Best Hunting Leases | Decisions that Factor in to Buying a Lease
Finding your very own hunting lease can seem intimidating at first. It might feel like you need to be super rich to afford one, but that’s not the case. And fortunately, it is easier than ever today to find hunting leases, just by using a simple search online. But the most important thing you should consider as you are looking for a hunting lease is how badly you really want it. On the surface, it is a no-brainer – of course you want hunting land all to yourself! But do you have the time, money, and labor to invest in a property? If not, you probably won’t get to make the most out of the property or your time, and it will likely fall short of your expectations. Here is a list of things you should think about (in rough order of importance) before you buy a hunting lease.
Hunting Lease Accessibility and Location – 30%
The first thought in most hunter’s minds when it comes to hunting leases is hunting land for lease in states like Iowa, Illinois, and Kentucky. Why? Season dates, big bucks, and great opportunity. However, most decisions to follow through on a hunting lease is how it realistically fits with your goals. One of the first things you need to think about when looking for hunting land for lease is how accessible a given property is. Not just how easy it is to walk through the property, but how close to home it is too. How far are you willing to travel? If a property takes half a day’s drive to get to it, how likely is it that you will visit it when you’ve got a million things going on in your hectic family schedule? Pretty unlikely, right? But if it’s only 30 minutes down the road, you can easily slip away to the lease to do some property maintenance, check trail cameras, or go hunt for an afternoon sit.
Do you plan on spending a lot of time there or just occasionally during the hunting season? If your ideal situation is to put a lot of sweat equity into a hunting lease, you should be located nearby or the work likely just won’t get done. But if you’re fine only showing up to your hunting land for opening day, it’s probably not a big deal that it’s a long drive to get there. But please consider the location besides whether or not it’s in big buck country, before you get swept up in the promise of a far-off dream property.
The Ideal Property Size – 25%
Another early stumbling block you’ll hit is how large of a property you would like to lease. Of course we’d all like to have as much private hunting land for lease as possible, but that’s not doable for most of us. The good news is that depending on which goals you set for your hunting lease (see below), you may not actually need that much land. If you use the right hunting tactics and can stay dedicated to them, you may only need 20 to 40 acres of land. For example, in the right part of the country, say a small parcel in Illinois, could still allow you to take record-book bucks if hunting pressure, hunter access, and property attraction through bedding areas and food plots are in place.
But if your goals are a little bigger than that, there are other ways to lease more hunting land. Are you willing to invest with a partner so you can get more space? If you already know someone else or a group of hunters who has always been intrigued by hunting leases too, you might have an opportunity. But you’ll want to make sure you choose wisely and develop a written hunting lease agreement between you both and the landowner to eliminate potential problems or disagreements down the road. There’s no doubt that leasing hunting land on larger parcels will give you more flexibility to accomplish your hunting goals.
Personal Hunting Goals – 20%
When you’re investing in a hunting lease, you should have clearly set goals identified. Depending on which goals you’ve set, the property you seek will be different. First, decide on what species of wild game animals you would like to pursue. It’s hard to find all animals on one lease, so prioritize your choices. If you like grouse and woodcock hunting in addition to deer hunting, a property with lots of early successional (i.e., young forest) cover would be great. If you would prefer to hunt waterfowl, there had better be ponds, sloughs, or a river within the lease area. Think these through before you get too heavily invested in a property.
For a deer hunting lease example, do you just want a place to shoot some whitetail does for meat in the freezer? Would you be thrilled just to kill a mature deer instead of a 1½ year old deer for once? Or are you aiming your sights higher and intend to kill only a buck sporting trophy antlers? These are all very different things. On some high quality properties, you could accomplish all three of these goals with no problems. But if your goal is to shoot mature bucks with large antlers, you need to look for the best hunting leases in the right states and locations. That will immediately eliminate many properties and geographies and save you a lot of time and headaches.
Property Layout – 15%
To accomplish your hunting goals, the overall layout of the property is an inescapable piece of the puzzle. The layout includes how trees, shrubs, grasses, wetlands, and row crops are distributed on the property. It also includes how the topography (e.g., hills, valleys, ditches, etc.) is laid out. Both of these features influence how animals use a hunting property. If the habitat/vegetation is right, there will be lots of animals. And you can use both the vegetation and topography to access and hunt a property without disturbing wildlife.
An ideal mix of habitat will be different for each species you hunt. As an example of an ideal deer lease, there should be a mix of open areas (e.g., meadows, food plots, etc.) and thick cover (e.g., young forest, shrub swamps, etc.), as well as some mature timber (preferably hard mast species). The more the topography changes, the larger a property can feel too. With lots of hills, ridges, ditches, and contours, you can stealthily access several locations and avoid alerting deer to your whereabouts. Carefully review aerial maps and topographic maps to get an idea of how the property looks before you commit to it.
Proof – 10%
The final piece you should look at when deciding on buying a hunting lease is whether there is any proof as to your suspicions or the landowner’s claims about the property. If they say there are lots of mature bucks and great deer hunting opportunities, do they have any way to prove it?
For example, do they have pictures of deer that have been taken on the property or trail camera pictures with the correct dates? Are there existing food plots that would attract deer to the location? Is there a good trail system in place or hunting blinds on the property that serve as some kind of evidence that the property is worth hunting? If your goal is to kill big whitetails, you need to know the land can support them. On the other hand, if you just want a place to occasionally shoot some deer for meat, most properties will work for you.
So to summarize the discussion above, here is the rough breakdown of how you should approach the hunting lease decision-making process.
- 30% – Accessibility and location (distance to home and how much you’ll even use it)
- 25% – Size (how much can you afford, buying with a partner, etc.)
- 20% – Hunting goals (big deer vs. meat, duck hunting, etc.)
- 15% – Layout (overall habitat layout and topography)
- 10% – Proof (trail camera pictures, existing food plots / trail systems / stands, etc.)
How does this align with your own priorities? Are you ready to take the next step? If you’re ready to start looking for hunting leases, check out the map below and start your search!