The AHLA undertook this Hunter Access Survey to find out if access to quality wildlife habitat was in fact an issue driving hunters away from the sport or possibly keeping new hunters from picking up a weapon and heading into the woods. Clearly from the feedback we received from hunters that lease access, there is no cause for concern. Subsequently, our experience outside of the survey demonstrates the same level of satisfaction from landowners that lease access to their farms and properties.
So, why don’t more hunters lease?
Consider that in 2016 hunters in the U.S. spent over $20 billion (87% of all expenditures) on items unrelated to access (2016 USFWS National Survey). Read that again if you need to, let it sink in. $20 billion on gear, travel, weapons, food, ammo and even magazines and memberships and yet some still balk at the idea of paying to access land. The ability or willingness to pay for hunting access isn’t for everyone. However, based on the above numbers from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, hunters are already “paying to hunt”, they are just paying big companies instead of landowners.
For hunters that are sincerely interested and motivated to improve their hunting experience, a shift in priorities will be necessary. That change in the way they approach hunting season will mandate that hunters recognize the pecking order of what gear/expenses really matter and place access to quality habitat at or near the top of that list. Once hunters connect these dots and are willing to place a landowner ahead of all other hunting-related companies that compete for their money, their hunting experiences will improve, their hunting trips will be safer, more productive and more enjoyable. Plainly stated, satisfied hunters pay for access before they pay for bows, guns, ammunition, technical clothing, tree stands, scents and calls etc…
The financial challenges that come with land ownership are very real. Landowners, by virtue of their perceived assets are often mislabeled as wealthy. Landowners, in general are far from wealthy and many live on a fixed or limited income. Family farms are being inundated with growing debt related to costs from farming, insurance, maintenance, mortgages and more. A simple offer to compensate a landowner or farmer for hunting access, can pay property taxes for an entire year. A hunting lease arrangement can make very real and immediate difference in a landowner’s life.
A willingness to compensate landowners, relieving at least some of their financial burden in exchange for exclusive access will undoubtedly (98%!) result in a better experience.