In this day and age, when knocking on a farmer’s door and getting permission to deer hunt is becoming more and more difficult, those of us who don’t have a family farm or secret offshore bank account wonder how we can make it happen. I had almost given up hope myself until a decade ago, when my friend John Brown invited me hunting on a farm in southeastern Illinois.
“It’s a new lease I have,” Brown said. “I think you’ll love it.”
I have known John a long time. He’s one of the country’s best hunting videographers and currently the executive producer at the National Wild Turkey Federation. I knew to trust him and he was right. The property was outstanding, and though we didn’t punch my tag — we had a 9-pointer within 40 yards, but couldn’t coordinate the camera and bow so no shot was taken — I knew John was on to something.
That something is the Hunting Lease Network (HLN).
HLN is an internet-based service for landowners and hunters that makes it easy to find quality, affordable land for hunting and other outdoor pursuits. The goal of this unique system is to arrive at a fair hunting lease arrangement. Landowners contact HLN to inspect their property and if the property meets HLN’s criteria for a good hunting lease they post the property on their website along with quality aerial maps, property photos and other property details. If you find a hunting lease you like you can submit a bid to lease the property, starting at a minimum set by the landowner. Added to this minimum bid is the cost of a $1 million liability insurance policy covering the landowner, anyone named on the lease and their guests. It’s that simple. There are no hidden fees, no cost for the public to register, view property information or to submit a bid.
HLN has created almost a hundred franchise territories, breaking some states into multiple territories due to population and size, the amount of private land available and how much money is spent on hunting and fishing. The landowner pays a $100 fee per property they list on the website.
The first year is always a one-year lease. The program designed it that way to make sure the landowner, lessee and HLN are all on the same page. After that, if you desire, HLN can help you set up a long-term lease. Once you secure a lease, you have the right of first refusal when the lease comes up for renewal. However, anyone can bid on the property. If your lease is up and another party comes in and bids more money for it, you can match that bid and keep the lease. Also, when a lessee signs up with HLN, the landowner agrees the lessee’s group will have the exclusive rights to hunt the property. Exceptions to this are listed in detail in the description to the property on the website.
As of December 2015, HLN has 807 available properties located in 21 states — all in prime whitetail country. HLN has great deer hunting leases, as well as some leases for elk, turkey, waterfowl, pheasant, upland game and small game hunting. While costs vary, the average annual cost of a lease is between $2,500 and $3,500 a year.
This past November, Brown and I hunted a new HLN lease in Illinois. As you can see from the accompanying photo, it turned out pretty well — you should have seen the one that got away! In fact, you will be able to see it on a 2016 episode of NWTF’s NWTF 365 on Pursuit Channel.
You think we renewed this lease?