Finding the Most Bang for Your Buck: A Guide to Buying a Productive Hunting Property in Indiana
Buying a piece of hunting property can be a daunting task. Think back to the first time you bought a car or a house. Think about all of the new “language” you started to encounter. All of the time spent collecting documents, and running to meetings with lenders and real estate agents can be very confusing, and this can be no different from purchasing a piece of hunting property. I myself still have no idea what escrow is, nor do I exactly have a desire to know what that is. I leave that up to my wife. So the better question is, where do you start? First and foremost, you need to find a property that will produce the species you are trying to hunt. If you are buying a hunting property, it is safe to assume you know what types of habitat the wild game in question prefers. Once you know what you want from the property itself, it’s time to start actively looking for this piece of property. Of course this search raises many other questions in itself. Where do I begin my search? What am I looking for in my hunting property? How much am I willing to spend? Is this a group investment? Can the property generate revenue to offset the price tag? These are all very common questions that you think about before making a large purchase such as a hunting property. Hopefully this guide will help you in making informed decisions to purchase a property that yields results at a reasonable price.
The first thing you need to decide on is a budget plan. How much can you reasonably afford and still live within your means? This is commonly overlooked meaning, people often buy a property that puts unnecessary financial strain on the individual and their family. No hunting property is worth putting your family through financial hardship. Each buyer is different in this regard, obviously based on how much they make, or how much money they can put aside, or how good their chances are for getting a loan. Do you have hunting buddies or family members that would be willing to split the cost of the property? If so, what are the hunting needs of all people involved financially? Once this information is gathered, you can start a broad search for properties that fit the description you or your investing group is looking for.
Financially speaking, the cost for the property is cut and dry, there are other “hidden” costs that need to be considered when buying a hunting property. You may need to purchase or rent heavy equipment to clear areas for crops, plant trees and food plots, clear access roads, or even create dams to provide wetland habitat on the acreage. A wildlife biologist can assess the property and inform you about what needs to happen in order to get a price ultimately dictating what you can get out of the property. The biologist can also inform you about various government programs that offer incentives such as tax liens or annual income if certain criteria are met. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is put forth by the United States Department of Agriculture and aims to protect drinking water, reduce soil erosion, and preserve wildlife habitat. There are also numerous offshoot programs branching from the CRP program that can be accessed from the USDA webpage. If the property has, or will have tillable land for farming, you need to decide if this will be rented out or if you will become a part time farmer in this venture. A way to roughly check how much revenue is generated from existing farm acreage is to simply ask the previous owner or the farmer that utilizes these acres. You can then get a rough estimate of the annual revenue that can then be reinvested into the property. Whether that money goes towards wildlife
management practices on the property or towards the loan balance is up to you. There are also other forms of revenue that can be obtained that are commonly overlooked aside from the obvious such as farming. Let’s say you only use the property for deer hunting and depending on the seasonal dates set forth by the DNR in your state, your property may only get used a few months out of the year. You could consider leasing your property to other hunters annually for species that you may not be particularly interested in.
Leasing your land is a great way to generate extra revenue. There are inherent risks here in regards to letting others use your property and once again, a contract is a must to protect you and your investment. Of course, the amount of clients you can get to lease your property depends on if the species they want to hunt are persistently present on your parcel of land. This is something that could also be brought up in the management plan which we will talk about later. Now weather you decide to cash lease the property or exchange usage for labor is completely up to you. You may be able to find a farmer that needs a place to duck hunt that would tend your crops in order to have exclusive rights to hunt the flooded areas of woods on your property each year. This of course is just a thought. What tends to happen is a cash lease that is collected annually that benefits both parties involved. Depending on the size and features that are present on your property, you may be able to rent it out for weekend camping excursions, family reunions, or weekend camping retreats. It is all about who you know and how you can market your property to fit the needs of potential leasers.
Another avenue for revenue from a hunting property can come from timber sales. This is usually overlooked by many private land owners in regards to monetary gain. Something as simple as removing 10 to 15 trees every few years can provide some nice residual income from the property that can also be very beneficial for ecological diversity on the property. After trees are harvested, the resulting brush piles can be placed strategically around the property to further provide habitat for various species within the property. Certain timber species are worth more than others of course, and many of these trees provide food and nesting habitat for certain species on the property. It is up to the land owner with advice from experts, to determine the costs versus benefits for using the land for commercial timber operations and the scale at which they want to do this at. More trees removed generally results in more revenue, at the cost of disturbing the natural habitat and the species that call the property home. These are just a few components of a natural area that can generate revenue, but what kinds of things go into a successful hunting property and business venture?
One thing that is commonly overlooked is the amount of effort that is involved in tailoring a property to the specific needs of the potential land owner. One of the things that many individuals find out, often before it is too late is that there can be an awful lot of work and time spent to mold your property into something special that makes those wall hangers stick around. One of the more common issues you see is that people make an initial investment in a property, and then year after year, do not harvest trophy specimens. What many fail to realize is that they can imbue management practices that increase their chances of taking a trophy animal. Of course, this is going to require many man hours to complete. Some of the work involved will be working with local wildlife management personnel, game wardens, and property owners surrounding your property to safeguard the animals that are taking refuge on the property itself. As mentioned earlier, if your property was a group investment, all parties need to be on the same page in terms of what is and is not allowed to take place on the property. A strong recommendation is that a lawyer be involved in creating a contract for each member of the group to sign to hold them accountable. The last thing you want is for there to be friction in your group, so guidelines need to be put in place before the business venture to protect all members of the group financially. This document can include everything from having “guests” on the property to hunt, financial aspects of what happens if an investor drops out of the contract, and also what each person’s duties and responsibilities are to effectively manage the property. You do not want to be the only member of the group actively trying to better the property, and then have some guy’s distant cousin that only had permission from one of the investors, harvest the buck you have been chasing for four years. Everyone involved needs to carry their own weight both financially and also with time spent helping with the annual chores for the property. Proper management is what forces trophies onto a property, and to best achieve this, it is strongly recommended that a wildlife biologist assess the property before purchase.
Having a wildlife biologist assess a prospective hunting property is one of the most important aspects of owning a productive hunting property. Their job is to provide insight into possible management practices that can improve the likelihood of attracting specific game species onto your property. Of course, this service is not free, unless a close friend is a wildlife biologist that may take a look for you as a favor and maybe a few cold brews, but for the rest of us, this will cost some money initially. After the management plan is laid out, it will also cost money and time to put these ideas into practice. Some of the key aspects that will be brought up in the management plan are pretty universal and this guide is meant to provide insight about these types of management practices, along with questions you can ask the seller, which you should think about when picking your hunting property.
The very first thing that the biologist will look at is the background information of the property itself. This will include a couple of things such as a list of the previous owners that may be contacted regarding the types of management practices they may have used on the property. It can also provide the biologist with a vision of what the property was like in years past to provide insight into how much has already been done to change the habitat over the years. Location of the property is another point of interest for the biologist. What county, distance and direction from nearest city or town, and roads used to access the property? This information will come into play in regards to the leasing portion that was mentioned earlier. Of course the location and how to get there will play a factor in how you market the property for potential opportunities for Return on Investment. These sources of extra income are nice, but the most important thing to consider is how your biologist is going to help YOU achieve your goals for the property and get the most out of your investment.
The first thing you are going to tell the biologist is your goals and objectives for the property itself. These are the keystone questions from which all management tactics will be derived, and the wildlife biologist will be able to effectively build a management plan based on a few criteria the landowner is hoping to achieve. Say you want to provide habitat for native wildlife and conduct enhancement practices that will produce trophy white-tailed bucks and also enhance habitat for bobwhite quail. Your biologist will be able to help you find the most cost effective management practices to fit your needs of the property. They can also provide input into further developing the property to harbor other species of native animals as well that can provide benefits to your property. A wildlife biologist will also look at the size and acreage of general habitat types. This is the part where the biologist categorizes your property into different zones such as agricultural, improved pastures, native grasslands, native brush or woodlands, wetlands or riparian areas, and number of ponds or lakes. This is what provides the framework for what you have to work with as the land owner and to utilize what is already present in your management plan. Understanding how to use what the space currently has to offer also provides insight into the historical management practices that have been used on the property that
Understanding the types of prior management practices and history of wildlife harvested gives the landowner an idea as to what kinds of upkeep, and costs associated with this, that will need to continue in order to have a healthy ecosystem. It also provides insight into what types of species have been harvested in the past. Management practices such as brush control, livestock grazing, range reseeding, controlled burns, and types of farming all provide keen insight into the fertility of the property in question.
Looking at the types of wildlife harvested in the past also provides specific clues into the baseline to work from to measure the success of the management plan. An example of clues for ecological worth of the property can be derived from a comprehensive hunting history highlighting weights, antler measurements, and number of deer harvested annually. Stocking of wildlife species which could include exotic or invasive species can also be useful information in your management plan. The biologist may even be able to find historical population densities that include information regarding sex ratios and species compositions from past wildlife census data. The historical records of the property are important, however, the current situation of the property is what you currently are able to work with.
The Current Situation of your property will provide the most immediate information to both the management plan and you the buyer. Things that the biologist will look for include current vegetation practices, current livestock grazing habits, how property is currently hunted, wildlife species present that includes predators, exotic species, and non-game feral species. They also look at the amount of natural and supplemental food plots available along with the habitat types and hunting practices of adjacent lands. A detailed Description of the habit will then be looked at. This will include topographic maps, meteorological data, aerial photographs and a soil sample map. Once all of the data is gathered and analyzed, the wildlife biologist will present the habitat management recommendations that best fit the property, and how you can achieve your goals for the property itself.
I sincerely hope this article has provided some insight into what really goes on in finding a hunting habitat that suits your individual needs as a sportsman. In part two of this article, we will look at a more detailed look into how you can determine the value of a parcel of land yourself. Part two will provide you with information on what to look for when admiring properties before buying them. It will also cover specifics on traveling to the property and potential for a hunting lodge to be built, for scenarios that you must travel a great distance to the property and will need provisions during the hunting season. We will also take a closer look at how you can tailor the property to fit your needs and how to assess the surrounding habitat of your property to ensure you are making a solid hunting property investment. Discussion will also veer towards what you do after the purchase and what to look for in the future with your property.
Cheers and good luck in your search,
Jacob K. Hogan