A key USDA program is the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Aimed at taking up to 45 million acres out of crop production, CRP is resulting in millions of acres of potentially excellent wildlife habitat. Under CRP, these acres can be leased or rented for recreational use, such as hunting, fishing, trapping, and camping.
Regardless of whether your land qualifies for CRP, you can investigate the income-generating potential from wildlife on your land. Your decision will involve assessment of the wildlife potential of your land; evaluation of the attitudes and abilities of yourself, your family, and your employees to manage wildlife and the people who will use your land; and consideration of your expected income and expenses.
A great variety of plants and land uses contribute to wildlife abundance. A mixture of croplands, grasslands, brushy hedgerows or windbreaks, wetlands, and woodlands is ideal. The practices permitted under the Conservation Reserve Program will add to the wildlife value of any farm. When these practices are selected and utilized in relation to existing wildlife cover on your farm, the benefits to game can be multiplied.
Charging for hunting access may mean changing the way you, your neighbors, and your friends hunt on your farm. The prime times of the hunting season may be reserved for your paying guests. The choice will be yours, however, because you coordinate how and when paying guests use your property.
Regardless of how recreationists are permitted access, ethical and law-abiding conduct should be expected. You determine the parts of your land that hunters can use and how they are to use facilities such as roads, gates, and fences. When presented tactfully, your guidelines will be followed with minimum supervision.
Accepting money for access privileges may change your liability status. Generally, those who lease land for modest fees are liable for their own safety and equipment. Clauses that limit landowner liability and transfer liability to the guest are standard parts of hunting and other lease/rent agreements. Extended liability insurance can be added to most farm and ranch policies. You also must eliminate hazardous conditions or warn your visitors so they can avoid problems. Legal advice is recommended before entering this business.
Day-use Permits: The hunter reports to your home or office and purchases a permit to hunt for the day. In addition to the usual information about the identity of the person, your signature, and the date, the permit can carry rules about the hunt, including a liability clause. Day-use permits take time to administer and are used typically for dove and waterfowl hunting. It is important to maintain high quality hunting, and this may mean limiting the numbers of hunters per day and even scheduling two or three rest days per week when no hunting is permitted. Guiding fees can be worked into the day-use system. For big game hunting, some landowners issue permits that extend for several days.
Day-use with Room and Board: The hunter arranges dates in advance and submits a deposit. This option may involve use of an extra room, bathroom facilities, and a place at the table, making a positive attitude toward guests in the home essential. In some cases, a bunk house or separate house is provided.
Season Leases: The landowner leases hunting rights to an individual, several people, or to a hunting club for the season. The owner can lease hunting rights for one or more types of game. Leases contain specific agreements on how the property is to be used, responsibility for maintaining facilities, safety areas where hunting is not allowed, the length of the agreement, and the amount to be paid. The landowner can limit the number of hunters in the leasing group. Season leases take less time to handle than day-use permit hunting. The leasing group may wish to pay for or assist in wildlife habitat management operations, and may even post and patrol the property.
Brokerage: In some areas, independent businessmen secure hunting rights from many farms, advertise the hunting opportunities, and direct the hunters. Their services may include additional arrangements such as room and board. Landowners who do not own sufficiently large farms to sustain intense and frequent hunting can participate in a cooperative program managed by a broker.
Reviewed by James Parkhurst, Extension Specialist, Fisheries and Wildlife Science
Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Interim Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.
May 1, 2009