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Hunting Leases in Oklahoma: Why a Handshake Agreement is Dangerous (Legally)

Hunters and landowners are a natural pairing every fall in Oklahoma. If you’re a hunter, you need a place to hunt. And if you’re a landowner, you have what every hunter wants; land, game crossing your property, and the right to lease hunting rights to whomever you wish.

Most hunting leases in Oklahoma are informal or handshake agreements – but that’s not a good idea if you want to be protected from legal liability in the event of an incident.

Legal risk is everywhere when it comes to hunting. No one expects for there to be an accident on their property, or with their hunting group, but they nevertheless occur every year on someone’s property and during someone’s hunt.

One of the best ways to protect yourself as a landowner who leases to hunters is with a written hunting lease; after all, your lessees are planning on engaging in an activity on your land that has the potential to be dangerous. With a written lease that is carefully drafted and places certain burdens and requirements on your hunters, you can protect yourself in that unlikely event.

On the other side, hunters should insist on getting a written lease which defines their rights and the landowner’s obligations during the lease term. There is nothing fun about getting prepared, loaded, and arriving at the tract only to find out you are not being granted access or someone else is already there.

Some of the key terms that should be considered in every hunting lease are:

(1) Insurance. There are numerous options for hunting liability insurance on the market, some of which are tailored to hunters and others are designed for landowners. Specifically for landowners, a standard homeowner’s insurance policy which covers your family’s regular activities within your home and acreage will be completely insufficient, or even inapplicable, for hunters who are deemed to be licensees on the tract. If a homeowner’s insurance policy doesn’t apply, any damages will be the landowner’s personal obligation.

(2) Exclusivity and/or Limited Leasing. Hunters want to know that they are investing in guaranteed access to the tract with little to no hassle. They also don’t want increased competition for each and every tag from other hunters on the same parcel at the same time. Hunters cannot reasonably expect to be the only person/group on a tract without contracting for the right of exclusivity or limited competition. A written lease provides certainty and peace of mind for the hunter. For the landowner, a written lease helps eliminate trespassing and poaching; they know exactly who has the right to be on their land.

(3) Rights and Permissions. Land leases transfer some amount of property rights to the lessee. Without defining what rights and permissions are transferred, and to what extent, landowners and hunters are destined for a disagreement that could mean the end of the relationship. For example: When will the land be accessible? What game can be taken and what is off-limits? How many hunters are allowed at one time? Where is vehicle access allowed? Can hunters stay overnight? What about non-firearm injuries, such as those that are the result of the use of ATVs, treestands, and dogs? Is the landowner responsible for checking state (ODWC) licenses and tags?

It is important for landowner lessors and hunter lessees to clearly define all of these issues before they become an issue; a written lease is the best way to address each concern at the beginning of the lease before they can possibly become an issue. With a mere handshake agreement, all parties operate at the mercy of default state statutes and courts. Contact an attorney to review or draft your hunting lease agreement.