Ohio hunters will soon be forced to ‘pay to play’


Ohio hunters are still blessed with the time-honored tradition of asking permission to hunt lands owned by an individual. Protected by law from liability, farmers and other landowners have allowed friends and family the use of their land based on a handshake.

But that friendly handshake has been less and less the contract of choice, as landowners come to realize the value of a hunting lease, a legal document granting the use of his or her property with defined limits.

Hunting leases

Our hunting group has held a couple of hunting leases for several years and we like the process. Our agreements are with landowners who understand that the monetary reward is just a small part of the benefit because a lease lets him know who is on his property at all times and that we are just as interested in caring for the place as he is. If we find a broken fence, a downed tree that needs attention or anything of concern, we are sure to let the owner know about it or fix the problem ourselves. And the benefit to us is that we know who is in the woods at all times.

Pay to play

In the future, Ohio hunters will be faced with a “pay to play” map as more and more landowners turn to leasing. In some states, hunters find very little land that is not covered under a lease.

I once made countless calls to landowners in Wyoming looking for land to hunt antelope. I found that few ranchers who for years allowed hunters to pay a “trespass” fee, had not leased their holdings to outfitters and other groups. Even nearby Midwestern states are now predominately leased for hunting. Ohio lease holders can expect to pay an affordable to over-the-top prices to obtain a per-acre lease and to sign a legal contract.

Large holdings by land-use companies such as paper, clay, tree, and mining companies, can be a good option and there are now “trophy-managed” properties available at premium prices. Many of us just can’t justify paying big chunks of our household budget for hunting privileges, and prefer to deal directly with a landowner, but an Internet search will find several “re-leasing” companies and realtors that advertise lease-to-hunt properties in Ohio.

We lost a favorite lease a few years ago when the landowner, a commercial company turned their holdings over to a re-leasing company that quickly priced us out of the market. To the company that owned it, it was just business. In other words, it didn’t matter who hunted there as long as they paid.

Ohio hunters are destined to see more commercial landowners seeing hunters simply as paying customers. That said, Ohio hunters who still enjoy access to private land with permission sealed with a handshake need to be especially attentive to their end of the deal. Helping bale hay, walking a fence line, even elimination groundhogs in the off-season, can seal the deal for years to come.

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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.


  1. Very thoughtful and informative lease information. I live in Trumbull county Ohio and am eager to explore hunting in the great outdoors, again after twenty years.

    Thank you for helping me understand the updated hunting landscape.

    Enjoy our beautiful outdoors and shoot straight!

    – Mike

    • In that case Dave you will see huge swaths of land become no hunting zones or the price of the insurance become part of the lease. Then no one will be able to afford to hunt.

      • You got that right Vince, i understand Daves feelings but Your right, it is getting tougher as the urban sprawl gets us. Same here in the adirondacks of upstate New York.

  2. I have been hunting in state forest land and state hunting areas for 50 years for free. At first there were a lot of hunters there, but for years now there are hardly any. You can get a list of public land to hunt from the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

  3. I agree with Joseph, there is lots of public land to hunt, if more hunters would use public land and steer clear of re-leasing company’s, hunting leases would come back in the affordable range… Think about it the next time you are ask to fork over a house payment, 2 car payments, and some grocery money just so some greedy releaser can control your hunting!!!!

  4. Just give them a few years and when the deer get so overpopulated like here and start destroying crops like in the orchards in the winter when there is 50 or more yarded deer doing unwanted pruning they start issuing damage permits. One owner gave me 3 the other day. They will look for you in some areas. I don’t know if you have the problem there but they’re right in the residential areas eating people’s shrubs.


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