If you own land in rural Georgia, leasing that land to local hunters is a great way to earn revenue on your asset and provide more land for hunting in the state. According to the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, deer hunting leases in Georgia are worth about $15 per acre annually. In addition, Georgia legislators have made it easier for landowners to lease their property for the purpose of hunting.
Before you take the first dollar for access to your land, there are a few things you should know. While you can make extra money leasing your land, you need to protect yourself and your assets in our litigious society.
Know the Laws
If you own land, you are generally responsible for that land. That responsibility does not end when you give someone permission to hunt on your land, and that knowledge is and has been a major concern among landowners who could otherwise lease their land to hunters. What if I lease my land to a hunter and they have a hunting accident? What if someone is badly injured or even killed? These are serious questions and causes for heartburn among property owners.
For this reason, and to address the conservation needs of the state, Georgia lawmakers passed legislation (OCGA 51-3-20 through 51-3-26) to address the landowner’s liability in the case of land leased to individuals for hunting. Specifically, the law “shields landowners from civil liability for injuries to persons who use their land for recreational purposes without charge unless the landowner willfully or maliciously fails to guard against or warn of a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity.” In other words, if you lease your land to another individual for purposes of hunting, and they have an accident, you are not liable.
Know Your Responsibilities
The exception to this situation is if you, as the owner of the property, knowingly, willfully, and maliciously let your lessee enter a dangerous situation on your property. For example, if you installed a tree stand on your property, and over the years you knew the stand was becoming structurally unsound, to the point that you would not climb in the stand and hunt, yet you let others use the stand without warning them that it was unsafe. You could be held liable for any injury that results from someone you permitted to use your land climbing into that unsafe stand. Please keep in mind that this legal standard is in place whether you charge someone to hunt on your land or let them use it at no charge.
Make Sure Your Lessee’s Know Their Responsibilities
Both parties to a hunting land lease have responsibilities in this relationship. For the hunter who has leased land from the property owner, there are four things that the lessee must know and abide by:
- Hunting License: Hunters must have a valid hunting license for the current hunting season.
- Firearms: All firearms used in hunting must be legally acquired and legal in the state in which they are being used. Gun laws may vary from state to state.
- Permission: As Georgia Hunting Seasons & Regulations notes, “Permission of the landowner is required.”
- Hunter Orange: Georgia Hunting Seasons & Regulations explains, “A hunter, and anyone accompanying the hunter, must at all times wear as an outer garment at least 500 square inches of visible hunter orange above the waist (which may include a head covering).”
Secure the Right Insurance
Just as both parties to a hunting lease bear responsibility for knowing the laws and their individual responsibilities under the law, both parties assume some portion of the legal risk of using firearms on someone else’s property. To that end, if you are a property owner leasing your land for others to hunt on, one of the most important things you can do is to be properly insured. Per the QDMA, “It is simply not worth risking your personal assets or your family’s financial security for unfortunate accidents or acts of others on the property you hunt.”
Similar to any other entrepreneurial venture, there is no free lunch. If you own land, you have an asset that may be of value to local hunters; however, you need to protect and preserve that value by understanding local laws, your responsibilities, and the hunters’ responsibilities. Everyone has some skin in the game. And, just as if you were renting your home, make sure you have the right insurance.
If you have been involved in a hunting accident due to neglect, Mike Miller and Christopher L. Wynn are locally-based attorneys who have decades of experience. Please contact Miller & Wynn for a free consultation at 770-942-2720 or visit www.MillerWynnLaw.com.
Miller & Wynn, P.C., Attorneys at Law
Liberty and Justice for You