I think that most hunters who have hunting rights on others’ property or who hunt public land, have entertained the idea of owning their own piece of hunting land. I was one of those hunters. My desire to own my own land came from my home address. Many moons ago I used to live in Chicago. Not the suburbs. Chicago. Try getting permission to hunt when you have to tell the farmer that you live in Chicago. The only ace I had in my pocket was that I knew someone in the banking industry that would allow me to hunt foreclosed properties. I never really got to get used to hunting one place for too long. It sure teaches you how to adapt quickly though. After a while though, those inconsistent hunting rights began to dwindle so I was forced to pay farmers a hefty amount to hunt. I used to pay one farmer $400 to hunt his ground…$400 per weekend! Needless to say that got expensive, which got me to thinking. If I have to pay that much to hunt a 3-day weekend, I can probably afford my own land. The search began.
My goal was to find about 40 acres of ground within 3-3 1/2 hours from my home. I looked at a map and drew a 200 mile radius around Chicago. Hunting Wisconsin was out of the question for me. I believe you were only allowed one bow tag per season back then which certainly didn’t warrant the expense of buying land. That left me western and southern Illinois. I found out quickly that western, particularly northwestern Illinois, was far too expensive for a hobby. I was newly married with one on the ground so finances were kind of tight. I began my search by calling taxidermists in certain areas of interest. Boy would the internet have helped back then (1992). After many calls and conversations, I took a real liking to Peoria County. I found a realtor and the search began. After looking at about a dozen properties, I found the one I wanted. What a great property that was.
I hear this line from many hunters. “Man, I wish I could own my own property.” Can everyone afford it? No. But I do feel that most people can. It just depends on how committed you are to hunting and if you’re willing to cut back in other places in order to afford land. It is a big commitment.
If you’ve ever entertained the idea of owning your own piece of hunting ground, now is the time. Properties are selling for far less these past few years. Without too much work, you can find ground, good ground, for 3K per acre. Buy 40 acres and you won’t even have to buy your deer tags. You can get two bow tags and two gun tags free when you own at least 40 acres.
So how do you pay for this land? Cut back in places, put in a little overtime, whatever it takes. The hardest part isn’t making the payments, it’s coming up with the downpayment. Most banks want a hefty amount down. Sometimes 30% or more. However, if you buy the right piece of property with the right financial mix of timber and tillable, you’ll have an income stream to help with the payments. For example, If you purchase 40 acres at 3K per acre, your total cost is $120,000. If that property is half timber and half tillable, you can create a decent income stream from the tillable. If you cash rent to a farmer, your 20 acres can bring in a yearly $3,000 if rented at $150 per acre. Even better (and this is what I do), plant your 20 acres in alfalfa hay. 20 acres of alfalfa hay will produce about 4,000 square bales per season/year. Find a farmer to mow, rake, and bale it for a 50/50 split. That still gives you 2,000 bales per year. At $4.50 per bale, that’s a whopping $9,000 per year. Divide that by 12 months and you have $750 per month to put towards your payments…and that’s if you don’t do the hay yourself. Do it yourself and it doubles, minus your initial equipment costs.
There are some things to think about when looking for and purchasing property though. First and foremost, never let your heart doing the buying. Keep your head in the game. If you keep your head in the game you increase your ability to buy it right. Buying it right can mean many different things. Like making sure the specific area has a good deer population. Making sure there aren’t any outfitters renting anywhere near the property. Things like that. Never overpay…not these days anyway. If you like fencing, and you should, know that it’s very expensive (even if you do it yourself)…so a fenced property is a nice added value. Be sure to look at aerials, not just of your intended place, but of the entire area to make sure it’s a deery area. Cost compare the surrounding area…the entire county. Check soil types and crop yields from previous years, especially if you have tillable ground. Check for timber quality. Is there road frontage or do you have to use an easement? Easements are a huge no-no for me anymore. They always end up causing arguments. Don’t buy it because a guy shot a 190” off the property back in 1984.
Property can be a great investment if bought right. You can save $800 a month and stick it in your bank, or you can put it into land. Here’s the difference. You can’t have fun with money in the bank, but you can have a blast with money in land. And with a little luck, you may make some money in the end. You may also make money along the way helping you to make the payments. Money derived from CRP, cash rent, farming, livestock, hay, etc. Is buying land for everyone? Absolutely not. But if you want it bad enough, if you have enough passion for hunting, it can be done. Not only by the super rich, but by the average person. The time is never better than right now. Don’t kick yourself 15 years down the road saying, “I wish I would have…it would have been paid off by now”. Mine is paid for now, so now the money I make on hay goes directly to me. Exactly where I want it to go. I use that money to improve the land. Food plots, equipment, new fencing… The more of us little guys that own land there are, the fewer opportunities there are for the outfitters and the better managed our deer herd will become. There’s a real sense of pride in owning a piece of land. I always thought I was a pretty thoughtful hunter in terms of game management, but owning my own ground really set it in stone for me. It sounds nuts, but I’d rather spend a week on my property than go to Cancun. It’s my favorite place on Earth.