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How to Buy Hunting Land
Let's start by looking at a typical scenario. A hunter grows disenchanted with the quality of his hunting area and decides he wants to do something about it. He has three options. First, he can work with other hunters who are using the same property in an effort to plant food plots and make policies that will improve the age structure of the bucks on the land. This is by far the least expensive solution and if human nature were more predictable, it would be the only one any of us would use.
However, other hunters are not always accommodating to what we may want to do and not every landowner really cares enough about his or her deer herd to give up valuable pasture land or farm land for the better management of what he may think are a scourge on his crops.
The zero cost solution can sometimes work for the diligent hunter, but as many game professionals are quick to point out, it's easier to manage deer than people. In other words, getting the needed cooperation will take time, maybe years, and lots of effort on your part. It can be done so don't give up if you can't afford to buy your own hunting land.
A Case for Buying Hunting Land
If you buy the hunting land, it is yours to control exclusively until you die or until you sell it. No one can take it away as long as you keep making the payments. You know you will benefit from any long-term improvements that you make in the deer herd. Obviously, from a pure control standpoint nothing matches owning the land you hunt.
However, there is also a downside. Owning hunting land requires time and focused attention if you are going to manage it well. Someone needs to patrol it, someone needs to work with the government on farm programs, someone needs to plant the food plots, someone needs to buy equipment and perform basic maintenance on the property, someone needs to work with timber buyers, etc. Of course, these are the rewarding aspects of land stewardship but they still take time - or if you will have someone else do everything, it takes money.
Where to Buy Hunting Land
Where you buy land for deer hunting is just as important as the type of ground that you buy or lease. If you can't afford to tie up a huge block of habitat - enough land to completely encompass the home ranges of several bucks - then you are only going to be as good as your neighbors. The old statement that birds of a feather flock together has never been truer. Find other quality deer managers who share your philosophies and get as close to them as you can. Not only will you benefit from their efforts, but they will also benefit from yours.
Without a doubt, you will pay a healthy premium to buy hunting land in the best areas. From what I've seen in many areas of the country, you should expect to pay at least 25% more when purchasing land that is ideally situated for deer management over and above what you would pay for similar property that is more isolated.
A potential deer manager can also benefit from sharing a border with a large parcel of land that is off-limits to hunting. These sanctuaries serve to improve your deer hunting immediately by providing an instant supply of bucks that have reached an older age class. Also, a bordering sanctuary increases the odds that any bucks you pass up will see another birthday.
When you own your own hunting land, you have the security of knowing that it will be there as long as you want to keep it. You will never lose access. That produces a lot of peace of mind if you have dreams of hunting for many years to come and of introducing your children or grandchildren to hunting.
If I had to choose between bordering a good area that is well managed for deer, but hunted, or one that serves as a sanctuary totally off-limits to deer hunting I'd choose the hunted area. With a total sanctuary nearby you will have a harder time controlling doe numbers and a correspondingly harder time producing enough food to fully nourish all the deer that will pour out of the sanctuary into your fields every night.
You can find large managed blocks of land by simply asking about them at most small town coffee shops. Townsfolk are generally all too ready to discuss what those "crazy folks are doing' out there". Start by picking the very best hunting area within reasonable distance of your home and spend a long weekend snooping around. You'll quickly find what you're looking for - if it exists.
Obviously, you can find out about large off-limits parcels the same way, but you can also look at a plat map of the county and pay particular attention to the larger landholdings. If the designated landowner has words like, park, conservatory or trust in their names, the odds are higher than normal that these properties are off-limits to hunting. Plat maps can be purchased at the county court house in the county seat.
The Proper Hunting Land Mix
Ideally, any hunting land you buy should have a habitat to field ratio of about three or four to one. This will permit you to provide plenty of food while still having enough huntable cover to spread your impact while you provide a good home for the maximum number of bucks. Keep in mind that you can utilize 10% of any CRP acres for food plots.
The Unfortunate Consequences
Whenever the free market system attributes a price to something that was once free, someone is going to gain and someone else is going to lose out. The buying of land primarily for the purposes of hunting has a way of dislocating people who have possibly hunted these farms for generations. Understandably, they are going to be upset and very disappointed. Wouldn't you be? And while it's easy to say, "Well, they could have bought it too." That doesn't always wash because there are many fine people who will never be able to afford hunting land.
When you buy hunting land and make it off limits for all but yourself and a few lucky friends you have started the process that eventually will result in these same fine people going without a place to hunt. Should they be priced out of hunting? It is a question you will be forced to grapple with at some point if you head down this road.
At the very least, you need to be sensitive to this aspect of private land management, but you may be able to take things a step farther. You are going to need help, and if you can maintain a civil relationship with at least some of the previous hunters of the property, you can possibly create a win-win for those who are respectful of your rights. I've seen it work many times.
Once the deer management plan gets up to speed, there will be opportunities for multiple hunters. Don't forget, you can't stockpile bucks - some will disperse. And if letting someone else shoot a buck every once in a while will give them the incentive to help you keep your doe herd in check and the motivation to watch over the place when you're gone, what is the real harm? In the end, you stand to gain much more than you give up.
Land that sets up well for deer management is not around every bend in the road. In the first place, it should be ideally situated on the border of a management-friendly property, and then there is always the problem of supply. Just because you want to buy land doesn't mean someone wants to sell it to you. Finding the right ground is a labor-intensive process that may take months, possibly even years. But, if you invest the time to do it right you may only have to do it once and you'll benefit from the fruits of your labor for years to come.