Why hunting clubs need liability insurance

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If you’re a hunter, America’s vast expanses of forest, farmland and wilderness represent the land of opportunity and the setting for sizable financial risk should you accidentally cause bodily harm or property damage while hunting on another person’s land.

Fortunately, outdoors-loving insurance agents and underwriters have stepped up with affordable hunt club coverage, aka hunting lease insurance, to protect you and the owner of your favorite slice of the great outdoors from the inherent liability risks of your sport.

Hunt club insurance provides supplemental general liability coverage for all named members of a group of hunters and the owner of the land on which they hunt. A signed, written lease between landowner and hunt club, called a hunting lease, is required before a policy can be issued. Your hunt group can be organized, disorganized or even a party of one.

Cost and coverage

Why do you need hunt club insurance? Simple: If you accidentally injure someone while hunting or leave a campfire burning that engulfs structures on the land, you could be stuck with a bill your homeowners policy won’t pay.

“A lot of times, homeowner policies will only carry minimum liability coverage of anywhere from $25,000 to $300,000,” says R. Tim Reed, president of OutdoorsInsurance.com, a Wheeling, W.Va., agency that sells hunt club insurance. “And since most homeowners policies exclude off-of-premises (all-terrain vehicle) use and your auto policy won’t cover them, if you take your ATV off your land, you’re out there with nothing.”

Standard hunt club policies typically provide $1 million in commercial-grade general liability, $2 million aggregate, with a small medical supplement thrown in ($5,000 is typical), all at a price that won’t strain a hunter’s budget. Annual premiums, which are based on the acreage of the leased tract, average $150 to $250 per club — or roughly 10 cents per acre — for tracts up to 2,500 acres.

“When you think about $1 million in coverage for $250, that’s a lot of ATVs, a lot of tree stands, a lot of yukking it up and drinking it up with the boys,” says Glenn Sudol, president of Outdoor Insurance Group of Louisville, Colo.

Hunt clubs enjoy even better rates if they lease their hunting grounds from a large corporate landowner, which typically has one master hunting insurance policy and passes the premium costs down to hunting groups in their lease fee.

Yes, back in your grandfather’s day, large landowners happily allowed hunters access to their land for free to help maintain their property and roust squatters and poachers.

“But in the 1960s and ’70s, these landowners began to realize that this was an opportunity to generate revenue off of the land, so they started leasing their land for a fee,” says Tim Lowrimore, an account executive who sells hunt club policies for Davis-Garvin Agency in Columbia, S.C. “As people started paying to hunt on these private lands, liability increased for the landowners. That’s how we came to need hunt club insurance.”

Sudol says insurance premiums now make up a minuscule part of hunt leases.

“In Nebraska, to get 400 acres of deer hunting on the North Platte River that has good duck hunting as well probably costs $7,000 to $10,000 a year, but that would come with a small three-bedroom farmhouse. The better the hunting and the more competition there is for the lease, the more expensive the lease is,” he says.

Claims can be sizable

In fact, Reed points out that hunt club insurance rates today are half of what they were in the early 1990s, in part because insurers have become more comfortable with the relatively low frequency of claims. The downside is, when you have a claim, it can be sizable.

Such as gunshot claims?

“Self-inflicted, believe it or not. Just carelessness with a firearm,” says Lowrimore. “A lot of it has to do with the comfort factor; people get comfortable and they get complacent. And then emotions; you get excited. You know what the wilds can do when you’re out there in it.”

Actually, the top two hunt club accident claims might surprise you.

“ATVs and ATVs,” Sudol says. “Farmers often have chain or wires up across roads in the woods and people hit them. That’s why these policies cover landowners, too.”

ATV coverage remains a controversial topic among hunt club insurers. They recognize that hunters need ATVs to carry guns and supplies across miles of wilderness but question whether they should be liable for nonhunting-related ATV use.

“Our coverage is truly in place for hunt club activities. There would be some question whether 12 kids out riding an ATV would be hunt club activity. That would be a gray area that would have to really be investigated,” Lowrimore says.

Hunt club insurance policies are sold through state forestry services, outdoor sportsman clubs, land lease brokers such as Hunting Lease Network and Base Camp Leasing, corporate land managers and the American Hunting Lease Association, as well as directly from licensed agents and brokers.