22 July 2009
Time to Sign a Hunting Lease? Better Call a Lawyer!
It's getting to be that time of year again! Time to find the perfect hunting lease, or find the perfect hunters for your land. While many of us are fortunate enough to have regular places to hunt year-after-year, an upcoming deer season often means time to replace the old lease (or hunters/lessees) with someplace (or someone) new and better.
I am amazed at the number of hunting lease ads in newpaper classifieds, on Craigslist, and other impersonal media. My amazement is this: while the economy of advertising to a broad base of prospective hunters or being exposed to a variety of available properties makes sense, the chances of getting a bad apple are increased exponentially by mass marketing. My experience dictates that many landowners, and even more hunters, are not what they appear to be on the internet.
Ever since I was a pup in law school many (many, many perhaps) hunting seasons ago, I have been peppered with inquiries from scorned landowners and hunters who have suffered from bad experiences. It still surprises me how many hunting "leases" are "handshake deals" with little or no documentation. Many times, there is little or no discussion of the important details of a lease arrangement.
As a long-time hunter, I understand the value of a man's word, and like to think of Texas hunters as a fraternity. Anyone who's worn camo to Sunday breakfast at a small town cafe appreciates the comraderie we hunters share. Unfortunately, as a Texas real estate lawyer, I know that lessor/lessee relationshsips can go South real quick when valuable land and animals are involved! It happens far too often.
I have personally represented very successful businessmen who run giant enterprises like well-oiled machines. These talented entrepreneurs know the ins and outs of boardrooms and courtrooms in their professional lives. However, when they get a case of ranch envy or "early-onset Buck Fever," they've written checks for tens of thousands of dollars for hunting leases without so much as a receipt -- much less a written lease agreement! This is a mistake 12 times out of 10.
Texas landowners are particular about their property, and they should be. Game animals are a valuable commodity, and hunting operations are sometimes the largest source of revenue for rural landowners. By the same token, hunters pay millions of dollars every year to chase trophy animals, and they deserve to get their money's worth out of any lease. Often times, hunters will invest hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars into a property that they don't even own. Landowners let starnagers "take over" their properties for 1/2 the year.
All of this amounts to one, all-too-often painful, conclusion: Hunting Leases are business transactions!
In case I haven't been clear enough, let me be so now by offering free advice: DO NOT ENTER INTO A HUNTING LEASE ARRANGEMENT WITHOUT A WRITTEN LEASE. Equally important is having an experienced real estate lawyer (and preferably one who hunts) draft and/or review your hunting lease.
The possibilities for dispute are innumerable: number of permitted hunters, whether non-hunting guests are allowed, the types of vehicles allowed (some landowners abhor 4 wheelers), the class and age of animals that may be harvested, use of alcohol on the property, presence and treatment of livestock, location of deer camp, number and location of feeders/stands/blinds, fishing in stock ponds, type of weapons that may be used, killing of non-game animals and varmits, night hunting and spotlighting, Border patrol and Game Warden issues, amount and type of feed to be supplied, damage to trees and crops, whether dogs are allowed on the property, gates and locks, term of lease, use of lodge/cabins vs. camping, etc., etc., etc.
I've heard all of these disputes and more... and I can promise that they take the excitement out of hunting quicker than a missed shot or wasp nest in your blind! And I didn't even mention potential liability for injuries on the property.
Every prudent landowner/lessor will want to ensure that his or her hunters respect the land and animals, abide all game laws, and behave responsibly upon the leased property. Every hunter/lessee will want to ensure that he and his guests get the best opportunity for a fun and successful hunting season that yields plenty of animals and even more memories. The closest thing that either side can get to a guarantee that this will happen is through a written hunting lease drafted by an experienced real estate lawyer.
Don't leave your investment to chance. Strangers who you know have guns don't make for good enemies...
BTW, that is an 11 point buck I took in Maverick County during the 2007 season. Believe it or not, the lessor let ME draft the hunting lease.