Putting a new twist on an old sport

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CARROLLTON, Ohio – Ron Carlton has been trying to reduce the number of deer on his tree farm for 20 years.
He’s spent thousands of dollars and probably just as many hours trying to figure out how to keep them away. He’s tried to fight back with a deer damage control hunting permit and he’s allowed others to hunt on his farm during deer season, but the problem just gets worse every year.
The 1,500-acre farm, Carlton Tree Farm, has lost thousands in crop damage.
Fence seems to be the only thing that keeps the deer from devouring the trees, although that doesn’t come cheap.
Recently, Carlton took new approach to hunting and deer control. He began a lease hunting program where sportsmen pay a fee to hunt on the farm.
It hasn’t put a dent in the deer population, but the extra income gives the Carroll County farmer some more options.
“This is a way to at least pay for some of the fencing,” he said.
New. Carlton is one of a growing number of property owners using lease hunting or fee-access hunting. While the concept is common in the South, it’s still a fairly new idea in the Midwest.
Carroll, Harrison and Guernsey counties are some of the Ohio areas where landowners are making the option available, according to Mike Hogan, OSU Extension educator in Carroll County.
The first step in developing a lease hunting operation is choosing a goal. Landowners should decide if they primarily want to make money, decrease the wildlife population, manage the wildlife population or manage hunting on their land.
Property owners also need to check their insurance for restrictions because some policies do not allow ventures such as lease hunting.
“Insurance companies will differ across the board and you just need to check with your agent,” Hogan said.
Advantages. Hogan listed several landowner advantages of lease hunting such as possibly decreasing wildlife and crop damage, generating income, possibly reducing vandalism and trespassing, improving wildlife management and providing land improvements.
Although lease hunting hasn’t done much to the deer population on Carlton’s farm, wildlife reduction can still be one of the benefits, according to Hogan.
Lease hunting can work to a hunter’s advantage as well, allowing exclusive access to hunting areas, a safer hunting environment, a better chance at a successful hunt and possibly additional services from the landowner.
But before jumping in, landowners should be aware that setting up a successful lease hunting arrangement will take some time and management, plus it could require a financial investment.
“Recognize that, like any business enterprise, it’s going to take time,” Hogan said.
Lease hunting also carries some liability risk, but that doesn’t prevent a landowner from implementing the idea.
There are several ways to reduce liability. For instance, property owners can prohibit certain activities like riding ATVs or they can require hunters to get liability insurance and name the landowner as an additional insured party.
Also, the Ohio Recreational User statute protects landowners who allow activities like hunting on their property.
Get it in writing. One of the most important aspects of a lease hunting agreement is the lease itself. Whether you’re dealing with total strangers or family and friends, a handshake won’t cut it.
“It doesn’t have to be put together by an attorney, but for heaven’s sake, it should be written,” Hogan said.
There are templates available for lease hunting agreements, although landowners should try to make their leases as specific as possible.
“This is something for your business,” Hogan said. “Make it work for you.”
Once you’ve taken care of the important issues, there’s just one more matter to consider: Will people really pay to hunt on my land?
Hogan and Carlton say yes.
However, drawing hunters to your property takes some marketing and it’s helpful to add value to the hunt. Providing overnight accommodations, renting equipment, serving meals, offering a guide service or providing field dressing are ways property owners can bring in hunters.
“Understand that you’re selling an experience,” Hogan said. “This thing is only limited by the marketing and value you can add to it.”
Choices. Setting up a successful lease hunting operation can take a lot of time and energy. Fortunately, landowners don’t have to do it alone.
Those who aren’t interested in taking it on single-handedly can use Carlton’s approach. The farmer hires a company that takes care of the set up, marketing and bringing hunters to his farm.
While Carlton leaves the details up to the company, he does provide guided tours for hunters who want to check out the property before signing a lease and he gets maps of the land from the county engineer’s office.
“We try to find every way we can to make it advantageous for them to come and hunt,” he said.
Because if nothing else, Carlton said it’s a nice way to make some extra money on something he’s been giving away for free for 20 years.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at jskrinjar@farmanddairy.com.)

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