I spend probably about 95 percent of my bird hunting time on public land every year. The opportunities to hunt quail, pheasants, woodcock, grouse of all varieties and other game birds on public dirt are very real, and many are quite good. The downside, of course, is you might live in an area where the public land gets pounded every day or there simply isn’t much public land around.
And even if there is, another hunter might have just run his pointers through your chosen spot an hour before you showed up. Public land is awesome, but it’s not without many potential pitfalls.
Private ground is generally better and also tends to be much harder to come by because permission-based hunting is dying a slow but noticeable death. This reality does leave a third option that many of us have probably never considered - buying some ground.
Think you can’t do it? You might be right – or dead wrong.
Recreational ground prices vary a lot by size, location and about 5,000 other factors. If you’re of average means, a good portion of the properties available will simply be out of reach financially.
Some won’t, and the more you’re willing to drive, how much work you’re willing to put into some ground and how well you can see into the future will all allow you to overcome the hurdles to ownership. If you cast a wider net, say within two hours of your house versus 20 miles, you’ll have more properties to choose from. If you look at marginal ground but can see some ways to improve it in a few years through sweat equity, then that expanded search will yield many more possibilities.
The ability to see potential in hunting ground is everything if you don’t have vast amounts of expendable income. The last property I bought, which consists of 30 acres in central Wisconsin, looks marginal on paper. It’s got some high ground, some low ground and a long abandoned field on it.
When I walked it, I was thinking about deer but I flushed several grouse and noticed that there were a few acres of grey dogwood on the property – grouse love dogwood berries in the early season. I also found a few apple trees on the property and noticed the low ground wasn’t terribly low, meaning the woodcock would probably love it.
After buying the property for $900/acre, I went to work. I cut out a small food plot for the deer, but soon after planting it in clover realized the grouse loved it as well. The first season we hunted it, I realized the ruffs really liked the brush piles I had made and I’d underestimated the amount of woodcock that would stop by on their way to Texas.
In the last few years, I’ve planted a few apple trees for the grouse and the deer but mostly have just walked the place in the spring when the trees are in bloom to flag the apple trees that are already there. Once identified, it’s a matter of knocking down their neighbors to give them as much sunlight as possible. Several of the crabapple trees on the property are absolute grouse magnets throughout the season, and it’s a rare day that I walk it with my lab without flushing at least a couple grouse.
The downside to this property is it’s a shade over two hours from my house. The upside is it costs less than my last truck and is an absolute blast to work on – and to hunt.
That property in Wisconsin is perfect for a duck pond, and one day I’ll hire someone with a bulldozer to build it for me. Right now, I’ve got enough public duck spots to not have to worry about it. I’ll have it though, because I can see the same trend in the waterfowl world that I see in bowhunting – more people than ever crammed into the public spots.
I want my little girls to have a safe spot to duck hunt, where we might encounter a few woodies or a mallard and not have to worry about sleeping in a boat nosed into the cattails all night long to beat the competition to a good area. The few people I’ve talked to that will do that kind of pond work generally ask about $1,000 for a day, which is more than enough time to create a waterfowl oasis. That’s less money than I’ve got tied up in decoys and duck calls.
This may or may not appeal to you personally, but since I know I’ll probably only ever be able to afford small parcels, I want to wring as much bird hunting enjoyment out of them as possible and a great way to do that is to build a pond. Keep in mind that depending on the type of land you buy and the location, you’ll need to figure out whether it’s even allowable or what types of permits you’ll need. These are great questions to have answered before you sign any closing documents.
The old saying, “They’re not making any more land” isn’t going to become less true in the future. For us diehard bird hunters, that reality might hit home more than it would to the general non-hunting public. If that prospect scares you, or you’re just approaching the right time in life, consider digging into the prospect of buying a bird hunting spot. It might not be nearly as out of reach as you think.