Most hunters looking for hunting land fail to consider some basic factors when seeking out their own little slice of hunting nirvana…By Michael Veine
This is the time of year when a lot of hunters take on the task of buying or leasing hunting property. Private hunting lands are typically superior to lands that are open, so the desire to find quality hunting opportunities fuels the quest for hunting land acquisition. The decisions whether to buy or lease land has pros and cons both ways. The main difference is that leasing is just another name for renting and that rent money is a pure expense. Buying Hunting Land though can be an investment. Most hunters looking for acreage fail to consider some basic factors when seeking out their own little slice of hunting nirvana. Read on for some tips on how to acquire land that not only provides awesome hunting experiences, but also gives you the most ‘bang for the buck.’
Over the years I have bought and sold a fair amount of hunting land. I have also leased lands in the past for my own hunting enjoyment, but in recent years I have been leasing out some of my own properties. Now I’m in selling mode once again though, but I’m always on the lookout for good buys on great hunting land. In all my real estate investments, I have never failed to make a good profit, which is something that even real estate magnate, Donald Trump can’t claim.
My basic real estate investment strategy is simple: Buy real estate when the market is down and sell it when the market is up. Right now the overall Michigan real estate market is on the upswing, but hunting land may not necessarily be following that same trend, especially in parts of Michigan. Agricultural lands have gone way up in value in recent years following higher commodity prices.
During 2015, Michigan’s Ag lands averaged about $4,900 per acre. Non-Ag lands though have certainly not seen that same sharp increase in pricing and acreage in rural areas of Michigan, especially some of the northern regions, may still be dropping in value. Take the U.P. for instance, where deer numbers have plummeted in recent years. It is certainly a buyers’ market in the U.P. with land values in many areas sharply down over the last 10 years.
To some extent, land prices affect hunting lease rates. As land prices go up more, fewer people can afford to buy land, which drives more hunters into the lease market. With more demand for leases, it tends to move rental prices upward due to supply and demand. In recent years, lease prices have risen sharply in the more populated regions of the state, while they have been somewhat flat in areas where competition for leases is less. It’s certainly a market driven scenario.
The main thing that a property needs to have to offer good hunting is a solid deer population living there. It amazes me how many hunters buy land with few, if any, deer on it, and then expect good hunting. Sure, a property can be improved to attract more deer, but only to a certain extent.
The reality is some of the acreage in Michigan that is for sale or up for lease does not provide what I consider good deer hunting. Price is also not necessarily related to the quality of the hunting to be found on any give property. So besides the obviously necessary signs of lots of deer activity on a property through worn trials, rubs, scrapes and such, I also like to see evidence of adult bucks frequenting a property and a history of the land producing consistent adult buck kills.
Properties with a long running QDM program are a big plus in my book. Also, if all the neighbors are QDM practitioners, then that would really add to a property’s hunting prospects. Deer management units with mandatory antler point restrictions (APRs) are also seeing a boost in hunting land sales and leasing interest, and for good reason. Those APR areas are producing more and bigger bucks than comparable non-APR DMUs and most hunters want to kill bigger bucks, so it only makes since that APRs will draw more hunters to those areas and could be driving up land and lease rates as well.
Whenever I look over a piece of property that is for sale or up for lease, I first study not only the property, but also the whole surrounding area using aerial and topographical maps available on the internet. Those tools can show you the lay of the land and the composition too. If you zoom in on the aerials you may be able to see box blinds, deer trails and other items that can help you decide if a closer look is warranted.
The next step is boots on the ground. I first like to walk the perimeter of a property to see if there is heavy hunting pressure on neighboring properties along the borders. After that I crisscross the interior of the property covering it thoroughly and evaluating all of the habitat, or lack thereof on the land.
An abundance of thick cover is a very desirable feature on hunting property. There might be a lot of deer sign on more open lands, but often that deer movement is more nocturnal compared to lands with lots of thick cover. Sure thick cover can be developed, but it often takes a lot of time and money, so having better habitat already in place is a big plus. Thick cover on a property often comes in the form of wetlands. Thick, wetlands on a property are great because deer really gravitate to them when hunting pressure heats up.
Wetlands also tend to lower the value of property too, which is also great because it represents a bargain to the land buying hunter. I would not want a property though that is all wetlands because during cold periods, thin ice forms and deer tend to avoid thin ice. The best hunting lands will have a mixture of high and low lands, which also create great funnels for hunting spots.
Properties with quality food plots already in place are also desirable. Food plots can be developed from scratch, but again that takes a lot of time and money. Also, the presence of good food plots is an indication of the quality of the soils there. Regardless, it would be a good idea to take some soil samples and get them analyzed to really get a good idea of the soils. If the land is rocky, sandy or has a pH that is way out of whack, then that needs to be factored into the deal. If food plots are not already present, then it would be nice to have some openings here and there for possible food plots. It is a lot easier and less expensive to create a food plot from a pre-existing opening compared to having to clear a plot from scratch.
Having a dependable water source on the property is important to keep deer from having to leave the land to seek out water. This is why I prefer properties with at least some wetlands where waterholes can be successfully dug. If no wetlands are present, then I would want to have a year round flowing stream, waterholes, a pond or a lake. If the property has none of those, then I wouldn’t even consider it unless good water is available on directly bordering properties.
Access on a property is an important aspect that can greatly increase hunting success. It would be nice to already have a well laid out road and trail system in place. Ideally, a property will have a road or at least an ATV trail surrounding the entire perimeter of the property with spurs coming off that main access route into the interior of the land where food plots and stands are situated strategically. The perimeter is usually the best place to access land for hunting because it is usually the worst place to hunt anyway because of the impact that neighbors can have in those zones.
Besides, having an access road along the border reduces that impact that neighbors have there because they are less likely to hunt along your boarder with a road there. If roads and trails are strung around haphazardly, or not present at all, that extra expense of developing proper, strategic access should be factored in. If a property is so thick or wet that you just can’t access much of it, then that is not necessarily bad, especially if neighbors can’t access adjoining areas too. This can create a perfect sanctuary, which is important in the big scheme of things for a good deer property.
The type of public road access into a property can be critical to the quality of the hunting there. If a road gives a good view of open fields there, then that can attract the attention of poachers. I really don’t like properties within ½ mile of a major highway, because a lot of deer become road kill reducing the quality of the herd there without a shot being fired. Even the road kill that county roads with high speed traffic needs to be factored in. Ideally a hunting property will be on a low traffic road that does not allow for high speed driving. Being back off of any roads is even better, but if an easement is needed to access a property, it must be rock solid, plenty wide for a big driveway, and just like a private road that you own in all aspects with no restrictions.
The neighbors to a property are an often overlooked factor that can really impact the quality of the hunting there big time. The problem is, in a lot of deals, you really don’t want to go around the neighborhood talking to neighbors about a property that is for sale or especially for lease, because it can cause them to make a competing offer.
If buying the land, I would wait until a sales agreement is signed before investigating neighbors. All sales agreements should contain language that everything in the deal is contingent upon the approval of the buyers attorney, which gives you an escape clause should you find bad neighbors or anything else that would be a deal breaker.
I like to meet the neighbors in person if possible. You can tell a lot about people with a face to face conversation. I’d ask them how many deer they shoot, how big of bucks, how many people hunt their property, if they are in favor of QDM and anything else that may give you information of their impact on the target property’s hunting. If it’s a lease, then you will have to be very careful in your investigation of neighbors.
I would never tell a neighbor that you are considering leasing their neighbor’s land. Instead just ask them if they know of any lands available for lease or sale in the area and cascade that conversation into questions about their hunting details. In fact, knocking on doors is a great way to find lease or buying opportunities in the first place, especially if you have a certain area pegged down that you are most interested in.
Seeking out hunting land, whether for purchase or lease, should be done with a multipronged attack. It does not hurt to contact a reputable realtor to help in the search. That realtor though should be an avid hunter that is familiar with what constitutes good deer ground and who isn’t afraid to get his or her feet wet walking properties with you. There are realtor advertisements in the back of Woods-N-Water News, some of which specialize in hunting lands. There are also a lot of for-sale-by-owner and lease opportunities available in newspapers and magazines advertisements. The Classified Section of Woods-N-Water News is a great place to look for land, which I have used to successfully buy and sell properties. There are lots of places on the Internet to look for lands to purchase or lease as well.
Some good advice is not to drag your feet on an opportunity. I once ran an advertisement to lease 39 acres in Washtenaw County and had over 30 people call me in the first day. It was a done deal in less than 48 hours and the calls kept pouring in.
When I find out about a good hunting property opportunity, I get my butt in gear and check it out pronto. The best deals will typically be snapped up right away. We did not lease our property to the first person that called either. We met with a couple of the first callers and were completely turned off by them. One pair of guys showed up half drunk and one jerk actually took a leak in the middle of one of my food plots. Another bozo flicked a cigarette
butt on my ground. When you meet with a prospective seller or land lord, you should conduct yourself with class and let them know that you are a responsible sportsman that will respect the land with the utmost care with a code of conduct that is desirable to the seller or leaser.