For a lot of people, hunting on public ground just isn't the experience that it used to be. More premium sites are privately-owned, and to really get in some good hunts you often either need to rent or buy your own property. Buying is great, but if you're looking into spending money for the first time or your budget is limited, leasing is probably a much likelier option.
There are a lot of issues to consider when you're leasing your first hunting property and each one after that. Our advice is always to think about what you want from your hunting experience before you proceed. Do you want to use the land exclusively, or are you prepared to go in with other hunters and share the area if your joint paying power means you all get access to superior grounds?
Are you planning on spending time with big groups of your nearest and dearest, or with children who have limited attention spans? How far are you prepared to travel in order to actually get to the property? Some hunters have such little time to spare that any longer than half an hour on the road is not viable. Others are more than willing and able to make long road trips.
With youngsters, you're likely to want a piece of land with plentiful animals - and won't be all that worried about how large the deer grow. In this scenario, you're there for the quality time rather than the trophy potential. If you're planning on using the property for a series of boys' trips, on the other hand, your priority might be antler size. Whatever your priorities, the three issues below are key.
The first and most basic question you should ask is what the deer numbers are - if the animals aren't there, you can't shoot them. Increasingly, fatal disease outbreaks and the general overharvesting of does are reducing the amount that are found on different stretches of land. A stable local population should be among your primary concerns when it comes to leasing.
This plays naturally into the land's overall state. For instance, the population size is less critical when the area is larger, as long as you're prepared to put the time and money into seeing the numbers grow over the next few years. Also, on bigger plots you'll be able to control the rebound yourself - you won't just need to beg your neighbors to leave their crops alone until numbers have recovered.
The saying that you are what you eat holds as true for deer as it does for human beings. Just like you should only feed yourself high-quality, nutritious food (including the full range of Mountain House products, of course!) you should look for hunting properties that produce healthful food for the animals that graze there. That starts with the state of the soil.
A lot of hunters brush this issue off, but those in the know have been checking the soil quality of any prospective piece of land for the past several years. The food plots will be much better (you want a mix of brush and timber, at the very least - deer like to feed on undergrowth as well as forage for acorns, and crops also need sunlight) and stags and antlers will be noticeably larger.
If you're in farm country, do some (pardon the pun) digging of your own and check the crop yields not only on the property that you're looking at but on the adjoining areas too. Go back a few years, and if they're consistently low, be wary. In woodlands, a look at the dirt itself should tell you what you need to know. The darker and richer it is, the better.
Access is an incredibly important issue when it comes to hunting. We're not talking about how accessible the grounds are to you, and whether you'll be able to get to them enough to make the investment worth your while - although this is obviously also very important. Here, we're referring to how easy it is to walk through and to get to sighting stands or hides. And how easy access is for animals.
Topography should also be considered here; if possible, you want at least some hills, but you want to be sure that your odor will be swept away. No matter which way the wind is blowing, there should be at least some trails that will blow the smell of human beings away from the sensitive noses of the deer. You want grounds that have a water source too, such as a swamp, to attract thirsty stags and does.
The lay of the land and overall access is more important than total acreage; if you're not attracting many animals or they can't get to and across your land it doesn't really matter how big your property is. Having said that, if you have cabins, a campsite or shelter on a smaller site, you'll be substantially cutting down on how much terrain is available for the deer to roam.
Ultimately, you need to look around and find the best deal you can for the money you're able to spend. Larger sizes are often preferable if you can afford them and the grounds meet all your other criteria. Make sure the lease is fair to both you and the landowner and get proper liability coverage since most people won't even consider renting to anyone who doesn't have this insurance.
You should also consider going through an agency to take the guesswork out of the process and ensure that all your bases are properly covered. They'll be able to expedite food plot placement, liability cover, payment terms, and all other factors. Above all, take your time and enjoy considering your options. No property is going to be perfect, but there are some that can get pretty darn close!
About the Author
Ashley Wells is a passionate outdoors enthusiast and writer. With her trusty camper van, she's on a mission to travel the remote corners and discover the hidden gems our world has to offer - one destination at a time.