Joe Murdock’s timber and unfarmed land now is making enough money to help pay his taxes. The Williamsfield man rents his farmable acreage to a farmer to grow corn and soybeans.
Joe Murdock’s timber and unfarmed land now is making enough money to help pay his taxes.
The Williamsfield man rents his farmable acreage to a farmer to grow corn and soybeans. Now he also makes money off 300 acres of timber and grassland that never before made an income for the four generations of his family’s land ownership. He leases the land with timber and grassland for $10 to $20 per acre to an outfitter, which in turn sells hunting packages to hunters in Illinois and as far as Maryland.
“The main thing is to get a few of the deer that plague the renters of the land,” said Murdock, who stopped deer hunting three years ago to winter in Arizona. “It also provides a little income for the ground you cannot produce anything off of.”
The market value of his land with recreational qualities has increased sixfold since he acquired it, comparing in values to fair- or average-quality cropland. This is largely because of the demand to hunt in Illinois, which ranks No. 1 in non-typical-antlered record bucks and No. 2 in typical-antlered record bucks since Boone & Crockett Club began recording large whitetail deer in North America in 1830.
“Over the last 10 to 12 years, we’ve seen a tremendous upswing in the demand for recreational ground,” said Eric Sarff, recreational land specialist for The Loranda Group, an agricultural real estate firm based in Springfield. “A lot of that has been driven by deer hunting.”
Recreational land is property such as timber, ponds or conservation acreage that isn’t being cropped, grazed or developed in the foreseeable future. This non-farmable acreage is scattered among the fields of Knox and Warren counties. This part of land once was viewed as waste because of the mindset that, if it cannot be farmed, it must have no value. Today, it can be an income-producing asset just like corn and soybean acres if leased for hunting rights. If sold, the land is worth $2,500 to $3,500 per acre in this area of west-central Illinois, Sarff said. Ten years ago the same land was worth less than $500 an acre.
Recreational land prices have been increasing 7 to 10 percent annually. Sarff predicts the prices will hold strong in the foreseeable future.
Landowners generally have made recreational land an income-producing asset in three ways: They lease hunting rights to individuals, lease land to an outfitter, or lease land as part of hunting packages. In all cases, landowners are recommended to contact their insurance agent to determine if their current policy covers hunters.
The income potential varies with the amount of the landowner’s involvement. Leases to individuals or outfitters generally are from $10 to $30 per acre, with much more being paid for prime hunting land, according to the Illinois Society of Professional Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers. This will vary depending on many factors, such as location, access, neighboring properties, wildlife habitat practices, topography and length of lease agreement.
Selling hunting packages, or several-day hunting trips on land, requires more landowner involvement. The amount of involvement will vary the income from $500 to $4,000 per package, Sarff said.
Landowner Bob Lowry of Roseville has chosen to become highly involved and now is a licensed outfitter with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. He and wife Elaine in 1996 started Warren County Whitetails, an outfitting business that sells hunting packages to people who want to hunt deer in parts of the 1,400 acres of western Illinois land they either own or lease from local landowners.
The concept of fee hunting comes with some opposition from local hunters who once had free access or access in exchange for labor on private land for years, many times since childhood. The land now has a financial value that some landowners are trying to capture. The income in most cases pays for the land’s taxes.
“We need local people to say, ‘Hey, why don’t we get together and pay George what his property is worth,’” said Lowry, who is an instructor at the annual Fee Hunting Workshop in Lewistown, coordinated by the Prairie Hills RC&D Inc.
Drivers, benefits of fee hunting
The desire for increased farm profits and farm diversification have led the movement toward fee hunting, said John Pike, an Extension educator who spoke at the 13th annual Fee Hunting Workshop this year.
Other motives have been efforts to improve the use of all farm resources, the desire to reduce trespassing and the interest to develop hobbies into a profitable business.
This movement in turn has created some land benefits, Pike said. Wildlife is becoming viewed more as resources as opposed to crop pests. It has created a new tourism opportunity for west-central Illinois and benefits can extend to restaurants, convenient stores, hotels and other retail outlets, he said. In addition, the value of hunting entices farmers and landowners to develop better habitat.
Murdock has planted walnut trees to establish more wooded area on his property and is conscious of mowing for the benefit of hunting and bird habitat.
The concept of fee hunting has its down sides, but the positive is wildlife management said local landowner and hunter Jimmy Walker of Oneida. He noted food plots that increase the quality of diet for deer, wetland areas and increased waterway grasses. Some landowners are leaving some corn standing for deer to eat in winter and more are beginning to leave ditch grasses to grow until August to allow birds to thrive.
“I’ve seen a lot more animals without disease that are really healthy,” Walker said.
Hunting for income
Here are three basic ways that some local landowners have made recreational land, or land with timber, conservation acreage and ponds, an income-producing asset with hunting.
1. Lease hunting rights to individuals (income potential $10 to $30 per acre): Rural landowners may lease the hunting rights of their property to an individual hunter or group of hunters. The average lease is from $10 to $30 per acre annually in this area. Hunters then have rights to hunt the land in all seasons of the year.
2. Lease the acreage to an outfitter (income potential $10 to $30 per acre): Outfitters are state-licensed individuals who sell up to several-day hunting packages to hunters and provide services such as hunt guides, equipment, hunting advice, transportation to and from the field, and more. The average lease income would be around $10 to $30 per acre.
3. Lease the acreages as part of a hunting package (income potential $500 to $4,000 depending on property location, hunt duration and services offered): The landowner can lease land as several-day hunting packages to hunters or the landowner can become an outfitter himself and provide several-day hunts with arrangements for lodging, food, guide services and more. Outfitters must be permitted by the state. Cost is $500 for a resident and $2,500 for a non-resident annually.
Sources: Illinois Department of Natural Resources, The Loranda Group, Illinois Society of Professional Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers
Deer permit sales growing
Non-Illinois resident sales of deer permits have more than tripled in 10 years. The 18,498 over-the-counter non-resident archery permit sales so far this year are excluded to make a fair comparison. Resident sales have grown, though less rapidly, at 28 percent. Illinois hunters still make up nearly 90 percent of deer hunters in the state. Illinois is on a lot of whitetail deer hunters’ wish lists because of its high number of recordbook “trophy” bucks.
Year Resident Non-Resident
2007 347,511 41,727*
2006 351,149 36,670*
2005 349,224 34,851*
2004 324,568 12,962
2003 295,936 9,437
2002 267,277 6,983
2001 276,600 8,255
2000 270,504 8,846
1999 268,487 8,125
1998 268,182 7,571
1997 271,269 7,024
*Over-the-counter non-resident archery sales are included starting in 2005 because records became computerized ..
Source: Illinois Department of Natural Resources