state. These discussion boards often contain a classifieds section which can be a great starting point for locating a hunting lease. With the vast majority of Americans now on Facebook, the social media megasite can be another another great place to track down a lease. Just like online forums, there are now plenty of Facebook groups dedicated to the sale of hunting-related equipment and resources and, in some cases, there are even groups dedicated specifically to hunting leases. Timber company websites can be another great resource for hunting leases. Large organizations such as Weyerhaeuser and Westervelt Wildlife Services offer hunting leases across the country through a competitive bid system, and most have searchable online databases to locate potential tracts in your area.
Of course, don’t overlook the “old school” method of face-to-face networking with family, friends and coworkers. Put the word out with everyone you come in contact with that you’re looking for a place to hunt in the upcoming deer season. You may be surprised at what leads turn up. You may even be fortunate enough to stumble on a hunting opportunity that doesn’t require writing a check.
Having a decent place to hunt is critical. Not everyone can afford their own private hunting land, and public land hunting comes with a whole extra set of challenges. With many hunters turning to leases and hunt clubs, it’s important to ask questions and understand exactly what you are joining before handing over your hard-earned money. Take the time to visit the property, meet with some of the members, look at harvests from previous seasons, and ask the tough questions. In the end, your efforts will be rewarded with a more enjoyable — and hopefully more successful — hunting experience.