It’s the American dream of every hunter – to own their own slice of deer hunting heaven. It doesn’t matter how big or small it may be, owning a chunk of land is special and something we all dream about as sportsmen. Unfortunately, not enough of us act on our dreams and sadly, that’s ultimately what they remain . . . just dreams.
For me personally, I thought this dream was a long, long, long ways off. I’m sitting here at 28 years old having just gotten married, just bought house #2, and recently graduated college. Want to know what those three things all amount to? Debt . . . some serious DEBT! For me, owning land was a dream that was seemingly a long way off, especially with the thought of starting a family in the near future.
How was I ever going to own a piece of hunting property? This thought bugged me to no end. I didn’t want to be like my parents or others who had always wished they would have bought more land back in the day and are now stuck because prices are too high. This thought motivated me to figure out a way to get ahead of the game despite being young and in debt.
Before buying a house, I got really interested in the world of real estate investing – so much so, that I’m now a licensed real estate agent in Wisconsin. I read all sorts of books on how to make money in real estate and finally took the plunge. The first order of business was to buy a house for my wife and I. With fairly limited funds, we bought a fixer-upper that was foreclosed. This was a duplex and we now live for free while our tenants pay our mortgage(s). In fact, the one duplex now cash flows enough to also fund our second fixer-upper, which we recently bought. You may be wondering what the heck a duplex has to do with buying your dream hunting property, but the point is anything is possible if you’re willing to be creative. Ultimately, you should be treating hunting property as an investment that can make you money.
How awesome would it be to earn extra income on a property you purchased for hunting? Pretty awesome if you ask me! We cover some of the ways to make a hunting property more affordable in this article: How to Make Hunting Land Pay You, but first, you need to know how to find, evaluate, and buy your dream property.
8 SIMPLE STEPS TO GUIDE YOU THROUGH THE LAND BUYING PROCESS
Step 1: What’s your number?
Before you even begin to search, you have to know what you can comfortably afford. Comfortably, being the operative word. Too many people think that because a bank gave them approval for a loan of $X amount, that they can afford it. This may be true if you aren’t spending any money on food, coffee, clothes, and other disposable items throughout the week, but in order to truly understand what you can afford, you need to do a deep dive into your monthly expenses. Learn where you can cut and save during the course of a month.
If you don’t have the money, then you need to start saving or get creative. In order to increase the amount of land one could possibly afford, many people turn to partners, as was the case for me. Partners add income and resources that can be invaluable. Not only on the financial front, but also in terms of labor and pure enjoyment of the property. It’s no secret that hunting is an activity enjoyed most with others. Joining forces with a TRUSTED partner can be a great way to increase your funds and ultimately the amount of property you can afford.
Once you figure out how much you (and your partners) can comfortably afford, you’ll then want to begin the process of finding a lender.
Step 2: Find a lender
Getting preapproved prior to writing up an offer on a property will save you a lot of headaches down the road. Not only will it confirm what you can afford, but it also makes the transaction process much smoother, and you won’t have to go through the excitement of getting an accepted offer only to later feel the pain if you find out you can’t get the financing. The preapproval process isn’t set in stone, but as long as you don’t go out and spend a ton of money on something else between the time you got preapproved and submitted the offer, you should be free and clear.
You’ll want to start the preapproval process sooner than later because finding a lender for vacant land can be much more challenging than finding one for a house. Why? Vacant land is much riskier for lenders. It’s pretty unlikely that you’ll be able to get financing from your local bank on a piece of vacant, recreational land. You’ll likely have to work to find a lender who deals specifically with vacant recreational and farm land. Talk to your real estate agent to find out who they would recommend. In this Wired to Hunt Podcast, Dan Perez, owner of Whitetail Properties, discusses the best ways to find a lender for hunting land.
Once you’re approved, let the shopping begin!
Step 3: Find a Real Estate Agent
Finding a notable real estate professional to represent you as the buyer can save you thousands in the end and literally costs you nothing. When you’re looking for a real estate agent to represent you, it’s best to find one who knows a little something about hunting and hunting land. In most cases, you’ll likely end up using a different agent than that of which you bought your house, simply because they are probably not experienced in the world of hunting land.
Reaching out to someone you know who has experience with hunting land or a land specialist from the likes of a hunting specific real estate company can be extremely beneficial. They’ll help make the process go smoothly and layout many important considerations along the way.
Step 4: Start Shopping for Deer Hunting Property
Once you have the first three ducks in a row (Budget, Lender, Agent), you can start looking for your dream property. Just like searching for a house, you should lay out key features that are important to you and stick to them. For us, we listed everything we wanted in order of importance to help guide us through the process of finding a property.
- Roughly 100 acres
- A 60/40 split between wooded and ag land
- In a “good” area
- Good access to entire property
- Areas for food plots
- Good treestand trees
On top of those property features, we hoped to obtain it below market value as a way to add immediate equity to our investment. Lay out your criteria and stick to them. The last thing you want to do is to overpay for a piece of land that isn’t up to your standards simply because you got excited about owning your own property.
Step 5: Research and Evaluate
This is a two-stage process. The first stage should begin while you’re looking for a property and happens on more of a county or regional level. Once you figure out where you’d like to own property, start talking to local wildlife biologists and conservation wardens to understand the local populations and other factors that may play into your decision to buy a certain hunting property. This is especially important if you’re looking at land in a new area or a couple hours from home. They will understand local factors much better than you.
For instance, during our search, the local biologist had warned us that if we were looking for a good property to practice QDM, to stay away from properties that were surrounded by or in close proximity to Amish farms. No, the Amish aren’t bad, but they do have a far different deer hunting philosophy – one that would greatly impact our quality deer management goals. Let’s just say owning a small QDM property surrounded by farms with a “if it’s brown, it’s down” mentality, won’t yield great results.
This was an extremely valuable bit of information that we would not have considered since we don’t live in an area with many Amish folks. This is the same principle at play when you here many of the professionals talk about buying in a good neighborhood. Do your research, it will save you a lot of headaches and money.
Google Earth is your best friend when you’re trying to understand a deer hunting property from afar.
Once you’ve got a target county or area you’d like to purchase land in, the next bit of research and evaluation comes when you are supremely interested in a property. This property should match the criteria you’ve outlined earlier fairly closely. If it doesn’t, you’re probably settling for something less than ideal, simply because you want to own hunting property so badly. Don’t be a settler.
The first thing you should do when you find a property of interest is to pull it up on Google Earth and begin to understand the layout and the surrounding areas. Google Earth allows you to view the landscape at all levels which is key to understanding deer movement. It’s important to look at the entire neighborhood, not just the listed property. On average, the home range of any given deer is usually between 300 – 600 acres. . . that’s practically one square mile.
I’d say that’s one of the biggest errors landowners and prospective buyers make – they only look between their property boundaries. Just because you’re stuck between legal boundaries doesn’t mean your hunting strategy should be. Follow the chunks of cover, find out how most deer will be travelling. Look for any surrounding ag fields that might serve as destination feeding fields. Travel corridors, food, drainages, terrain, and funnels are just a few things you should be looking at when you start to dissect the deer hunting potential on your property. Think outside the boundaries.
Another important aspect to look into at this time is if the property is enrolled in any special government programs that may impact your decision to buy or do certain habitat improvements like CRP Lands or Managed Forests Lands.
Once you’re comfortable with how things setup in the local area, start dissecting the property you hope to own. Fall back on your criteria: Is there good access? Good spots for food plots? Quality soil? Favorable terrain? etc. Pay more attention to the things you can’t change like the location, terrain, and accessibility; the other stuff you can gradually improve yourself like clearing areas for food plots or adding more trails.
Step 6: Boots on the Ground
If you like what you saw while scouting from afar, it’s now time to physically walk the property. All the research you’ve done is pointing to this property being the one of your dreams, now get out there and confirm it. If you can, walk the property with the current owner or somebody that may have experience hunting the property. Ask a lot of questions! How’s the deer hunting? How are the neighbors? Are there trespassing issues? Poaching issues? These are all important questions to be asking. Not only will you be gaining extremely helpful insight, but you’ll also be building a good relationship with the current owner/seller.
Spend a lot of time scouting the property you’re interested in buying with a map in hand to help you understand the layout.
Aside from asking questions, your main objective is to scout the property during your visit. Is there a lot of deer sign? Quality food, cover, and water? What might need improvement? How much will the improvements cost? Are there good trees to hang stands in? Etc. etc.
Creating a list of these types of questions before hand will help you dissect the property as you walk around. Make a list and check them off once you’ve confirmed whatever question it was you were asking. Be sure to write down any questions along the way. It’s way too easy to forget questions that may have arose during the tour as a result of you getting googly eyed over the thought of owning such a property.
If you like what you see, it’s probably time to make an offer.
Step 7: Make an Offer
This is a BIG step! So far it’s been all talk and no walk. The talk is cheap, but the offer is expensive! If you’ve confirmed your criteria, like what you see, and have adequate funds, you shouldn’t have too much to be worried about. One word of caution is to not let the excitement cloud reality. This is a big purchase and far too often, buyers end up convincing themselves that some problems may be minor, when in reality they are major all because they fell in love with the property. Even though you’ve got to jump on a great deal while you can, take some time to make sure it is, indeed, a great deal. Allow time for your emotions to settle, so that you can properly evaluate. Don’t make an impulse buy. Show it to an unbiased hunting buddy and see what they think.
Congratulations, if you’ve made it this far and still like the property, it’s time to sign and submit your offer. Don’t be afraid to throw in a reasonably low offer, especially if it’s been sitting for a while. If the seller counters, you’ll know they are willing to come down. If they don’t, you’re likely not in their wheelhouse and they are unwilling to play games. Negotiation is an art, you’ve got to stick to your guns and call their bluff, all while hoping you don’t offend the seller or allow someone else to come sweeping in with a more attractive offer.
Step 8: Enjoy It!
There’s nothing more exhilarating than getting a call from your realtor saying they accepted the offer. Once you make it through closing you can officially let the good times roll! Congratulations on achieving what was once just a dream.