Many hobby farmers are in search of that little extra revenue that can help with property taxes or offset farm expenses. Fortunately, you have an asset that many folks lack: land. The trick is to find the niche that you enjoy and couple it with a way to carve out some more profits from your farm. One of those niches can come in the form of a hunting preserve. The business is not for everyone, but if you have an interest in raising poultry or alternative livestock, along with a background in hunting, then you may want to give it some deeper thought.
Start With A Low-Cost Strategy
Hunting preserves come in an array of options targeting sportsmen who pay to hunt released game. Operations include upland birds, such as quail and pheasant, waterfowl and big game. The size can range from 50 acres on up to thousands, depending upon the angle of the operation. As a rule of thumb, the more diverse the operation, the bigger the operation can become; the inclusion of big-game animals will also usually result in a bigger operation in the end. Bigger hunting preserves can yield much greater complexity with respect to accommodations for customers, legal hurdles, expenses and risk.
As a hobby farmer, expenses and risk are things that are wise to avoid: It makes a lot more sense to dip your toes in the water before jumping in! Let’s investigate a low-cost strategy that can give you a taste of the business, minimize risk and provide a platform for growth. This strategy can begin with a field size as small as 25 acres. Certainly, larger would be better, but you can make a go at it with this as a minimum.
Accommodate Dogs For Hunting And Field Trialing
First, investigate the customers you wish to target. The hunting-preserve model I outline below centers on people who use dogs for the purpose of hunting or field trialing. Field trialing can be done for a few purposes: to gain field accreditation for a dog for future breeding, to serve as a form of competition among dog owners and trainers, or to foster a hobby, building camaraderie among friends and peers. Regardless of the motives, clubs and individuals need venues to conduct training and events.
Upland (pointing breeds) and retriever (water dogs) are the two major forms of dog trialing. There are also all-around events that include upland and water segments. Upland bird events typically use quail, chukar or pheasant; water dogs events use waterfowl, primarily mallards.
The key is to find your local clubs. Simple online searches with your state and “field trials,” “water dog” or “retriever” will likely yield leads to follow. You can also call your state fish and wildlife agency: They often permit these events and may be able to provide the names and potential contacts for the groups. Once you land a contact, you’ll quickly learn how interconnected clubs can be, which will greatly minimize your effort.
Early communications with club leaders should focus on their need for locations and how many events they look to run. Look at these individuals as the foundation of your budding business; ultimately, you want them to help you build your business from the ground up. The aim isn’t necessarily to make a lot of money from their club events, but create a strong partner to help build your future hunting preserve.
Getting a club or clubs involved in the ground floor provides many benefits. They will likely be highly interested in helping build habitat and may use their own club dollars to help do it! They come to you with a network of potential customers that could take years to build on your own. Look at them as more of a partner than a customer.
Create A Hunting Space
Once you locate a local club or two that have conveyed a need for hunting or field trialing grounds, it’s time to build the habitat. Work closely with your club partners to build a plan for developing the area. They may offer financial support and manpower to help get it completed — particularly when you include them at the ground floor. Don’t strictly rely on them, however: Many state fish and wildlife agencies offer private land-management expertise. Show your plan to them for further advice. They also can provide guidance on Farm Bill programs that can pay the lion share of the cost.
Conservation programs can include the creation of shallow water wetlands (in the appropriate soil types) that could really make your field diverse, expanding your opportunities in the future. Be cautious about how the management of a Farm Bill contract meshes with your club. Mowing limitations are set through most contracts, so make sure that doesn’t conflict with your club’s activity.
As you build a rapport with your local club, be honest and forthright about your long-term intentions. This strategy is designed to turn a portion of your farm into a hunting preserve that caters to individuals who pay to hunt released game on your land. Your vision may be to always accommodate trial events. But if your hunting-preserve business starts to grow by catering to bird hunters, you may need to set a limit on the trial events you run. Remember, many club members may become hunting preserve customers. It’s critically important to maintain a positive reputation in these tight-knit communities.
Your club partner should have an excellent handle on the regulations required to run trials. Never rely on that! Reach out to your state fish and wildlife agency. Remember, it’s your land and you’re responsible for activities on it that you authorize. While inquiring about dog trialing information, you need to gain information about the procedures for running a bird-hunting preserve.
Every state is different, so don’t refer to prior knowledge in other states. You will likely need special permits and signage to designate your area as you convert from a trialing area to hunting preserve.
There are lots of other opportunities in the shooting preserve business from the hunting of exotic big game to high-end upland bird hunting facilities. This model is tailored for the low-risk and small-investment hobby farmer. Over time, your operation can grow toward a large-scale operation that continues to diversify and build upon success. The hunting industry can be a fantastic investment, but don’t bet the farm on it. Start small and work smarter, not harder.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2015 issue of Hobby Farms.