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Wildlife Management for Property Owners 101

Ask any wildlife specialist, passionate hunter, or avid fisherman what connects them to wild places and they’ll most likely provide some variation of this answer: we don’t live on the land; we live with it. Justin Hertzel and Chase Higgs, both of Hayden Outdoors, are no different. These avid sportsmen are quick to point to a lifetime spent hunting, fishing, and wandering through woods and prairies as the reasons they do what they do today. Justin Hertzel is a designated broker with Hayden Outdoors in Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, and Arkansas. He grew up hunting and fishing, and has called the heartland of Lincoln, Nebraska home nearly his entire life.

Similarly, Chase Higgs spent his earliest days bass fishing, fly fishing, upland bird hunting, and waterfowl hunting. These days, he’s a videographer and biologist for Hayden Outdoors based in Northern Colorado with a love for fishing that runs as deep as the alpine lakes and rivers where you’ll find him much of the time. It’s a passion that led him to fishery and habitat assessment work. 

Recently, we asked Justin and Chase to chime in on effective and successful wildlife management and conservation strategies. Here’s what they had to say. 

 

chase higgs holding a fish in a green jacket
Chase Higgs with the spoils from fly fishing in Colorado.

 

Introduction to Wildlife Management

 

Wildlife management on recreational property and ranches is an elemental part of a healthy habitat and long-term conservation. Wild animals play a key role in local ecosystems through foraging, seed dispersal, water detoxification, and oxygen production. How large of a role does the landowner have in managing wildlife on recreational or hunting property? “A substantial one, depending on what you want your return to be,” as Justin puts it. The return you will see and experience in the form of healthy wildlife, regenerative habitat, and returning animals is a direct result of how much effort you put into the process. 

Chase expands on the idea. “The beauty of private property is that the owner has the ability to protect or enhance its resources using methods that are much more difficult to implement or maintain on public land. Property owners have the opportunity to create stretches of pristine habitat, and they can take a lot of things into their own hands to enhance the landscape.” 

Understanding your local ecosystems and establishing a set of guiding principles for managing wildlife helps ensure long-term animal population and ecosystem health on your land. 

 

Assessing Your Property’s Wildlife

 

One of the first – and most important – steps in successful wildlife management on your land is conducting a wildlife inventory. Having this baseline will help you create a viable conservation plan moving forward. You need to ascertain wildlife populations and their health before implementing a wildlife management plan. 

  1. Identify common species and their habitats. Know which animals are living on your land and how they’re utilizing the local habitats. There are a variety of ways to gather this information, including simple observation. Trail cams on your property are another excellent way to get real-time information and feedback. Also consider working with your local resource management agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. Talk with your neighbors about what they see on their property, comparing notes to learn more about how animals are moving through the land and which corridors they might be using. 
  2. Recognize signs of wildlife presence. Again, keep a keen eye out for where animals might have been, what they’re eating, where they’re bedding, antler sheds or rubs, scrapes and foot prints, and where their water sources are. 

 

Creating a Wildlife-friendly Habitat

 

There are four cornerstones to any successful wildlife management plan: cover, bedding, food, and water. “The more ample those four things are, the more game you’re going to maintain and sustain in that specific area,” says Justin. “Game animals are definitely adaptive. They’re going to adapt to what they have.”

A healthy, properly thinned and limbed forest gives larger game a haven. “A lot of the tree species in the Midwest states are producing food that deer and turkey will eat.” So, in addition to safe shelter, learn which native tree species provide valuable nutrition for the animals that call your land home. 

Chase’s specialty in fish and fisheries shines a light on waterways. “For lakes and ponds, water quality and aquatic vegetation management should always be monitored. As for streams and rivers, it is important to address stream bank erosion and in-stream structures, which provide habitat and also help mitigate bank erosion.” 

As you walk your property, look for opportunities to improve wildlife habitat. Consider landscaping for wildlife and increasing shelter and bedding opportunities with hinge cuts or overgrowth. Plant native species that are known to provide fish and animals with nutrient-rich food sources. Finally, ensure the animals that move through your property have enough water. If water doesn’t occur naturally on your land, look to temporary and permanent infrastructure that can benefit animals, such as water capture vessels, troughs, or man-made ponds. 

 

Balancing Human and Wildlife Needs

 

Ensuring both people and wildlife can safely cohabitate on your land is a pinnacle principle of recreational real estate ownership. Make sure your property is safe for both, including managing human-wildlife interactions. Most experienced sportsmen will know the basic rules of respecting the land, water, and animals, but if you host people who are newer to the idea, establishing basic rules of safety is a good idea. 

These can be as simple as “No feeding the animals” to maintaining a safe distance from all wildlife. Discourage interference in the natural rhythms of wildlife movement, feeding schedules, and other seasonal occurrences. 

This coexistence is key to healthy habitat management and animal harvesting. Chase says, “Hunters and anglers play a key component in conservation. Not only do their dollars account for the overwhelming majority of funding toward the preservation of our landscapes and resources, but their eyes and ears also help keep tabs on our lands. Not many people pay better attention to their surroundings than sportsmen, and this attention to detail helps fish and wildlife managers and organizations address issues. Hunters and anglers help encourage the respect and protection of our resources.”

Justin encourages reaching out to your local game warden. “Every warden has a region, which you can typically find on game and fish websites. These people offer a wealth of knowledge on what’s going on in the area – including diseases, numbers, etc. – for animals of all sizes.” 

 

agent clay owens with coyotes
Hayden Outdoors agent Clay Owens after a day of predator management on a cattle ranch.

 

Controlling Nuisance Wildlife

 

A big part of maintaining healthy wildlife numbers on your land is controlling nuisance wildlife. According to Justin, “Coyotes, mountain lions, and bobcats are typically the most pervasive predators.” 

If you’re concerned about animal populations on your property, identifying problematic species is step one. Talking with a wildlife or habitat specialist is a good place to start, but trail cams are another excellent way to learn more about which species are wreaking havoc on the ecosystem. 

Human deterrence methods for controlling predator populations include:

  • Habitat modification
  • Humane trapping and release
  • Minimizing attractants, such as salt licks and food plots
  • Legal harvesting of animals 
  • Exclusion with fences, walls, or other natural migration deterrents

If you need to bring in reinforcements, look to professional wildlife removal services in your area. 

 

Attracting Beneficial Wildlife

 

Promoting biodiversity on your property is a great way to contribute to long-term environmental health and conservation. Here are a few ways to create a wildlife sanctuary on your land: 

  • Avoid pesticides or other additives that might affect plant growth and animal health
  • Plant native plants
  • Again, make sure animals have access to sufficient clean water
  • Incorporate nectar-rich flowers
  • Consider modifications to habitat, such as hinge cuts and trails, that invite animals onto your land
  • Build birdhouses, bat boxes, and pollinator gardens
  • Integrate seasonal prescribed burning if necessary
  • Thin overcrowded timber plots

 

Annual swarm of long-tailed mayfly on river
A swarm of mayflies – a common food source for many freshwater fish.

 

Seasonal Wildlife Management Tips

 

Wildlife management ebbs and flows with the change of seasons. Establishing a year-round plan that addresses seasonal shifts is an excellent way to maximize your wildlife and conservation strategy. 

In the spring and summer, add these tasks to your to-do list, being mindful not to stress mothers and babies who might be bedded down on your land:

  • Prescribe or control burn to allow for nutrient-rich regeneration
  • Incorporate native plants and shrubs into wildlife habitat
  • Check that water sources are still ample and clean
  • Resupply food plots
  • Replace batteries in trail cameras

As fall and winter approach, make sure to do the following:

  • Ensure animals have enough cover and bedding
  • Check food plots to make sure they’re properly prepped
  • Visit stands and blinds and make any necessary adjustments or repairs
  • Maximize accessibility throughout the ranch with trail management

For fowl and upland bird hunters and property owners, take extra care to facilitate migration corridors with food and water sources, wildlife-friendly fencing, and plenty of ground cover. 

 

Trail cams play a critical role in wildlife management on properties.

 

Monitoring and Maintaining Your Wildlife Plan

 

Regular property assessments, necessary adjustments to management practices, detailed record keeping, and seeking expert advice are pillars for successful and on-going wildlife management. Chase summarizes: 

“First and foremost, a property owner’s role in management is being observant toward the health and quality of the habitat and fisheries on the property. Has the fishery/habitat deteriorated? If so, then action may be necessary, such as allocating water differently, changing how you let livestock access the water and adjusting road paths to limit erosion. Frequently throughout the year, it’s important to ask, ‘Does a larger scale restoration need to be performed, etc.?’ Property owners have the opportunity to create stretches of pristine habitat, and they can take a lot of things into their own hands to enhance the landscape.”

 

Connecting to a Professional Network

 

Chase Higgs doing some field work
Chase Higgs doing some field work and stream management on a property in Colorado.

 

Turning to experts like Justin and Chase can be an important step in maintaining your wildlife habitat over generations. Recreational real estate specialists and biologists who understand local waterways, regulations, migration patterns, permitting, hunting safety, and habitat are excellent allies in your conservation efforts. 

Additionally, local, regional, and national organizations that focus on conversation are great resources. When it comes to waterway management, Chase recommends turning to Trout Unlimited for information. Justin is the president of the Nebraska Big Game Society, a regional organization that puts 100% of the money it raises toward the health of big game populations in Nebraska. 

He encourages property owners getting involved with organizations like these in their area to learn more. “Hundreds of wildlife organizations throughout the country provide education, habitat management, projects, and studies.”

Aligning with like-minded agents and organizations bolsters your efforts, and it’s where Hayden Outdoors goes much further than most companies. Justin continues, “We donate a certain amount of every closing to the Corners for Conservation program in Colorado and the Corners for Wildlife program in Kansas.” This supports high-quality habitat on center pivot irrigation corners in the two states. 

 

Get to Know Your Neighbors

 

Continue your collaboration efforts beyond organizations and agencies. Your neighbors can be some of your best allies in creating and maintaining healthy wildlife habitat. Working with neighboring property owners allows for greater movement and migration, more animal protection and safety, and cleaner, healthier water supplies. 

While Justin points out that wildlife management is solely on the shoulders of the property owner, it can certainly be empowered by the community. “As the landowner, you are the steward of the land. You also have entities that assist in those efforts. Work to create a cohesive mix between all of them.” 

 

Conclusion

 

Successful wildlife management goes well beyond hunting season. It’s an essential part of being a responsible contributor to the ecosystems. Chase parts with this wisdom, “Managing fish and wildlife on your land has a plethora of benefits. Aesthetically, property owners get the pleasure of seeing healthy numbers of fish and wildlife on their land. Well managed populations also allow for great recreational opportunities on the property, which is one of the main draws to fish and wildlife management. One of the biggest benefits – if not the biggest – is the rewarding feeling of contributing toward an overall thriving landscape.”

 

Justin Hertzel is an accomplished hunter, broker and land specialist at Hayden Outdoors.

Spring Habitat Management for Better Deer Hunting in the Fall

Baby white tail deer fawn standing in field near forest near doe

When it comes to buying hunting property, Jake Hyland of Hayden Outdoors knows plenty about both. As a broker associate specializing in farm, ranch, dairy stockyards, timberland, and hunting properties, he’s walked thousands of acres on hundreds of farms and ranches throughout the U.S. He’s your go-to guy if you have questions about water and mineral rights, especially in his territories of Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota. And when it comes to hunting, his knowledge runs just as deep. Jake has guided trophy elk and deer hunts, pheasants hunts, and waterfowl hunts on some of the most coveted private hunting land in the country. Recently, Jake took a minute to venn diagram his extensive understanding of recreational real estate and spring deer habitat management to talk about spring habitat management for deer hunting to ensure you have a successful hunting season in the fall. 

 

a young deer in a green field from a trail cam
Photo courtesy of Jake Hyland.

 

Understanding Deer Behavior in Spring

Jake notes that deer behavior in the spring is very regionalized. “If you’re in Colorado, Montana, or Wyoming, those big game animals – it doesn’t matter if it’s mule deer, elk, whitetail, or pronghorn – they’re going to be migrating. In the spring, these animals are still in their winter range and they’re getting ready to start the reverse migration back up to where they’re going to spend most of their summer.” Jake contributes this nomadic behavior to weather patterns. The more snow in the mountains, the more likely deer are to move to areas with less snow and more exposed food. 

Conversely, when you get to Eastern Colorado, Nebraska, and South Dakota, deer tend to be less nomadic. “They have a more regionalized home base, which still may be a few miles, but you’re not talking about hundred-mile migrations. So on properties in this region, the deer have just been hunkered down for the winter. Generally, you’ll find them congregating around large agricultural fields and places with a lot of good thermal cover.” 

Other things to consider are that does can be pregnant during this time, trying to consume and conserve calories, so they will need to be near ample food and water sources. As spring progresses, big agricultural fields where many deer find safe haven will be plowed up, which will influence the animals’ patterns. “At that point the deer will switch to their summer patterns, browsing newly budded tree limbs and wild plants before transitioning back to row crops.” 

 

Assessing Your Hunting Property

It’s a well known sales tactic to show property mid-summer. Trees are full, flowers are blooming, prairie grasses sway in the breeze. But Jake takes a different approach. “March 1st until mid-May is my favorite time to look at hunting property with potential buyers. From a hunting perspective, that’s the time of year I want to see it.” He feels spring is the best time to look at potential hunting properties for a number of reasons, including:

  • You’re not intruding into special bedding areas.
  • You’re not impairing any fall hunting conditions or habitats.
  • Spring conditions most closely mirror those of the fall, when branches are bare and wildlife travel corridors are most visible. 

When assessing a hunting property:

  • Make note of how the animals move through the land.
  • See which food sources they’re accessing.
  • Learn where they’re bedding and how they’re traveling.
  • Look for scrapes, rubs, and other rut indicators.
  • Keep an eye out for antler sheds.

When he’s scoping the land, Jake works with his clients to walk it corner to corner, and then begins coming up with a plan for how to make the property better, which leads us to ways to improve the land. 

 

Longs Peak - Two young mule deers grazing at a mountain meadow at base of majestic Longs Peak on a sunny Spring day. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA. spring habitat management for deer hunting

 

Habitat Improvement Techniques

Like all animals, a deer’s survival depends on three key fundamentals. “Food, cover, and water are the three ingredients animals need. They want food. They need cover and water.” These three necessities provide an excellent framework for your deer hunting land improvement plan

One of the main ways you can improve your deer hunting property in the spring is by planting and maintaining food plots. Jake notes that food and mineral plots for wildlife are very specific region by region, so make sure to check the regulations in your area. The regional characteristics also determine what kind of food your deer will be looking for. For example, in plains areas like Nebraska, your hunting property might border a large corn field where the deer get plenty to eat. In the West, the food plot you plant can entice the animals onto your property. Jake’s rule of thumb is, “Offer your deer something they’re not getting on the neighbor’s property. If you can’t compete with your neighbor’s bedding, then offer the deer a better food plot or water source, such as a pond, spring, or installing an artificial tank.”  

If the deer can find a belly full of corn and grain not far away in an open field, consider providing better cover and water sources that draw them onto your land. Alternatively, if the nearby state forest has an abundance of places to hide, think about putting in a small pond or food plot. 

 

Creating Edge Habitat

You can also improve edge habitat for the deer. Edge habitat is where two different habitat types come together, and deer spend a lot of their time in this type of area. Some things you can do in the spring to improve edge habitat for the deer are: 

  • Hinge cut trees
  • Prescribed burns
  • Thin dense forest

These methods allow new foliage to grow, providing fresh cover and food for the animals. If you’re weighing the time, money, and energy costs of both methods, Jake recommends the latter. “Strategies like clearing out trees and prescribed burns require a lot less equipment than food plots. Food plots are invaluable, but there are other more cost- and time-effective methods for improving your deer hunting land.” 

 

Deer drinking from splash with reflection in water.

 

Ensure Water Access

Water sources are another key feature of any successful deer hunting property. “Water is something that is overlooked in most regions. Deer will need to hit a water source every day at a minimum.” If you don’t have natural water sources on your property, you’ll want to create or install one. Deer-friendly, man-made water sources can include:

  • Small ponds
  • Springs
  • Artificial tanks
  • Rainwater capture systems

Finally, make sure the deer can move freely and easily throughout your property. Clear barriers to entry onto your land, such as old fencing and large downed trees and roots. Providing animals logical and accessible ways to move through your land will help ensure they return year after year. 

 

Creating a Hunting Oasis

The trail cam industry has come a long way in recent decades. What used to require a trip wire and a visit to your local photo developer now relies on real-time technology and movement-triggered images. “I leave my trail cams out on my farms year-round. If you can help build the full story of the deers’ existence on your property, starting in the spring, you can put the pieces of the puzzle together and learn how you can make your property better.” 

Spring is also a great time to assess the conditions of your hunting blinds. Most branches are still free of leaves and other obstructions, similar to how they will be in the fall during hunting season. “Your chances of disturbing deer go way down if you move big blinds around in April or May versus later in the year.” 

 

3 mule deer bucks burned forest

 

Managing Risks

One of the biggest factors when it comes to ensuring a healthy deer population on your property is predator control. Jake emphasizes the importance of checking with your local regulators on what is allowed. “Coyotes can have a very big impact on doe retention rates and fawning. If coyote numbers are really high and deer have had a tough winter, predation can make a really big swing in the pendulum in just one year.” He recommends reaching out to your local NRCS to find information on local trappers. Most organizations will offer a cooperative agreement with state and local government agencies, sharing the costs of the effort with the land owner. 

You’ll also want to patrol your property for invasive plants. While deer typically avoid eating invasive plants in favor of more flavorful, nutrient-rich naturally occurring plants, a deer population can alter the biodiversity of your land. Work with local organizations and ecologists to ensure your property is free of harmful invasive species. 

Additionally, be mindful of diseases in your area that can impact deer herds. Jake makes the point to rely on trail cams to help monitor deer populations. “If you’re in an area that has suffered a disease and you feel your herd numbers are going down, you can mitigate how many animals you harvest in the fall.” 

 

Deer Population Monitoring

Tracking deer populations on your hunting property is a good way to help maintain healthy herd sizes. Make sure to be diligent about collecting annual data. Jake encourages hunters and property owners to be mindful of herd numbers and demographics and adjust their hunting limits accordingly. “If you’ve historically taken two mature bucks and five does, maybe switch that up and not take any does in years when herd numbers are down. Or maybe you leave one management buck but still go after two trophy-class deer. In other years, it might be the opposite and you need to up your management plan and harvest more does because they’re hounding the resources on the land.” 

Jake once again relies on trail cams and property data to create a complete 12-month synopsis. As your deer hunting property grows and matures, it’s important to make continual improvements to the land, helping to cultivate healthy deer habitat and populations. 

 

 

a photo of a buck at dusk or dawn from a trail cam
Photo courtesy of Jake Hyland.

 

 

Conclusion

Deer hunting property is a specific kind of real estate. But to Jake, it’s much more than that. “This is probably one of the biggest investments of your life, but it doesn’t do any good if you go buy 100 acres and it doesn’t have any animals on it.” He’s a big believer in working with a recreational real estate agent who not only knows the area, but hunts in the area. “Someone who’s familiar with the area. Someone who maybe even owns land in the area. That means they’re personally invested in it.” 

If you’re in the market for a viable, successful deer hunting property – one that can become a legacy property, passing from this generation to the next – make sure you look to the experts; people who know a thing or two aboeut ranch and recreational properties because that’s where they grew up, and that’s where they live and hunt today.

agent jake hyland with a trophy buck in the snow
Jake Hyland of Hayden Outdoors with his Archery Whitetail

Add Value to Rural Property with Expert Landscape Design

Spend some time talking with Co-founder and Principal Designer of Garland Design Group, Susan Garland, and a few words catch your interest. Words like flow, functionality, circulation, and longevity. Susan’s expertise in landscape and interior design – and seamlessly marrying the two – extends from coast to coast. She began her landscape design career on grand estates in the Hamptons before migrating west where she received an MBA from CU Boulder before launching Garland Design Group. Today, Susan specializes in unified design – flowing exterior elements into interior design, and vice versa, and maximizing beauty and functionality throughout all corners of her clients’ properties. 

She loves the work – especially when it comes to rural properties. “I love larger scale projects that have a land aspect to them. There’s so much to think about even as you’re placing buildings or structures on a property. How does it all flow well? When you’re incorporating plants and trees that will last 80 – 100 years, you’re envisioning what that will look like for multiple generations of a family.” It’s this generational influence – truly understanding how clients of every age want to enjoy a particular property – that drives Susan’s talent for capturing the essence of both indoor and outdoor spaces. She sat down to give us a few tips on how to add value to rural property with flawless landscape design. 

 

Garland Design Group T-Kay Wineland Exterior View add property value with landscape design
Photo courtesy of Garland Design Group.

 

Understanding the Importance of Landscape Design

The most exquisite property can easily go unappreciated if it’s surrounded by overgrown brush, neglected trees, and dilapidated out buildings. Susan encourages clients to consider landscape design as vital an aspect of a property’s value as interior elements or the buildings themselves. When thinking about landscape design from the 30,000-foot view, keep these key factors in mind: 

  1. Quality landscape design enhances curb appeal, and first impressions matter. From the driveway material you choose to the natural trees, shrubs, and stonework that frame your entryway, it’s important to thoughtfully incorporate landscape design into your property.
  2. Consider landscape design an investment in long-term returns. As Susan points out, one aspect of a property’s natural elements people love is fully grown trees. “I always recommend planting new shade trees early on and maintaining the existing trees onsite.” This is an example of the generational impact of quality landscape design. Planting trees today will provide shade, privacy, tree forts, and natural beauty for decades to come. 
  3. Use landscape design to create functional outdoor spaces to maximize utility and enjoyment. A well considered patio, fire pit, bbq area, or portico extends living space and year-round value of your property. 

 

Assessing Your Property and Identifying Needs

The first step Susan takes with her clients when establishing the landscape design is understanding what the property currently offers, what it lacks, and what her clients want to accomplish. So, how does she start? “I go to the property and I walk it. It is so telling. I can start to see and feel the land. Land is living. I can see how and where the sun falls. Are there certain mounds that will work for a build site? Do certain aspects offer better views than others? It allows me to notice things that are already existing that we can foster and create special moments around. It allows me to literally get a feel for the land.” 

From there, she considers the actual elements that make up the property, such as sunlight, soil, and climate. It’s important to identify native plants that grow well in the area and be mindful of how much water is available and how much the landscape might need. It’s important to talk with a landscape architect or designer before investing in plants and materials to ensure any landscape elements you do incorporate into your property will be maintainable and have a good chance of success.

Finally, Susan talks with her clients about their lifestyle needs and wants. “I like to work with my clients to design for longevity. For example, what are their goals for the next five, ten, and twenty years?” If they enjoy pickleball and basketball, it’s worth considering placing the courts close together for easy access. People looking to use their property for large events will need to think about multiple outdoor structures and where to put them. Long-term vision helps ensure minimal changes as the property ages. 

 

Designing for Long-term Sustainability

One of the best ways to landscape your property in a way that will last is to incorporate native and low-maintenance plants. These species are naturally equipped to handle the soil types, climate, and elevation without requiring too much effort or resources. Talk with your landscape design partner or local native plant supplier to learn more about which plants thrive in your area and how to combine them for a beautiful look with minimal effort. 

As long-term droughts become more common, especially in the West, water conservation within your landscaping is becoming more important. Look for ways to conserve and capture water, as well as opportunities to incorporate water-saving elements. “In Colorado especially, it’s not sustainable to have a bunch of lawn on your property. Native plants won’t need as much care, water, or maintenance, and they can help keep costs low.” Also consider eco-friendly materials that occur naturally in your area and on your property. Susan looks to materials as creative opportunities. “Local stones and rocks are a great way to incorporate color into your design – color that can flow from interior to exterior spaces.” 

When it comes to plants and materials, it’s also important to keep scalability and durability in mind to help plan for future growth and maintenance. Rare materials might be hard to scale while untreated wood can be prone to rot and decay, depending on where it is and how it’s incorporated. Materials like concrete and engineered wood can add definitive, usable elements to your landscape design that will wear well over time. 

 

Open farm house pergola with rustic bench, chair and flower pots
A rustic pergola on a farm.

 

Enhancing Value with Strategic Design Elements

Turning to landscape design is a great way to elevate the value of your property as well as infuse unique design, creativity, and utility into your outdoor spaces. Creating a welcoming entryway not only entices people into your home, it provides access – a concept near and dear to Susan’s heart.

She explains, “I like to talk about access and future access with my clients. We consider which vehicles will need to access certain areas of a property. So for example, let’s say you want to put a basketball court and a tennis court on your property. Maybe it’s better to put them close to each other. If someone in the family wants to play some tennis while everyone else is playing basketball, you have the same circulation and same pathway to those areas. Even if you don’t need to access certain areas of the land right now, if you’ve planned well, those decisions can be easier to make down the road.” 

Your property is the perfect place to build what you love to do, and that’s a huge benefit of owning larger tracts of land. From archery ranges to adding a gun range, pools and waterfalls to entertaining areas, it’s really up to what your mind can envision and your pocketbook will allow!

Landscape design also offers a fun opportunity to incorporate color and texture into your outdoor spaces. Plant and material combinations can create vibrancy and visual interest without taking away from natural vistas and established property aspects. 

 

The Beauty of Unified Design

Perhaps one of Susan’s favorite elements of her design process is “the beauty of unified design.” This comes in the form of balancing hardscape (built materials that are incorporated into a landscape) and softscape (the landscape itself) to create harmony in design composition. “COVID really encouraged people to think about outdoor living spaces. A lot of what I do involves creating areas that are good for congregating, like a fire pit, bbq, hot tub, or patio.” Working with a landscape architect or designer allows for the seamless integration of softscape and hardscape to create an outdoor venue that is welcoming, functional, and beautiful to look at. It’s also a great way to address any fencing your property might need to help protect plants, gardens, or trees and shrubs. 

 

Maximizing Functionality and Enjoyment

To that point, these outdoor living spaces have become just as important as indoor gathering hubs like kitchens and dens. Susan and her team work with clients to design outdoor living spaces that cater to lifestyle. If you’re considering adding a pool, playground, sporting area, gazebo, or other outdoor venue on your property, working with a landscape designer can help ensure the seamless assimilation of recreational features and natural elements. In some cases, one can become a part of the other, such as a natural element playground, pool waterfall, or rockwall-backed patio. 

And don’t forget about exterior lighting and irrigation. Adding outdoor lighting to these exterior living spaces can extend their use, convenience, and functionality throughout seasons. Irrigation can also play a part in maximizing your al fresco gathering spot. Sprinklers and misters can make a patio much more enjoyable on warm days. Adding a TV to a shaded eating area results in a fun place to catch the latest game. Tea lights strung from tree branches over a fire pit add just the right amount of ambient light to your family’s s’mores sessions. 

 

Maintaining and Updating Your Landscape Design

Like any aspect of your home, your landscape design requires consistent attention and maintenance. Establishing a regular maintenance routine will help preserve the beauty and health of your property. It’s important to understand required maintenance before you install your landscaping to ensure you can keep up with the upkeep of your property’s flora. 

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that landscape design is a living, growing aspect of your property. Make sure to integrate a design plan that allows for flexibility and new plant selection as things grow and mature. Consider refreshing and upgrading elements as needed, helping to keep your property current and appealing. 

 

Garland Design Group T-Kay Wineland Exterior View add property value with landscape design
Photo courtesy of Garland Design Group.

 

Conclusion

To wrap up our conversation, Susan takes things back to functionality and circulation. “I really focus on understanding flow from interior to exterior spaces and how it will affect views throughout the house and outside of the house. Also, I love to bring the outdoors in, thinking about materials used for the exterior that can be incorporated into the interior. I guide our clients in the broader aspect of the landscape.” 

It’s an important consideration – landscape design is much more than a few plants, garden, or patio. The outside is the foundation of your property. It’s a place to play, gather, connect, or take in the sunset with friends. It’s a way to conserve resources, and enrich the health of your land. It’s a unified design that expands your family’s home from thoughtful interior choices to every aspect, and every acre, of your property.

What You Need To Know for a Safe Spring Prescribed Burn in the Southeast

Prescribed, controlled burn of forest to prevent wildfires across South Carolina low country Safe Spring Prescribed Burn featured image

 

Safe, controlled prescribed spring burns are essential to proper ecosystem management on your property. Why is that? Dr. Bill Palmer points to Mother Nature’s long established natural rhythms. The forestry expert and CEO of Tall Timbers notes, “The benefits of prescribed burning are many. Most ecosystems evolved with fire post glaciation. Burning helps improve primary productivity, insect diversity, food availability for foraging creatures, butterfly nectar production, flowering plants, carbon sequestration, clearing out the underbrow undergrowth, and finally, just reducing fuel loads to avoid the occasional wildfire that can wreak havoc on timber values and structures. The benefits are outweighed by any other management techniques.”

Hayden Outdoors recreational real estate expert, Heath Thompson echoes these thoughts on prescribed burning, “There is no greater tool in the land management bag than prescribed burning.”

Prescribed burns, sometimes referred to as controlled burns, are just that – a calculated, strategic application of fire to land. In a good portion of the Southeast, February through mid-May is known as prime time burning. Whether you establish a new pattern, or you’ve done prescribed burns for decades, Bill offers his insight into their benefits. “Bottom line, you’re going to improve pretty much every metric you can imagine.” 

 

Using prescribed fire to control fuel loading and spur new tender growth for wildlife.

 

Understanding the Basics

The United States Forest Services defines a prescribed fire as a planned fire used to meet management objectives. While the USFS manages large burns and prescribed fires, property owners can do the same, along with implementing other wildfire protection measures, to achieve similar ecosystem benefits on their land. These fires differ from uncontrolled fires by the strategy behind when, where, and how big they are allowed to burn. Bill puts a finer point on it, “Prescribed burns are kept at a minimum and that’s why it’s called a prescribed burn, because it’s under a prescription requiring certain conditions, a permit, and preparation.” Follow those guidelines and your prescribed burn can be an extremely safe practice. 

It might seem like a harsh idea – intentionally igniting your land on fire. But the reality is, prescribed burns are a very practical way to facilitate natural rejuvenation and reforestation. “More frequent fires drive the ecosystem to generate a mix of grass, weeds or forbes, shrubs, and vines. That mix is needed for a lot of bird species, insect species, and rodents that are essential to a healthy food chain.” 

 

Planning Your Controlled Burn

It’s important to think of planning your prescribed burn in two ways – legal considerations and weather conditions. Let’s break down both.

First, legal considerations. For those with little to no experience, it’s important to start your process with your local forest authorities. These agencies typically include the United States Forest Service (USFS), the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service), and the DNRC (Department of Natural Resources and Conservation). Starting with your local forestry agency provides the proper pathway to securing the correct permits and following all necessary regulations.

 

Keeping Mindful of Smoke

Once you’ve talked to relevant agencies, look to your neighbors. Often, neighbors will get together and combine expertise, equipment, and efforts. And make sure you have all the appropriate certifications when applicable. “You want to make sure you check the box on certification that you’ve had the property training. So, if you imagine you’re getting into hunting for the first time, you’ve got to go through the training, get your license, buy your equipment, and then talk to the people who can teach you. Prescribed burns are similar – it’s a lot of common sense and once you’ve done it a few times, it gets easier and easier.” 

Then there are weather conditions. The day you plan a prescribed burn is a day you want to pay very close attention to the weather. Bill notes the ideal weather ultimately depends on what your goal is. You want enough wind to push the fire to what it needs burn, but not so much that the fire gets out of control. Look for days when the wind is not forecasted to gust or shift. A little humidity is good for fire control, but too much humidity or a super cloudy day can cause a fire to smolder and smoke. 

 

Heath Thompson, a Hayden Outdoors agent in the Southeast, plans a prescribed burn while filming Life on the Land TV show.  
Heath Thompson, a Hayden Outdoors agent in the Southeast, plans a prescribed burn while filming Life on the Land TV show.

 

Safety Measures

Preparation is key to a successful prescribed burn. Once you’ve talked with your local forestry agencies, secured the proper permits, taken any necessary courses, and done a weather check, it’s important to make sure you have everything you need for the day you plan to burn. Here are a few essentials to consider before you start your prescribed burn:

  • Do you have the appropriate protective gear, including long-sleeved, non-flammable clothing, sturdy boots or shoes, eye protection, and a mask?
  • Do you have adequate water tanks to help control the burn?
  • Have you established fire breaks if needed?
  • Do you have an evacuation plan if the fire gets out of your control?
  • Is there an established communication tree in case of emergency?
  • Have you notified your neighbors of your burn?
  • Are those involved aware of the evacuation plan, safety zones, and escape routes?

Heath emphasizes the importance of holistic safety measures: “A burn plan, permit from the forestry commission, proper firebreaks, knowledge of humidity and wind direction/wind speed.” 

 

South Florida fire crew working a prescribed burn

 

Executing the Controlled Burn

The best time of year to do a controlled burn in your area will depend on seasonal factors, such as how long the days are, day- and night-time temperatures, and weather. On the day you plan to burn, make sure you start early enough in the day to maximize daylight should something go wrong or the burn (and extinguishing it) requires more time than expected. 

Seasonal factors are another consideration. Spring is the optimum time to burn in the Southeast, when wind and humidity allow for effective and efficient burning. That might not be the case in your region. Some Western states require there to be snow on the ground before initiating a burn. Check with your local forestry agencies to determine the best time of year and the best time of day to initiate a prescribed burn in your area. 

Have Equipment on Hand

Regarding any appropriate equipment you might need, Bill points to specifics in two scenarios. “If you have a pine stand surrounded by a pasture, you probably don’t need anything other than a four-wheeler, burn pot, and water tank to put out snags. A fire won’t burn across a crop field. But if you’re burning a pocosin that has not been burned for 15 years, it might put up 60-foot flames. Then you need your dozers and heavy equipment, including a tractor with a disc and a big type-two engine with water tanks to be prepared because if that fire gets out of control, it’s going to burn intensely.” 

You should also consider doing some backburning before igniting the main prescribed fire. A backburn is a smaller fire intentionally lit along a fire’s desired boundary. It burns out and eliminates the fuel between the prescribed fire and the firebreak essentially suppressing the fire.

 

Heath talked with experts about prescribed burns in January 2024 on Season 5 of Life on the Land

Monitoring and Control

The number of people required to safely monitor and control a prescribed burn obviously depends on the type of fuel and size of the property. “A 50-acre burn can easily be pulled off by one or two people depending on the fuel situation. If you’re doing a 500-acre burn, you may need more like eight to ten people.” 

Assess the size of the fire and how many hands on deck you feel you’ll need to keep it controlled before you begin. If you’re burning a larger property that hasn’t been maintained by prescribed burning over the years, talk with your local forest agencies and organizations to see if you need to involve any trained personnel. Once you’ve established your team, make sure everyone understands their roles and responsibilities

Throughout the burn, do regular assessments of its effectiveness and to ensure it’s not getting out of control. Adapt your burn plan as needed as the burn progresses, all the while keeping in mind that prescribed burning is typically a very safe and effective practice. Bill points out, “Roughly 99.7% of all burns stay within boundary. Most of the fires that jump the line are quickly contained. In the Southeast, escapes that cause damage are very, very rare.” 

 

Post-burn Assessment

Bill can not underscore enough the benefits of controlled burning on your property. “You pretty much have to be paying no attention at all to miss the ecological benefits and how burns improve the value of land. Realtors tell us there’s a substantial increase in the value of frequently burned land versus land that goes unmanaged.” 

Heath agrees, “It will increase the browse by several times over. In some cases in southern pine stands it will completely change the property. A pine plantation in which the entire forest floor is covered in pine straw – straw is a desert for wildlife. By burning, and with some sunlight, the native plants like greenbrier and partridge pea will take off along with tons of other small leafy plants and create a salad bar, so to speak, for deer and small game.”

 

Know Your Land

So in the days and weeks following your burn, pay attention to the land and how it reacts. More grasses and forbs typically shoot up after a burn. As Bill points out, in the Southeast, each successive burn keeps driving the ecosystem toward a pine-savannah, which was very normal in the region centuries ago. “As you drive the system toward a better and better habitat, you’re going to have more and more critters in that habitat.” It is important to plan for wildlife when you put together your prescribed burn strategy. Consider how long it will take the land to recover before animals can come back to it, including what type of nesting cover birds need. Animals and insects will typically inhabit burned areas again very quickly due to all of the free food (easily accessible seeds, nuts, and pollens) these burns generate. 

As you walk your regenerating land, consider if the controlled burn met your goals. Learn from the experience and make sure to apply any teachings to future controlled burn plans. 

 

Heath Thompson analyzes the burn and explains on Life on the Land TV the effects and benefits to the forest, wildlife and land.
Heath Thompson analyzes the burn and explains on Life on the Land TV the effects and benefits to the forest, wildlife and land.

Community Engagement

Controlled burns need to be a group effort, at least from a communications standpoint. This also offers an excellent opportunity to educate those around you about the benefits of regular prescribed burns. When informing your neighbors about your own controlled burn, talk with them about your safety plan, communication strategy, and address any of their concerns. You can even offer to help them with their burn next time around in an effort to increase the overall health and wellbeing of the surrounding area. 

Look to your neighbors and your community for opportunities to workshop, connect, and reach out to others regarding the practice. If these resources don’t already exist in your neighborhood, consider establishing them yourself. 

 

Conclusion

If you’re still wondering about the effectiveness of prescribed burning, consider this wild wildfire fact Bill imparted, “There’s more prescribed burning done in three states in the Southeast than all Western wildfires combined – three million acres per year, 84% of that on private land.” 

In other words, prescribed burning is especially important where it can be done safely and effectively on a regular basis. Don’t forget to talk with your local forestry agency about best practices in your region, and secure the appropriate permits, help, and equipment before you begin. The more regularly you burn, the easier it becomes and the healthier the land is. When we asked Bill if prescribed burning becomes safer the more frequently you do it, he was unequivocal, “Absolutely, 100%, no doubt about it.” 

Make this the year you establish your own prescribed burning strategy. Vastly improve the health and quality of your property for years to come. 

How to Increase the Value of Your Whitetail Hunting Land

Mature male Whitetail deer stands at edge of marsh surveying before walking further out into field during sunset at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

Whether you’ve been hunting most of your life or you’re just out for a walk in the late-fall woods, there’s something magical about spotting those towering whitetail tines. Elegant, quick, and agile, whitetail deer provide plenty of hunters with an exciting challenge. 

Two of those hunters, John Tate and Shad Sheldon, have hunted whitetail throughout much of the country. John watched his dad bag a buck in the woods of South Carolina when he was just 6 years old and the love of the hunt grew from there. “I was hooked after that and grew up hunting and fishing – doves and trout and bass and deer.” It was a passion that led to a job as a cameraman, editor, and producer for Realtree Outdoors on the Outdoor Channel and ESPN2 for many years before John traded in the camera for his real estate license and a position with Hayden Outdoors

Shad’s story follows a similar passion-turned-profession trajectory. A hunter since he was just seven-years old, he killed his first deer when he was 10 or 11. Later in life, he bought a tract of land in northwest Kansas that he and his wife developed into a hunting lodge. When they went to sell the property, they turned to Hayden Outdoors for the company’s expertise in selling large acreage hunting, ranching, and recreational properties from coast to coast. 

Today, both men combine their extensive hunting expertise with their work for Hayden Outdoors as recreational real estate agents. They understand the importance of optimizing your property for whitetail deer hunting, and, more importantly, how best to do it. In a recent sit-down – the wall behind Shad clad in impressive whitetail and mule deer mounts – John and Shad shared their thoughts on how best to increase the value of whitetail deer hunting property. 

 

Understanding Whitetail Deer

Before you optimize your hunting property for whitetail deer habitat, it’s important to understand the animals. The most notable characteristic of whitetail (or white-tailed) deer – and where they get their common name – is their “white flag” tail that stands alert anytime a deer senses trouble. They are herbivores and munch on a variety of tall grasses and plants (and your garden if you’re not careful about putting up proper fencing). 

Female deer, or does, typically give birth to between one and three young (fawns) in early spring. Only male whitetail deer grow antlers, and they shed them every winter. Growth typically begins in late spring and throughout spring and summer, the antlers are covered in a fine-hair membrane that has the appearance of velvet. Antlers will grow through late summer and early fall before hardening on the animal’s head, just in time for bucks to defend their territory during the rut. Whitetail deer tend to graze mostly at dawn or dusk, and they have very good eyesight and hearing. Most live between two to three years, although whitetail deer can live up to 10 years in the wild and longer in captivity. 

 

Whitetail Deer Behavior and Habits

Whitetail deer are pretty solitary animals. Unlike elk, which migrate in herds, whitetail deer typically move in small family units of a doe and her fawns with the bucks living alone most of their lives. Does and fawns tend to bed close to food and water sources while bucks can be very strategic about where they bed down, especially during hunting season. 

During the spring and summer, bucks will bed down at their convenience, near food and water. However, once hunting season kicks off and they become aware of hunters in the area, bucks will look for safer haven resting with their backs against a solid surface such as downed timber and large rocks, at least before the rut starts. They watch for downwind predators, listen for any nearby threats, and smell for oncoming hunters. 

Does, fawns, and young bucks feel comfortable wandering into open terrain to eat. However, this is not typically the case for mature bucks. They practice safety measures to help lessen threats during hunting season, such as taking indirect routes to food sources and bedding down for large portions of the day, eating and drinking at dawn and dusk. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to spot a buck during the day, but look for smaller food plots and water sources as opposed to the great wide open. And if you’re tracking the animals, don’t forget about water. Bucks will typically drink between three and five quarts of water a day, so if you can find their water source (keeping in mind it can be as small as a puddle or meager spring), you increase your odds of bagging the prize. 

Two determined Whitetail Deer bucks spar during the rut in the Grasslands region of Alberta increase value of your whitetail hunting land

Rutting Season: A Whitetail Hunter’s Dream

The deer rutting season – when deer mate – takes place between October and early December. Bucks become much more active during this time, venturing out more, and sometimes into more wide open terrain, in an effort to mate with a doe. It’s also a good time of year to spot a big buck during the day as they wander from more well-hidden sanctuaries.

Because of this additional daylight activity, the rut offers the best odds of a hunter bagging a buck. The male deer will go where the does go, so set up your stands and blinds within sight of bedding spots. It’s also this time of the rutting season bucks will abandon meandering trails for more direct routes to food plots and water sources.

There are phases of the rutting season, including:

  • Pre-rut: mid to late October
  • Seeking: late October to the first days of November
  • Chasing (also known as peak rutting): early to mid November
  • Tending (or lockdown): mid to late November
  • Post-rut: late November
  • Second rut: first two weeks of December

If you’re looking to manage whitetail deer behavior on your own hunting property during the rut, John offers some advice. “It all correlates back to food. If you’ve got the food, you’ve got the does. If you’ve got the does, you’ve got the bucks.” 

 

Whitetail Deer Habitats

Food and Water Needs

To that point, what kind of food is best for whitetail deer? John continues, “It’s all situational. In the Midwest, you’ve got the crops. In Wyoming, you’ve got alfalfa. Do soil tests to make sure you’re getting the soil right and plan around crop rotations.” 

Shad adds that pH levels are critical. “You want your soil to have plenty of nitrogen and phosphorus in it. Generally, you need to have both protein and minerals. Alfalfa, wheat, clover, and oats is a good mix.” Both men point out that owning whitetail deer hunting property is a 365-day endeavor. “Having a successful whitetail hunting property is a year-round job. You can’t just show up on opening day. To be successful, year-in and year-out, you need to be thinking about the land,” says John. 

Shad agrees, “I want to make sure I’ve got enough mineral holes in summer and again in January. The minerals have to be in the deers’ bodies by hunting season to help grow their antlers. We make sure, no matter what time of year, they have access to plenty of minerals.” 

Test your soil and establish the best mix of food for whitetail deer in your area. Common whitetail deer foods include:

  • Seeds and nuts: acorns, chestnuts, and pecans
  • Row Crops: oats, clover, alfalfa, wheat, soybeans, and corn
  • Other wild or cultivated plants like: apples, forb, berries, and native grasses

Like all other animals, deer also need plenty of pure, clean water. Sources will vary from state to state. If there is not an obvious natural water source on your land, such as a lake, pond, stream, creek, or spring, look for alternatives. These can include old wells, troughs, and other rain capture devices. 

Cover and Shelter

Deer need to bed down and feel safe doing it. They require proper ground cover and sanctuary, but this doesn’t mean you need large amounts of established forest on your property. John offers this rule, “33/33/33 is a good balance – roughly one-third full timber, one-third edge property, and one-third open space.” 

Successful whitetail deer hunting land also features tall grass. “One thing I’ve learned,” says John, “Is that you don’t have to have a lot of trees to be successful. Features like fence row and creek beds provide great cover and shelter.” During the offseason, assess your property and learn where the deer trails are and where the main corridor is. 

One point of note is cattle. If you run cattle on your land or lease it to someone who does, it’s important to be mindful of when you pull the cattle off. Shad makes his rancher pull off the first of September. “This allows for a good 30 – 45 days with no cattle on the property to allow deer to get back into the land.” According to the seasoned hunters, a cow can ruin a deer hunt faster than just about anything. 

 

Young buck whitetail deer grazing for acorns increase value of your whitetail hunting land

Managing a Whitetail-Friendly Property

Spending plenty of time walking your whitetail hunting property is the best way to learn where the deer travel, how they navigate the land, and what they’re eating and when they’re eating it. Keep these practices in mind for maintaining a successful whitetail deer-friendly property:

  1. Maintain built infrastructure such as stands and blinds. 
  2. Establish food plots and mineral licks. 
  3. Position trail and game cams throughout the property. This not only helps with understanding deer behavior, it’s also key when it comes time to sell the property. 
  4. Plant food deer like to eat to help keep them coming back to the property versus wandering farther afield in search of food and water. 
  5. Trim trees and hinge cut trees as necessary, but don’t overdo it. Make sure your efforts contribute to, not take away from, the whitetail deer habitat on your land. 

 

Improving Your Property Value

Building a good environment for whitetail to thrive benefits not only the deer population on your land, but also has a positive impact on your property value. Well-maintained trails and roads, properly fertilized and cleared row crops, and good sources of water will attract deer – and help maintain your bottom line.

As always in real estate, a well-maintained, turnkey property goes a long way towards building value – and that includes all of your hunting infrastructure. In addition to any homes on a property, make sure all blinds and stands, storage buildings, and barns are clean and sound.

The most important thing to remember when you’re trying to sell or appraise a whitetail hunting property? “Pictures!” says Shad. “If we’re gonna sell it, we’ve got to have proof.” You can talk about those eight-point bucks all day long, but unless there’s actual proof they exist on your property, you might as well be convincing buyers BigFoot hangs out there, too. 

 

Strategies for Scent Control

Whitetail bucks have a very keen sense of smell, so managing your own odors and scents is important to getting in close enough for the kill. Enlist these tips before hunting season starts or you head into the field to help yourself remain as undetected as possible:

  • Store blinds and stands in a controlled environment, such as a clean storage shed. Simply putting things away in the garage or stashing them behind the shed can result in unwanted contamination from other fumes and odors. 
  • Use scent eliminator sprays on clothing and equipment. Wipe down your gear at the end of the hunt or the end of the season and then store in an air-tight tote. 
  • Wipe down boots, including the soles, with scent eliminating products.
  • Make sure your truck or ATV is clean and clear of other animal and human scents.
  • Use unscented laundry detergents and fabric softeners during hunting season. 
  • Avoid scented soaps, shampoos, or deodorants before you head into the field. 

For the best scent control, however, Shad simply says, “Stay down wind.” And he’s not wrong. Paying close attention to wind direction while you’re hunting offers one of your biggest advantages to being on the right side of that big buck when the time comes. 

John agrees, “You can use scent-free soaps and sprays, but at the end of the day, you’ve gotta hunt the wind. It’s your biggest adversary and your biggest helper. My experience is, those scent reducing techniques only help on the borderline. The only way to fool whitetail deers’ noses is to be downwind of them.” 

 

Hunting Ethics and Conservation

When it comes to managing your whitetail deer hunting land year after year, hunting ethics and resource conservation lead the way. Make sure your visitors and guides have taken proper hunting safety courses, and understand the importance of ethical shot placement and how best to achieve it. 

Working to conserve your resources prevents disease and overpopulation. It also benefits all of the species that wander your property. “The deer aren’t the only ones that benefit from these food plots and land improvements,” says Shad. “Quail do; mule deer do; turkeys do. I’ve seen disease and drought ravage deer populations, but we can, to a point, improve the land deer are living on with food plots, trimming vegetation, and hinge tree cutting so the deer aren’t stressed. It can give the herd a healthy existence for years and years to come.” 

Buck Whitetail Deer in Colorado During the Rut in Autumn increase value of your whitetail hunting land

Conclusion

Whitetail deer hunting is about more than meat. It’s about more than the trophy. It’s about spending time outside with friends and family and connecting with the land. For John and Shad and so many other passionate hunters like them, it’s a lifelong journey. 

“It’s a good way to get outdoors. To connect with your family. A good way to spend time not on the phone or in front of a TV,” says John. “We all want to shoot a deer like the ones on Shad’s wall, but those animals represent a story and a journey and where he came from. The five-pointer my dad shot in South Carolina when I was a kid means just as much or more to me than anything I’ve shot because I was with him. Now I’m hunting with my nephew. I’ve hunted with a lot of people over the years. Some hunts were successful; some weren’t. It’s funny how friendships are born being out in the woods together, around a whitetail deer camp.” 

John continues to point out that not as many people hunt any more, and yet, it remains an important tradition and inextricable way to connect with the land, with conservation, and with whitetail. Learn more about owning your own whitetail deer hunting land in Kansas, North Carolina, Missouri, or Nebraska, and all of the magic and reward that comes with it.

The Benefits of Setting Up Trail Cams on Your Property

Trail cameras, or more commonly, trail cams, are a helpful tool when it comes to monitoring your property.

Scouting and glassing for this year’s hunt can be thrilling – catching a glimpse of the trophies that might be waiting there as the season nears. Adding some additional eyes to the effort, including late in the evening and at night when some animals become particularly active, can help your odds even more. Trail cams are providing this kind of visibility, and gaining popularity because of it. Those are only a few of the benefits of setting up trail cams.

Trail cams are discreet cameras people position throughout property – and sometimes on public lands – to get a complete picture of animal activity. These types of cameras are triggered by a motion sensor, capturing pictures as the animal moves through the field of vision. They range from relatively basic, taking pictures that are stored on a secure digital card and retrieved later, to much more high tech. REVEAL’s Cellular Cameras fall into the latter category, offering a mobile app that sends trail cam images to your device in real-time. 

While the technology continues to get better and better, the strategy behind mounting and positioning trail cams is also important to consider. Three Hayden Outdoors recreational real estate experts recently chimed in on how they use trail cams for hunting, safety, and general wildlife management. As lifelong hunting guides and outdoor enthusiasts, Shad Sheldon, Heath Thompson, and Lonnie Gustin provided a brief master class in proper trail cam management. Hailing from the Plains, the South, and the Rocky Mountain West respectively, their insight spans a variety of purposes and touches nearly every corner of the country.

 

 

Trail Camera Basics

Quality and capabilities vary, but most cameras feature:

 

Power source

Make sure to see how long a camera’s battery lasts.

Detection circuit or PIR sensor

This piece detects both heat and motion, then triggers the camera. 

Infrared LEDs

The small lights allows for night-vision pictures. 

Protective casing

Make sure yours can stand up to the elements in your area.

Mounting apparatus

Choose a camera you can easily install

 

 

 

 

Types of Trail Cams

Modern trail cameras fall into two categories: cellular and non-cellular. Each has their benefits. Non-cellular cameras don’t allow for real-time viewing, but they are typically less expensive. Alternatively, cellular cameras allow you to keep an eye on animals without having to retrieve camera chips or disturb the area.

Shad Sheldon has been hunting since he was 7, and bagged his first deer at 10. He started bow hunting in his late teens, a passion ever since. He and his wife ran a hunting lodge in Goodland, KS until about 10 years ago, when they turned to Hayden Outdoors to help them sell it. Not long after he joined Hayden as an agent, specializing in hunting properties and farmland.

These days, Shad and his wife spend their time in eastern Kansas, as close to the land and its rhythms as possible. He relies on trail cams for a variety of reasons, both personally and professionally when he’s helping clients list their land. We asked what he looks for in a good trail camera.

“I like good resolution and good pictures with true color. Most cameras will fire right away; you won’t get a lot of blurry moments. I like to put great pictures on our website to help clients sell property. And of course, it needs to be easy-to-use.”

 

Choosing a Trail Cam

Before you throw down a good chunk of change – trail cams can range from $50 – $600 – it’s good to know what you want to accomplish with your equipment. Talk with your local dealer about the features of the camera. Some important things to think about are:

  • Do you want a wireless camera, or will traditional work?
  • Do you need video capabilities as well as still shots?
  • What kind of image quality do you want?
  • What is the trigger time – the time between the animal moving across the field of vision and the picture being taken? Slower trigger times result in blurrier images.
  • What is the power supply and/or battery life?
  • Does the camera offer security features to help prevent theft?

 

Setting Up Trail Cams

Heath Thompson grew up on a farm in Georgia, and has a degree in Forestry. He’s been in the business a long time, hunting, guiding, and managing land. These days, Heath’s family owns 1,500 acres, row crops, and grows hay. He has a history in agricultural, hunting, timber, recreational, and farmland with Hayden Outdoors in the Southeast. He understands the importance of the perfect hunting property like no one else.

When it comes to trail cams, Heath doesn’t mess around. “I worry about additional scents on my cameras, so I’ll hang them outside at my house in the yard for a while to get the correct smell. When I go to place them on the property, I’ll wear rubber boots and gloves.

 

Placing trail cams in the right spot is key. Our agents have some tips:

  • Set up near scrapes so you can see which bucks are scraping when.
  • Set up feeders year-round to see seasonal and yearly patterns.
  • If allowed, consider bait such as a mineral lick, soy, alfalfa, or scent.
  • Look for game trails. Mount your camera alongside them to track animal movement.
  • Look for water sources, and mount a camera nearby. 

How many cameras you hang depends on the size of the land, your objective, and your budget. Heath offers these tips on trail cam height. “I hang mine three feet from the ground to the bottom of the camera to get a full view of the animal. I also keep the sun’s direction in mind, pointing cameras northeast or northwest to avoid over exposure.”

Look closely for nearby plants that might trigger the camera. There’s nothing worse than hoping for a great shot of that Boone-and-Crockett buck only to get hundreds of pictures of grain or a branch.

 

 

Using Trail Cams to Enhance Wildlife Observation

You might be using trail cams for hunting, or just to get an inside view of the wildlife. Lonnie Gustin is familiar with both. He’s been hunting and wandering the mountains of the West his whole life, but is quick to tell you he’s never been an outfitter. “I always said I liked hunting too much to be a guide.” Nowadays, he hunts with his boys along the Rocky Mountain Front throughout Wyoming and Colorado. He calls 4,000 acres along the Western Slope of Colorado and Wyoming home, and joined Hayden Outdoors “back in the day,” about 13 years ago. If you’re looking to buy or sell a farm, hunting property, or ranch land in the area, Lonnie is your guy.

He uses trail cams all the time, most commonly placing them near water sources where he might catch a glimpse of big game – typically elk or mule deer in his neck of the woods. And sometimes, a camera will capture something else – another big Western predator making its way across the land. Trail cams are an excellent way to learn more about the wildlife in the area. Bears, wolves, lynx, mountain lions, coyotes, fowl, and varmints – trail cams paint broad strokes of the wildlife living on your land. For Lonnie and others, trail cams also offer a unique way to understand the local wildlife population – how and where animals are moving; which water sources they rely on; and how land use shifts from one season to the next.

 

Using Trail Cams for a Better Hunting Experience

While trail cams can certainly enhance the hunting experience, Heath gives fair warning, “The worst thing you can do is look at trail cams. It’ll make you sick; big buck after big buck you might never see again.” And while he’s right – some of the biggest racks don’t make it onto the wall – having trail cams on the property can help you prepare.

He adds, “We use trail cams for animal counts. We count every deer we see. It lets us know what’s on the property.” Lonnie counts on trail cams for knowing the time of day animals are coming in. And Shad likes to use them to learn more about what comes after hunting season. “After last rifle season was over, we had about three to four 150-class bucks show up. We saw new deer move in.” Heath notes trail cams aren’t just for big game. “They’re great for turkey hunting, too. Trail cams let me see where the turkeys are, because down here, turkeys don’t gobble a lot. So we’re using trail cams to see where they’re traveling in and out.”

 

 

Using Trail Cams to Increase Property Value

Hayden Outdoors real estate agents are known for showcasing every aspect of a property when it comes to selling it, and cutting-edge cellular trail cams are a big part of the strategy. Shad sums it up this way: “The bigger bucks I pull off the property, the more it’s going to go for. The more good pictures I have of those bucks, the more money we can bring in.”

Lonnie agrees, “Trail cams are pretty damn important when I’m selling land. They let me prove the wildlife moving on the property. If I can actually show people some background and some shots and they can see where that huge elk was, it’s an important selling point.

Heath goes so far as to compile entire albums for the properties he represents. “You need to have proof, and you can’t get it in just a week. Property trail cam capture takes a long time. Having historical timestamps on a lot of photos adds a lot more value than just having one good buck on a single trail cam shot.”

In addition to buying and selling, trail cams add additional value to the property by aiding in pest control and property security. Placing trail cams at a property entrance or lesser known access point is a great way to see if people are wandering in when they shouldn’t be.

 

Conclusion

Setting up trail cams on your property offers a variety of benefits, including:

  • Hunting preparation 
  • Wildlife observation
  • Property security
  • Habitat conservation

Adding a trail cam system to your land can help bolster its value over time. It’s also an excellent way to learn the ins, outs, and animals who call your acres theirs, too. Chat with your local sporting goods dealer about the best setup for your land, or upgrade to trail cams that let you know which four-legged creatures are cruising though as soon as they’ve crossed the camera’s lens.

Rural Property Forest Fire Prevention & Protection Tips

The Threat of Forest Fires Is a Very Real One for Rural Property Owners.


Whether it’s timberland, farmland, grassland or a cabin in the woods, protecting your property from the ravages of an out-of-control blaze is essential. The team at Hayden Outdoors represents land purchases across the country – many of which are in the forest, country or grassland areas. Our expert team will suggest fire prevention strategies, and use our experiences to communicate the best methods of keeping your buildings and livestock safe. 

 

Tips to Help Protect Your Rural Property and Home from Wildland Forest Fires

 

Make Sure You Have Adequate Fire Insurance Coverage on Your Home and Other Buildings on Your Property.

Regularly review this policy to make sure it covers all potential risks associated with wildfires. Take a moment to review this policy with an agent – ensuring that all the necessary coverages are in place to safeguard you from the potential risks that wildfires present.

Hayden Outdoors’ Evan Anderson offers insurance programs for landowners throughout the country, as a service to our clients. “Fire insurance can offer much more than coverage on buildings. We have policies through providers across the country that protect your investments beyond homes and personal property, including loss of income, loss of feed for livestock and loss of livestock itself.” Hayden Outdoors offers a full line of insurance for rural landowners, including fire protection, crop insurance, drought insurance and more.

 

Clear Away Dead Leaves, Limbs and Brush That May Accumulate Near Your Home or Other Structures on The Property.

This will reduce the amount of fuel available to a fire should it reach your property. Also consider cutting down or clearing away trees or lower limbs from within 50 feet of your primary home on the property.

Christopher Licata, a Hayden Outdoors agent and forester, sites some pretty interesting statistics on fire control.The Washington State DNR studies show that as much as 80 percent of homes lost to wildland fire may have been saved if brush around the homes were cleared and defensible space created around structures,” says Licata. California remains one of the most fire ridden states in the country. In a 2022 post-fire analysis by CALFIRE, homes with an effective D-Space had a 6 times better chance of remaining intact.” Landowners need to put in the effort now to protect their investments in the future.

 

 

Create a Buffer Zone Around the Perimeter of Your Home and Property  Improvements

 

Start by removing flammable vegetation and trees and replacing them with fire-resistant landscaping features such as mulch or stone pathways, gravel beds, or rock walls. Colorado State University’s Forest Service division has a nice diagram above called the “Home Ignition Zone” to show the effective range of fire control in relation to your home. Defensible Zones are broken into three zones in relation to how far the fuel resides near your home.

Licata coaches landowners when buying and maintaining their property in forested areas. It is important to think of your defensible space efforts in annual terms. The initial treatment is just that and keeping your property safe will be an ongoing project. You can do a lot of the work yourself. It is a great chance to get outdoors with your family, working on and learning about your property. You would be spending time together while protecting your home, so it is a win-win situation.”

 

Clear a Buffer Zone Along Your Property Boundary

Keep this path disced and clear of weeds throughout the spring thru the fall. Work with your neighbors to cooperate on fire mitigation efforts so that you are all working together to reduce risk.

 

Install Fire Resistant Roofing Material on Buildings That May be At-Risk From Burning Embers in a Wildfire.

This will give added protection against flying sparks and ash that can ignite nearby structures even when there is no direct flame contact.

 

Make Sure You Have Adequate Water Sources for Fighting Fires

Consider your property’s accessible water sources including nearby reservoirs filled with non-potable water like rainwater and large tanks that can store thousands of gallons of water. Wells on site, rivers or creeks onsite could also be used with a pump. Additionally, there are options for on-site water sources such as this ranch fire control tank!

 


Install a Sprinkler System Around Your Home and Other Structures

You can install a system that will automatically turn on in the event of a fire to help protect against flames, smoke, and ash. Research has shown sprinkler systems to be effective at structure protection during wildfire passage (Walksinshaw and Ault 2009).

Some landowners that live in the mountains place sprinklers around their home that tie into a main well or water source with a pump for emergency use. Ranchers often have trailers with water tanks and hose ready to drive to spot fires to assist in small fires. 

 

Have a Plan for Evacuating People & Animals From Your Property

Having an emergency plan can help save lives or a property if a wildfire occurs. Make sure everyone is familiar with the plan and designate an evacuation route away from any potential danger should you need to leave quickly. Stock trailers should always be empty and ready to roll in case animals need to be transported quickly.

 

Always Have Your Volunteer Fire Department Contact Info Accessible

Keep your local station’s phone number saved on your cell phone, posted in your home or barns in case you spot a fire nearby. Consult your local rural fire department on their suggestions to protect your property. Many times they will come out to tour your property and give you tips on how to reduce the risk associated with rural fires.

 

Install a Trail Camera, or Game Camera, with Cellular Technology.

These wireless tools offer three main benefits to landowners. Security, game management and risk detection. With solar battery supply and cellular technology, you can have videos and photos sent to your phone from your property instantly using these motion-sensored cameras. Hayden Outdoors agents usually install trail cameras on their listings for security of showings and for wildlife surveys. But having one for yourself can really provide many benefits. Pick up a Reveal Camera from our online store to protect your property today!

By following these tips, you can take proactive steps to ensure that your rural property or home are as safe as possible from the threat of forest fires. Remember, it’s always better to be prepared than sorry when it comes to protecting what matters most – your safety and your home!

 

What to Know Before Building a Gun Range on Your Property

For the past 35 years, Clay Owens has been among the top names in big game hunting in the U.S. He was an outfitter in Western Colorado, managing three of the largest operations in the state for 20 years. Today, he still actively guides hunts near Steamboat Springs, and in 2018, he applied his deep knowledge of rangelands and Midwest hunting properties to a different endeavor – recreational real estate agent for Hayden Outdoors. Neatly put, Clay knows a lot about building a gun range on your property.

As a guide on some of the country’s most notable hunting lands, Clay became an expert in setting up long-range shooting courses. Now he puts that knowledge to good use, helping his clients find property that can accommodate a personal gun range, and he’ll be quick to note that when you’re building a gun range on your property, there are several considerations you should keep in mind. It’s also important to note these considerations are general guidelines, and the specific requirements vary depending on your location. 

Clay stresses, “It’s crucial to consult with local authorities, legal professionals, and shooting range experts who can provide guidance based on your jurisdiction’s laws and regulations.” With that in mind, he also provided these key factors to consider when setting up a personal gun range.

 

Building a shooting range on your property to practice for hunting - Clay Owens guides Allen Treadwell on a predator hunt filmed for Life on the Land TV Show.

Building a shooting range on your property to practice for hunting – Hayden Outdoors agent Clay Owens guides Allen Treadwell on a predator hunt filmed for Life on the Land TV Show.

Assessing the Suitability of Your Property for a Gun Range

 

There are a variety of property considerations for home gun ranges, starting with size and a proper backdrop for the target area. 

“The biggest safety factor is your backdrop; it needs to be big enough to prevent ricochet and bullets from flying past the target, typically 20 – 60 feet high.” Clay explains this backdrop can be an established natural feature, such as a cliff wall, or something you build, like a large dirt bank. If you’re looking to buy land that’s well suited for a home gun range or build one on land you already own, Clay recommends utilizing heavy topography, such as canyons and hills, for a backdrop. The parcel should also be a minimum of 40 acres, although simple home handgun ranges require less acreage. If your goal is long-range shooting, the number goes up, with 500 acres being the minimum land you should look for to ensure success and safety. 

To put this into real world context, Clay is currently overseeing the build and installment of a long range at the Hayden Outdoors Ranch in Nebraska. About as complex and involved as a personal gun range can get, this impressive amenity will feature a five-stand shot range for sporting clays, a hand gun range with a cliff wall backdrop to prevent any escaped projectiles, and a 1,550-yard long range with steel plate targets every 100 yards. All of this is located in a canyon where shooters can practice out of the wind. 

 

Understanding Legal and Regulatory Requirements

 

Once you have established a workable piece of land for building a gun range on your property, it’s important to check in with relevant county officials to ensure you’re complying with any permitting, insurance requirements, private gun range laws, and noise ordinances. 

Clay suggests starting by visiting your county website to determine who the best person to talk to might be. Typically this is the county commissioner or sheriff’s office. And while it’s not necessary on private land, he also suggests putting up proper signage around the gun range so visitors know it’s an active shooting zone. 

“Generally speaking, most rural areas are not going to have any kind of regulation for that type of activity. The closer you get to an urban or neighborhood setting, the more you’ll need to take noise and compliance into account.” 

 

Safety Considerations for Your Home Gun Range

 

Again, Clay emphasizes the importance of implementing proper backdrops, bulletproof barriers, and safety berms to mitigate ricochet or stray bullets. It’s also key to establish clear safety protocols and range rules. “It’s important to let people know when you are having active fire on the range. For dude ranches, hunting properties, or family plots where people are doing other activities, put up a sign that designates the range is active.”

Dan Brunk, Marketing Director at Hayden Outdoors, sights in his rifle before his elk hunt.

Insurance and Liability

 

Clay points out that building a gun range on your property typically doesn’t require insurance riders, but it’s important to check with your insurance agent to make sure. “If you have gun range courses or start charging for use, then you’ll need to explore liability insurance and waivers.” 

Whether private or part of your property’s larger revenue generation activities, understanding the risks associated with operating a gun range is imperative to its success and the safety of its users. If you’re not sure what these risks might be, talk with a gun range expert to learn more or reach out to Evan Anderson, the Hayden Outdoors’ Insurance Representative. 

 

Private Gun Range Noise Management

 

If you’re lucky enough to shoot on a 1,500-acre gun range like the one Clay is building at the Hayden Outdoors Ranch, noise is most likely not an issue. The sound of shots fired will ultimately be swallowed up by the surrounding landscape or fade into the vastness of such immense acreage. But if you’re building a private gun range on less acreage and closer to neighbors, it’s important to understand – and mitigate – the impact of shooting range noise. 

Start by understanding the potential noise impact on neighbors, and communicating with them your intent for the range, your frequency and hours of use, and then address any concerns they might have. Taking a few minutes to talk with your neighbors now can save you countless angry phone calls and complaints later. Also research sound-dampening techniques and materials and acoustical barriers.

 

Environmental Impact

 

The environmental impact of a home gun range is something to consider from the very beginning of the process. It can influence the design of target retrieval roads and trails, and all ranges should consider soil contamination from lead but especially those built near natural water sources, such as streams and creeks flowing through the property. 

“In regards to lead, there are companies that will come and retrieve the lead out of banks and shooting ranges,” says Clay. “For folks who are really concerned about lead contamination, you can shoot copper bullets exclusively.” 

Additionally, be mindful of target retrieval roads and trails, making sure they don’t disrupt wildlife habitat such as bedding, roosting, and resting areas. This is particularly important if the land doubles as a hunting property

Dr. Peddicord of Environmental Range Protection has years of experience consulting private land owners and public entities on proper range environmental practices. “A fundamental objective is to keep bullets and shot off neighboring properties. For rifle/pistol ranges this requires appropriate space and terrain to place adequate backstops far enough from property boundaries that bullets ricocheted or flipped off the backstop will not reach the property boundary.” For shotgun clay target venues, recognize that shot deposits much farther downrange than often expected, especially when shooting downslope. As an initial generalization, recognize that shot may fall 300 yards and perhaps more from the shooting position, depending on terrain and site conditions.

 “It is important that shot and target debris do not reach adjoining property and that they do not fall into waters or wetlands on your property. If siting a range for a business or more frequent use, the most fundamental management consideration is periodic reclaiming and recycling of bullets and shot on ranges. Keep in mind this is much more efficient on moderately slopping un-forested areas without boulder fields where the necessary equipment can operate effectively.”

For further gun range consultation please reach out to Dr. Peddicord at http://environmentalrangeprotection.com.


Designing Your Home Gun Range

 

As discussed, your personal shooting range is going to be specific to your property and its allowances. Before you begin, determine the layout of the range (indoor or outdoor) and the appropriate shooting lanes and target distances. This is an excellent time to consult with a shooting range expert on best practices to ensure you get the most out of yours. 

It’s also important to think about orientation if you have the flexibility to do so. For example, a south-to-north range will maximize natural light on the targets while minimizing glare from natural light in the shooter’s eyes. 

Select appropriate materials for construction, targets, and safe backdrops. This will vary if you’re building an indoor or outdoor range. Earth berms, log walls, and railroad ties walls work well for outdoor backdrops as do swinging steel targets that can absorb a bullet’s velocity without shattering. They also allow the shooter to hear the hit, versus having to walk long distances to confirm impact. 

 

Equipment and Maintenance

 

The size and location of your home gun range will determine the equipment required to maintain it. Targets, shooting lanes, and shooting benches all require upkeep, so it’s important to keep this in mind when budgeting for your range. 

Setting up a maintenance schedule can help. Consider the work required to maintain the backdrop – be it a natural one or something you’ve built. Additionally, map out what you think will be required to keep your shooting range in proper working order, including trail maintenance, materials reviews, target replacements, etc. 

Clay points out, “If you’re having to construct a backdrop, you’re going to always need to add dirt. For active ranges, you’ll be replacing targets constantly.”

Safety Training and Education

 

Personal shooting ranges provide a lot of opportunity. There’s the thrill of shooting, the possibility to improve, and camaraderie of target practice with friends. But there’s also the benefit of learning about the sport in a safe environment, one that can promote responsible gun ownership and firearm handling. 

For those looking to incorporate gun safety training and education into their home gun range, Clay recommends a few things. First, the NRA offers an abundance of gun safety and gun education resources, especially for those who are new to the sport like young children and women – the fastest growing segment of gun owners. 

“I also always recommend people go to their local gun shop. Talk to them about training or people in the area who offer it locally. It’s a great way to learn the basics of gun safety as well as any local rules and regulations that might be relevant to your gun range.”

 

Conclusion

 

Adding a home gun range to your recreational property is a great way to increase the land’s versatility while also adding value. Clay concludes, “Adding a gun range to your property can absolutely increase its worth. It’ll enhance the value to a certain segment of buyers – people looking for hunting land with a range set up.”

To this point, he recommends getting in touch with a recreational real estate agent as soon as you decide you’re interested in a gun range property. Clay uses his expertise to identify and purchase legacy properties for his clients – the kind that speak to personal passions and generational family involvement. 

The avid outdoorsman drives the point home. “My family loves to go out and clink at different things. My wife, daughter, and son are all shooters. It becomes a fun competition with our kids, and it’s a lifelong activity for our family. There are a lot of people buying firearms for recreational shooting, now more than ever before.” 

Clay is quick to reiterate the need for encouraging responsible and safe firearm use, while also pointing out how building a gun range on your property offers an excellent opportunity to accomplish both. If you’re interested in learning more about selling property you feel is ideal for a home gun range, or you’re in the market to buy recreational land that can become the future home of one, talk with Clay Owens or a Hayden Outdoors real estate professional today. They’re the outdoor experts in the type of hunting or personal gun range property you’re looking for. 

 

Best Practices for Wildlife Management on Western Ranches

wildlife management on western ranches - mule deer on a ranch in cody, wyoming

Duncan Clark knows cattle ranching. Growing up in a ranching family in West Texas, he learned the life balance between the magic of wide open spaces and the work it takes to maintain them early on. These days, he lives along Colorado’s Front Range, just shy of the Wyoming border, a short drive from his family’s 6,500-acre cattle ranch where he spends much of his time. 

After graduating from Colorado State University with a degree in finance and real estate, Duncan turned his love of the land into a full-time job as a recreational real estate agent for Hayden Outdoors. He’s gone on to help broker a number of notable ranch real estate transactions in the past decade. From summers spent mending fences to balancing the intricacies of maintaining forage in the extreme winter months for wildlife and stock alike, Duncan understands the rhythms of ranch land like few others do. At the heart of that connection is a passion for the intersection of wildlife and ranching. Duncan is an expert in managing and maintaining range and wildlife habitat in a way that elevates both.

“Wildlife management on a ranch is critical for a lot of reasons. The healthier the animal population, the more your ranch is going to be worth.” From guided hunting and fishing income to proper land and habitat management, Duncan dives into the key factors to consider when managing wildlife on ranches in the West. 

 

 

Understanding Western Ranches and Wildlife

 

Ranches in the West provide ideal habitat for deer, elk, and antelope. Commonly, a ranch will be home to one or two of these species, but if you’re lucky enough to gain access to an expansive ranch in the western plains, you might come across all three. Additionally, ranches with viable water sources, including rivers, streams, ponds, or lakes can offer premier fishing. But as Duncan is quick to point out, you don’t have to be an avid hunter to want to manage the wildlife on your property. “The unique thing about land is that it’s an investment you can enjoy. Maybe you hunt; maybe you don’t. Regardless, driving around a ranch watching herds of elk and deer is a pretty special thing to see” 

 

That said, hunting and fishing can be a viable income opportunity for ranchers in the West. Hunters and anglers spend an estimated $2 billion annually in Colorado alone. “Wildlife is big business in the West, and it provides incentives for landowners to manage this profitable resource, whether the focus is on cattle, farming, or recreation.” Guided elk hunts can garner anywhere from $5,000-$20,000 a hunt depending on trophy quality. If a rancher is able to work with a local outfitter or guide to lease the land for hunting, the revenue can offset a large portion of ranch expenses. 

 

Planning and Implementing a Wildlife Management Plan

 

Before you begin building your wildlife management plan, it’s important to outline and understand your objectives. This includes the wildlife population objective that will dictate how many animals to harvest from the property each year in order to maintain healthy herd numbers. It’s also essential to work with an expert – local fish, wildlife, and land managers as well as nearby guides and outfitters – in order to optimize both wildlife and cattle health on the ranch. Start by evaluating how many animals you currently have on the property. Trail cams are an extremely useful tool for this. Additional considerations include the size of your property, any adjacent public lands or ranch sizes, and if there’s a well known hunting outfitter in the area. If so, how many animals are they harvesting?

Assess the habitat health, including water sources, food plots, vegetation, and landscape. From there, develop a management plan that balances your economic and conservation goals, working to maximize revenue while simultaneously catering to wildlife health and safety on the property. Manage and monitor progress throughout hunting seasons and year to year. 

 

Moose in the wild - wildlife management on western ranches

 

Wildlife Habitat Management Techniques

 

Duncan outlines the following guidelines for optimum wildlife habitat management on western ranches:

Water Sources:

  • Water is a key ingredient to any farm or ranch property and the leading factor in determining the value of the land and the quantity and variety of wildlife it can support. While many western ranches have multiple water sources, including springs, creeks, or rivers, these sources aren’t always accessible to animals and they’re susceptible to drought. “With a prolonged drought that affects groundwater sources encompassing much of the West, I’ve seen a number of different ways to maximize water resources. I’ve worked with clients to build ponds, develop spring water catchment systems, and even implement water guzzlers. If you want your ranch to maintain its value, paying close attention to the water sources on the land is step number one.”

 

Brush & Range Management:

  • Controlling the right blend of escape and bedding cover, along with the number of openings wildlife use to feed, is important for all species of wildlife. “Often, we see mountain ranches with dense deadfall of pine and aspen that provide little value to wildlife. If controlled burns are not an option – and they typically aren’t on a private ranch – a sound brush control strategy can maximize the wildlife value.” 

 

Wildlife-friendly Fencing:

  • Duncan notes that this oft-overlooked aspect of wildlife management on ranches is an incredibly important one. While barbed wire might still line the perimeter of a ranch, it can be detrimental to healthy migration paths. You don’t have to pull out all of the barbed wire fencing in place, but Duncan does suggest modifying it to more modern standards. “By taking off the bottom and top strands of barbed wire and installing a smooth or high-visibility wire, you can drastically improve the viability of the fence. I recommend leaving an 18-inch space between the ground and the bottom strand of wire to allow animals to crawl underneath it.” 

 

Rotational Grazing Strategies to Maximize Browse:

  • Another important tool for wildlife is balancing the grazing strategy. But as Duncan notes, this tip is particularly specific to each and every ranch. “If you were to ask a hundred different folks the best way to effectively run cattle on a property while also maximizing the hunting potential, you would likely get a hundred different answers.” 

 

Food Plots that Attract More Animals:

  • Food plots have long been an important tool for farmers and ranchers in the South and Midwest who also lease the property for hunting. However, there just isn’t enough information or data available for western landowners trying to create food plots for elk and mule deer. Enter Duncan’s expertise. “I’ve done plenty of trial and error food plot tests and this is what I’ve found to work at an elevation of approximately 7,300 feet. With a disc and grain drill, we have successfully established food plots consisting of a blend of winter grain rye, annual clover, and sainfoin (a perennial drought-resistant legume). With ample rainfall and the right soil, I believe this can be done on most ranches in the western states. I’ve seen it work first-hand, especially when the native browse starts to go dormant and the winter rye and clover hold green browse late into the fall.” 

 

Wildlife Population Management Techniques

 

Maintaining healthy populations, including cattle, deer, elk, and antelope, on your ranch is another pillar of ranch wildlife management. If overgrazing or overpopulation become an issue, you might need to manipulate habitat in order to draw one species to a different part of the ranch. Another important aspect of wildlife population management is the utilization of predator control. Predators are elemental to a healthy ecosystem – every ranch needs a sound predator control program to benefit both wildlife and cattle – but again, ranchers need to understand the ideal predator population for their land. 

When opening your ranch land to hunting, fishing, and trapping, make sure you do so with best practices top of mind. Has everyone hunting the property taken any necessary hunter’s safety course? Know when to fish, and when doing so might stress fish populations. Talk with local outfitters, guides, and other experts about current trapping regulations. Doing so will help ensure your ranch is hunter- and angler-friendly for years to come. 

 

 

Benefits of Wildlife Management

 

As Duncan will tell you, the primary financial goal of any ranch is to break even. Wildlife can be a key factor in doing so. “If you’re running a hunting outfitter on your ranch property, you can certainly offset a lot of your operational costs.” These regulations and opportunities vary state by state. Colorado and New Mexico are very land-owner friendly, for example. If you’re looking at ranches for sale in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, or Arizona, it’s important to work with a ranch real estate specialist to learn more about the revenue opportunities for that particular property. 

Of course, the benefits of having wildlife on your ranch go far beyond potential profits. Wildlife and cattle can pair perfectly when it comes to maintaining habitat health, with opposing grazing and range seasons. There’s the opportunity to watch out the truck window as herds of elk or deer or antelope make their way across your acres. Those who don’t have immediate access to wild spaces and species can find it on your land. Wildlife management on your ranch runs the right direction both ways, providing safe, healthy refuge for the animals and a balanced value-add for your property. 

 

Conclusion

 

Wildlife management on western ranches is the future of this unique way of life. If you’re interested in buying ranch land where you can prioritize wildlife management, the recreational real estate agents at Hayden Outdoors are experts in the field. And if you simply want to learn more about how you can integrate healthier wildlife management practices into your ranch, give Duncan Clark a call. With a lifetime of ranching in his back pocket, he’s your guy. 

Expert Recommendations for Buying Row Crop Farmland

A century farm is one that’s been in a family for over one hundred years. It’s an obvious enough fact, but one you probably wouldn’t come across unless you were talking to a farmer who owns one, like John Herrity.

To clarify, he’s not the sole owner of his family’s ground – he and his siblings all claim a stake – but his family has been working the soil since 1888. Today, John mostly focuses on real estate as a recreational and large-land real estate specialist at Hayden Outdoors. But he didn’t get there by way of the city. John knows row crop farming as well as anyone can, because he’s been a part of it since he was born – a generational learner of loving and working corn and soybeans in rotation as constant as calendar years. 

On a recent afternoon, John talked through some of the most important things to consider when buying row crop farmland providing a glimpse into the life-long expertise that sets Hayden Outdoors real estate agents apart from the rest. 

 

Wheat outlined by golden afternoon sunlight Expert Recommendations for Buying Row Crop Farmland

What is “Row Crop Farming?”

 

In its simplest terms, row crop farming, or row cropping, is production agriculture. Plants are grown in rows and then harvested by the farmer. John adds, “It has its benefits, like tractors being able to move through fields without harming the plants, allowing for easier cultivation, watering, and maintenance. Row crop farming also facilitates the optimal number of plants per acre of ground.” 

 

What are some of the best crops for row crop practices in the Midwest and/or as an investment?

 

The Midwest is row crop country. South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, and Iowa all offer premium farm land and growing conditions. Farmers can cultivate a variety of crops, including corn, soy, wheat, alfalfa, and organic vegetables. In the Dakotas, Iowa, and Illinois, corn and soybeans rotate because corn typically takes a lot of nutrients out of the soil while soybeans allow the land to replenish. In some parts of the region, and with the right fertilizers, it’s corn on corn combined with some no till practices. 

 

How can farmers optimize yield and productivity in row crop farming?

 

The short answer is a few words – good crop rotation, herbicides, fertilizers, and watering. To elaborate on that, optimizing crop yield and productivity involves using a combination of sustainable farming practices such as precision agriculture, soil health management, and crop rotation. Farmers can collect and analyze data and then make informed decisions about when and where to modify practices resulting in more efficient resource use and increased crop yield. 

 

What should a buyer consider when looking at farmland in the Midwest for row crops?

 

It depends on what type of buyer it is. According to John, “There are generally two types of row crop buyers – producers and investors. Producers should look at the land for what they can grow. These days, the typical ag land buyer is very savvy. They know what they’re buying, the crops, numbers, and yields. Investors are interested in the income of the land and will want to invest in property that provides a viable return.” 

 

Harvesters working in the soybean harvest Expert Recommendations for Buying Row Crop Farmland

 

Why is soil health important in row crop farming?

 

Soil health is important in any kind of farming, but particularly in row crop farming. It directly affects crop health and yields and the sustainability of the land. There are a variety of things farmers can do to improve soil health such as cover crops, composting, reduced tillage, and using fertilizers. John points out, “It’s important for row crop farmers to work with an agronomist who can take soil samples and determine which nutrients need to be supplemented.” Corn and soy rotation is considered best practice to help preserve soil health. 

 

What is precision agriculture and what are the benefits in row crop farming?

 

Precision ag turns the field into a grid and farmers can take soil samples within that grid, pinpointing areas within the field that need less or different fertilizer. It reduces waste and input costs as well as minimizes environmental impact. “A lot is happening in the farm world that is making farming easier and more precise. There are GPS tractors that don’t require steering. In Brazil, they’re testing autonomous tractors. Pivot systems that have GPS functions are another technological breakthrough in farming. You can be sitting on your boat on the lake and water your fields from afar.”

 

What are some of the technologies used in sustainable agriculture for row crop farming?

 

There are a variety of row crop farming practices that prioritize environmental sustainability while optimizing crop yield, including reduced tillage, cover crops, composting, and organic farming. Reducing tillage can improve soil health and mitigate erosion while also increasing carbon sequestration. Cover crops aims to retain soil moisture, reduce weeds, and provide habitat for beneficial insects. Composting contributes to soil health and fertility, which reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers and organic farming eliminates the use of harmful pesticides and fertilizers. 

 

What are some of the best practice irrigation techniques being used in row crop farming to conserve water?

 

As water and irrigation become increasingly relevant issues throughout the U.S., finding ways to conserve has also become important to a farm’s sustainability. While there are a variety of new technologies out there, such as drop irrigation, soil moisture sensors, and remote monitoring systems, John notes the most effective water saving technologies are actually within the seed selection itself. “Seed companies are researching genetically modified seeds that require less water or rainfall. It starts with knowing your regional seed salesman. Seed companies help educate farmers on what works best for that region and grow zone. It’s key to establish a relationship with a local agronomist for precise soil testing and amendment requirements.” 

 

What future opportunities do you see coming up in row crops?

 

If you’re looking to get into row crop farming, it’s best to find a farmer who is looking to pass the farm along to a younger generation. Farming used to be very generational – changing hands from parents to children and so-on. But these days, some kids don’t want to take over the family farm. They think the life is too remote or too difficult. In some of these cases, farmers can find someone who is looking to get into row crop farming. Other times, older generations don’t want to burden the younger family members with the estate, so they’ll sell the farm. We are seeing farms being sold to investors or real estate investment trusts (REITs).”

There are also government programs that can subsidize farm ownership if your land is enrolled. Farm Credit Services provides great lending opportunities for both investors and producers, and the Farm Service Agency offers first-time farmer financing up to $600,000. 

 

In all, what makes the Midwest such great farm country?

 

In thinking about what makes the Midwest such optimal farm country – as it has been for hundreds of years – John replies, “Great climate, good rainfall. Farmers can increase their yields without additional irrigation. And of course, back in the day, pasture was important, too. Farmers found a good place to raise cattle, hogs, and families. And they settled and stayed.” Much like John’s family did in Elk Point, South Dakota in 1888. 

These days, farms must meet an ever-growing demand, and families don’t always settle in for generations like they once did. But row crop farmland remains a very valuable commodity, and finding the right real estate agent to help you buy or sell it is essential to success.

The land experts at Hayden Outdoors know soil types and how to put a value on them. They understand regional rainfall, how much water it takes to grow corn, and what type of irrigation a particular crop requires. They’re an effective go-between for investors and producers. These aren’t your typical real estate agent qualifications, but it is the type of skill set you’ll find in your Hayden Outdoors professional – someone who knows how to buy and sell row crop farmland because it isn’t just a job or a hobby; it’s a lifestyle.