Lease or Buy Your Next Hunting Property?

It’s a big decision to lease or purchase hunting property, and there’s more to consider than the annual cost.

Lease or Buy Your Next Hunting Property?

With current trends in increased private land management for all wildlife, especially whitetails, access has become a concern. So much so that an American Hunting Lease Association recent survey revealed that 34 percent of respondents believed it is the main reason for the decline in hunters shown on the latest data from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The same AHLA survey showed that 53 percent of respondents already hunt private land via landowner compensation, and 58 percent believe leasing will play a vital role in the future of hunting by providing access to a high-quality private parcel.

Public lands offer an option to continue pursuing whitetails, but more hunters are leaning on leasing, or outright purchasing of property to stay in the game.

Are you considering a financial venture in the realm of hunting land management? There are pros and cons to any endeavor. If the aspect of plunking down cash for hunting rights has incentivized you into a serious review of your savings account and investments, keep these pros and cons in mind. They could help you make a more informed decision.


Economic Pros of Ownership

In farm country, land values have skyrocketed. Iowa State’s Land Value Survey for 2022 reveals the average price for an acre of Iowa farmland stood at $11,411 per acre. That represents a 17 percent jump from the prior survey.

Good hunting ground includes a mixture of hardwoods, farm ground or pasture, but even these acres run $5,000 and up in whitetail hotspots. You could easily be looking at $1 million just to have the deed to 200 acres.

Remember: Land continues to be a safe investment that tends to increase in price in most locales. During the pandemic days, land and real estate hit the roof, but now is moderating with inflationary interest rates. Nevertheless, given time, land typically increases in value.

Hunting property specialist Greg Gilman of Landmark Real Estate ( sells urban real estate and hunting properties in Kansas. He also owns his own farm with a hunting focus, plus leases additional hunting property. He understands the anxiety of a huge investment, but also has seen most properties he has been involved with continue to increase in value.

“It’s an enjoyable investment, unlike your current mutual fund,” Gilman explained. “You get a monthly payout of hunting, and you get to do all the other outdoor stuff you enjoy on your property while it increases in value. It is a different kind of payback, but what kind of value can you put on your appreciation of access to your own land?”

Wildlife hunting property specialist Greg Gilman of Kansas sells both urban real estate and hunting properties. He also owns his own farm with a hunting focus, plus leases additional property for hunting.
Wildlife hunting property specialist Greg Gilman of Kansas sells both urban real estate and hunting properties. He also owns his own farm with a hunting focus, plus leases additional property for hunting.

Ownership Cons

Unless you are independently wealthy, you’ll need to look for a lender. Some landowners may work with you on a contract for deed. Many institutions also deal primarily with agricultural loans, such as Farm Credit Services of America, and a medley of small-town banks. You should also peruse the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s online information for any government programs.

Of course, if you go the route of borrowing from an ag institution, your land needs to show an agricultural return. That automatically makes you become a farmer or rancher. Many states also enforce regulations on landowners to show an agricultural return to maintain land in an agricultural, lower, tax status. You’ll need to farm or ranch in some aspect to keep your hunting property in this lower tax bracket.

The author (left) and his friend Tom Huebner. The two leased deer hunting property in the past and understand the pros and cons of leasing land.
The author (left) and his friend Tom Huebner. The two leased deer hunting property in the past and understand the pros and cons of leasing land.

I have known Tom Huebner for more than a decade. In fact, he, I and some other pals leased a hunting ground in a joint pact in the past. Today, with more than 20 years of public land and private land hunting in his resume, Huebner leases a property in Iowa, and has been on an educated mission to purchase a hunting property of his own. As a family man and owner of his own electrician business, he has been doing lots of math to hopefully make his dream a reality.

“Taxes and interest alone are huge in my calculations while researching hunting properties in the Midwest,” Huebner said. “That alone adds up more than leasing ground, and it does not even include the principal of the payment.”

Of course, most look at renting any tillable or grazeable ground to a local farmer for return on the land immediately after purchase. But as Huebner discusses, you need to find someone who understands your goals as a hunter.

“Finding a farmer to work the land so that it benefits both of you is challenging, and you still may only get a 3 percent return for the incursion on your hunting land,” Huebner said. “Make sure the renter is agreeable to quality land practices, especially crop nutrients, and agreeable to leaving crops for food plots at investment cost, not market value later. If your small plot of corn you had them leave averages 200 bushels per acre, it becomes an expensive food plot and cuts into your bottom line. Make sure you get a written agreement.”

Leasing a hunting property has plenty of bonuses, but the landowner decides how the land is managed.
Leasing a hunting property has plenty of bonuses, but the landowner decides how the land is managed.

Economic Pros of Leasing

“There is less money involved leasing, and you can write the lease to a negotiable end,” said Gilman. “Put in the stipulations you need, begin negotiating with the landowner, and you can be managing a hunting property in no time.”

Some of the things Gilman recommends in a lease agreement are concerns about family members hunting, farming or ranching practices during hunting season, permission to trim trees, and permission to plant food plots if it works into the property layout.

Huebner appreciates the appeal of a lease because if any issue becomes problematic, you’re not tied to it as you are with a deed. You can move your money to another lease as soon as the agreement ends. Huebner recommends sealing agreements for several years, especially after a positive trial year. If everything goes well in the trial phase, tie up the land for 3 years or more to allow the possibility of growing and hunting mature deer. The trial year gives you a hunting season worth of experience and could reveal problems such as neighbors who overhunt the adjacent properties.


Leasing Cons

The No. 1 con of leasing a hunting property is lack of a financial return. You’re merely giving the landowner a steady landlord payment for access. Another negative is the fact a landowner may not agree to your leasing terms, a likely scenario says Gilman.

“You won’t have as much say as you think, even with good negotiations,” Gilman warned. “Landowners have likely been doing their thing for decades and resistant to changing their farming ways. You may not want cattle in a stand of timber in November, but that could be their tradition for years. Get ready to wheel and deal to get the best hunting use of a property that is already making money for the landowner. A stubborn landowner could cause your lease investment to not be as good as you hoped.”

One situation Huebner has experienced is dealing with trespassers. In many states, people who lease ground cannot press charges on trespassers; the landowner must do it. Oftentimes, landowners will scold local trespassers rather than press charges because they live and work with those people in the community. Once a trespasser gets a free pass, they might try it again with no fear of repercussions, again making your investment questionable.


Management Pros of Ownership

A big positive to owning land is you get to decide on management practices. Even if you have a renter utilizing the land for a return payment, they need to adhere to your objectives

“You make all the calls. You control the land 365 days a year,” Gilman said. “You can burn pastures to generate better browse. You can plant what you want and set up food plots to lure deer where you want them to be without irritating a landowner during a lease. Tailor food plots to fit the land and using the remaining property toward a hunting advantage increases hunting success. You still need to be flexible with a renter, but not near as much since you hold the deed to the property.”


Management Cons of Ownership

“Time involvement is the true anchor of owning land,” Gilman said. “You get to make all the decisions, but you also are weighed down with all the work You’re responsible for food plots, fencing, forestry projects, road improvements and outbuilding maintenance. Put today’s increased cost of fencing alone into the equation and it could break the bank. Everything has doubled, and that all falls on you in one way or another.”

Farming implements, fuel to farm, seed, fertilizer and more is now your duty. Do you have a bankroll of that size? Another management negative in owning is the fluctuation of deer populations. In a lease, you can eventually escape the property, but if you own it, you own everything about the property, even crashing deer populations.

Strict state management, neighbors who overhunt, winterkill and disease outbreak could affect yearly and longer wildlife numbers. If you have successive years of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), you could be in for several years or longer of a diminished herd. You cannot add in enough sweat equity to create more deer.


Management Pros of Leasing

“Your time and money are not tied up as much in management when you lease,” Gilman said. “You may need to plant plots, but you may be able to pay the farmer extra for the job or use an ATV to drag in fall plots. It takes a lot of cash to purchase equipment, keep it maintained and then you are right back to the time involvements with land ownership. Walking away from management duties at any time is the best reason to lease.”

Huebner agrees with the walk-away aspect of leasing. If things don’t look good from a land management aspect, not only do you not have the liability of keeping up a property, but you can also walk away.

“Farming of the land, storm damage, downed timber, that all is the landowner’s concern, not yours,” Huebner said. “Leasing ground does give you some escape from the stress of owning a property and thinking about the endless list of chores to be completed all the time.”

When you lease a property you do not get the final say in land usage such as grazing cattle in prime hunting parcels during hunting season.
When you lease a property you do not get the final say in land usage such as grazing cattle in prime hunting parcels during hunting season.

Management Cons of Leasing

Land disruptions is the biggest management con to leasing. Your hunting season could be full of roadblocks with the landowner managing agriculture, not your hunting pleasure. Examples include overgrazing or harvesting during hunting season. A big management hassle could be food plot placement. A farming landowner looks at every acre as income, and you may not change their mind on that issue, or be faced with paying more for the lost acres of commodity crops due to your food plots.

“The food plot issue can be sticky,” Huebner said. “Farmers are driven to make an income from the land. You may get lucky if you work with the farming landowner, and offer to pay them a fair price for their efforts. Your landowner may have big deer goals as well, so talk to them. I have also been lucky on some of my leases with neighbors offering to plant food plots for me.”

Purchasing or leasing land is a big step regardless of how you break down the positives and negatives. Either way, with the correct mindset and planning, you stand to enjoy hunting even more with your own piece of heaven.


Sidebar: Do the Math

After you consider the cash investment, time investment and equipment purchases of buying or leasing land, you might be further ahead by just going on an outfitted hunt every year. Outfitters handle all logistics and work to ensure habitat is at a pristine level.

For some, much of the enjoyment comes from working the land and growing big deer. Others would rather sidestep that obligation and an outfitter can help you down that path. If you think vetting outfitters also sounds like a ton of work, hire a hunting consultant. You hire a financial investor to handle your retirement savings. Why not consider hiring a hunting consultant to assist you with hunting applications?

A variety of companies have sprung up over the years to assist you in applying for once-in-a-lifetime tags, plus to keep you in top-notch hunting opportunities every few years once you have a portfolio of bucket-list hunts created. I work with Worldwide Trophy Adventures ( to manage some of my big game dreams. Although the cost is real, it is nowhere close to the investment a large lease or purchase of a hunting property would set me back. Again, do the math and let dollars and commonsense guide you to your hunting goals.


Photos by Mark Kayser


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