Hunting is a valuable tool for helping to manage Michigan’s wildlife, particularly the state's white-tailed deer herd, which can cause significant crop damage and expose livestock to disease. Even so, reluctance of landowners to grant hunter access to help solve the problem, can often put the agricultural community and hunters at odds.
Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) hopes to ease the tension by offering a web-based sample hunting lease agreement.
According to MFB Legislative Counsel Andrew Vermeesch, while the state’s firearm deer season provides opportunities for landowners to profit from lease arrangements, while allowing hunters the ability to engage in the sport, many landowners are understandably reluctant to pull the trigger on lease agreements due to liability concerns.
“It's important to know that Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act provides landowners with premises liability protection when a third party is injured on the landowner's property regardless of whether the people entering the property have permission or not, or whether the landowner charges fees or not,” Vermeesch explained. “This means that farmers that lease their property to a lessee for the purpose of fishing or hunting have legal protections against potential lawsuits.”
In order for the landowner to be held liable, the person bringing suit must prove that the land-owner:
- Knew or had reason to know of a condition or risk.
- Failed to exercise reasonable care to make the condition safe, or to warn the person of the risk.
- The person injured had no reason to know of the condition or risk.
“For example, if any accident happens while a lessee is hunting, and the accident pertains to the inherent risks of hunting, the court will likely consider the lessee to have had a reason to know that hunting involves risk and the owner would likely not be liable,” Vermeesch explained.
Although the Act's protections are not absolute, Vermeesch says the law seeks to limit a farm-owner's liability when he or she leases land for recreational purposes with the goal of making land and water areas more available to the public for outdoor recreational activities.
Sample hunting lease agreement
To make hunting lease arrangements less troubling for landowners, Michigan Farm Bureau has created a sample hunting lease agreement on the organization’s website. According to Vermeesch, the form sets forth guidelines for landowners and hunters so that both parties can enter a lease arrangement with greater confidence.
“The intent of the sample hunting lease agreement is to serve only as a guide,” Vermeesch advised. “The parties should consult an attorney to draft a more detailed lease or to modify the suggested lease agreement.”
Farmers and hunters alike can download the sample hunting lease agreement and follow the recommended instructions:
- Read the entire agreement.
- Do not add or cross out any words except for filling in the blanks.
- If there is anything you do not understand, ask a lawyer for an explanation.
- Only persons ages 18 or older should sign the lease.
- Minors of legal hunting age must have the lease co-signed by a parent or guardian.