Diversifying Ranch Income with Hunting

By: Tyler Jacobs

According to a recent article in Beef Magazine, CattleFax CEO Randy Blach states, “low calf prices are likely to remain in the $130 to $140 per cwt. range in 2017.” In other words, prices that cattle producers are likely to see in 2017 are very similar to what they are experiencing today.  What does that mean for ranchers? Now is the time to run a tight ship and make critical business decisions. For many, that may include diversifying a property’s income stream.

One form of income expansion would be to offer hunting opportunities. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation report, 13.7 million people aged 16 or older hunted that year and spent $38.3 billion on equipment, licenses, trips and more. This tells us that there is a strong desire for hunting opportunities in the U.S. and obviously landowners stand to benefit from that. Hunters not only stay in their home state (resident) but they also actively travel out of state (nonresident). This provides a rich pool of hunters to work with.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife – Hunting in America, An Economic Force for Conservation

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Hunters are also diversified in their interests, which can range from big game to upland game birds like bobwhite quail, chukar, turkey and pheasants. These are all species for which we, as land managers and wildlife biologists, can actively manage a property for. More often than not we are able to do so in balance with the overall goals of the farm or ranch. This is well illustrated in the book “Beef, Brush, and Bobwhites” by Hernandez and Guthrey. Livestock, agriculture and wildlife can function very well together. The King Ranch of south Texas is one of the best examples of this concept in action.

So what influences hunting prices? One might think it is a multi-million dollar lodge. Others would suggest it is food and amenities such as a swimming pool, wet bars and nice vehicles. However, the critical factor is the quality and quantity of wildlife present on a property. The majority of hunters partake in hunting for more than just the harvest. Outdoor recreationists cherish the opportunity to simply be a part of that environment. They appreciate the wildlife, the associated habitat and the opportunity to hunt.  A large percentage of hunters actually understand the investment in time, energy and finances that are made by landowners to ensure healthy wildlife populations that live in vigorous habitats. Hunters will remember the experiences from time spent in the field far more than the food or lodging.

quail hunting ranch georgia

The business side of hunting operations such as marketing hunts, making the land available for leasing, booking hunters, managing hunting camps, overseeing lessees, lease documents and working with the local state game biologists can be tedious to some. Many landowners simply choose to hire a service, such as that offered by Hall and Hall to manage their hunting operations. In this situation, the landowner knows that the ranch is faithfully represented and that the hunting operations will be professionally managed.

So what does all this mean for landowners, especially ranchers who may have to be tightening their belts due to low cattle prices? This is an opportunity to add income that had previously been left on the table and broaden the ranches income stream into the future. Selfishly, this gives us an opportunity to educate those who spend the majority of their time in urban environments about the importance of ranching and agriculture. Perhaps they will even celebrate their successful hunting experience with a steak. That works for all of us!.