Louisiana is blessed with a variety of game animals that provide recreational benefits for sports enthusiasts. Often overlooked is the benefit many landowners derive from allowing others to lease their land for hunting.
In 2001, reports compiled by county agents in Louisiana indicated that 5,891 private nonindustrial landowners leased 7,233,514 acres of land for fee hunting. The total gross farm value of these operations was slightly more than $38.5 million. Hunting leases on these private lands averaged $5.32 per acre, with extreme variations depending upon location within the state, habitat quality and species involved. Marshlands in many of the southern parishes leased for $2 to $4 per acre, and some waterfowl areas in the Delta regions leased for $60 to $70 per acre. These high dollar waterfowl leases involved the leasing (for several thousand dollars) of individual blinds surrounded by moist soil areas that attract waterfowl. White-tailed deer are the major game animal for which much of the upland hunting lease activity revolves. Wild turkey, squirrel and rabbits are other upland game species that are hunted.
Private, non-industrial forest landowners have long realized the benefits from leasing lands. They are being joined in this endeavor by landowners involved in row crop agriculture. Low commodity prices in recent years and the large number of federal and state cost-sharing programs, which encourage the establishment of pine and hardwood timber stands, have led to the conversion of thousands of acres in Louisiana from traditional agricultural land to areas of productive wildlife habitat. An environmental benefit of this transformation is the reestablishment of timber and other forms of permanent cover on many acres of marginal farmland, cleared when farm commodity prices were high and little foresight was given to future trends.
There are three major types of hunting lease agreements that generally depend upon duration of the agreement and species of game allowable for harvest. Annual leases are the most common method of fee hunting in Louisiana. These leases involve the right to take all game species and are assessed on a per acre or lump sum basis in exchange for hunting rights on the property. Lessees and lessors that develop good relationships under these arrangements may see an annual lease develop into a multi-year or long-term lease.
Seasonal leases are a second type. They allow landowners to specify the species of game to be taken. In many cases seasonal leases involve the right for one group to hunt those species that have a fall hunting season such as deer, squirrel and rabbit, while allowing a second group to hunt wild turkeys in the spring. By identifying groups or individuals interested in hunting only certain species, a lessor may realize a higher profit than if all game species are included in one agreement.
Short-term hunting lease agreements are a third type. They involve daily, weekend or weekly hunts, referred to as “package” hunts. These agreements are most successful near populated areas where the demand for hunting opportunities is great but each hunter might be able to go hunting only a few times each season. A daily fee is charged, and the hunter pays only for the amount of time that was actually spent hunting.
Regardless of the lease arrangement, there are many benefits. Lessees benefit from greater enjoyment in their hunting experiences. Lessors benefit from increased revenue and protection on leased lands. Wildlife benefit by the improved habitat that results when lessors and lessees work together to provide what is needed for the managed species.
Don Reed, Associate Specialist, School of Renewable Natural Resources, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, La.
(This article was published in the spring 2002 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)