Find the Right Place Before Laying Down Your Money
Everyone wants a place of their own — especially duck and goose hunters tired of dodging shot and bumping boats with other folks on public water. That's why many buy or lease waterfowling property.
That sounds simple, but the process and considerations involved in finding quality areas are much more involved. Heed the advice of top hunting pros when starting your search.
My first consideration is always location, said John Gordon, who handles public relations for Banded and Avery. If a property is not in a major flyway, there is very little chance it will produce consistently. Beyond that, you have to look at how many hunting locations are available and what they consist of. Harvested crop fields, natural water, roosting areas, resting areas — these all need to be considered. The No. 1 factor is water, though. If you can't guarantee a property will have water, it's a no-go in my opinion. And then there are accommodation considerations. Is there a place to stay on the property? If not, how difficult will it be to install utilities, and how far is it from a place to stay?
Teddy Carr, owner of Outdoor Action guide service and GP Calls in Virginia, said he takes a micro approach when seeking good spots.
We hunt in central Virginia, and what you're looking for is a little different from the approach you would use on the eastern part of the state, he said. For geese, you need to locate the flyway within the flyway. After the Canadas start coming down from up north, they have their traditional wintering grounds they use. They use the same roost areas and the same farms year after year. The only way to know this is to keep filling up the gas tank and follow the birds and do it in different parts of the state based on the available water in the area keying on major bodies of inland lakes, large ponds or an area that has a lot of large ponds. Once you identify your local flyway, start knocking on doors. The bonus also could be that your area may even be a traditional location for staging birds to stop on their way to their wintering grounds farther south. It's different for ducks. I like to stay much closer to the Eastern Shore rivers and take advantage of the more traditional tidal marshes for puddle ducks and the larger bays of a river for big-water divers like canvasbacks. If you move inland, you want to concentrate on larger bodies of water.
After you identify promising properties, you'll sometimes face the question of whether to lease or buy. And although finances play a role in such decisions, many other factors come into play.
If it is not a sure thing, lease it, said Tony Vandemore, owner of Habitat Flats in Sumner, Missouri. Whether it's a known producer or not, it better be very good to take a chance on buying it right out of the gate rather than leasing it for a year or two to see how the flight lines are.
Carr agreed, noting that although many hunters are eager to lock up land, it's often best to test the waters first.
Leasing property allows you to be versatile, he said. If you find something better, you can move on, or if it doesn't hold the birds like you thought, you're not the owner of a dud. Also, property here in Virginia is very expensive, and it might not be cost effective to buy. Although my mama said it's always best to own it, I would go the route of letting the experience of leasing property provide the needed experience to make good choices.
Gordon also encouraged prospective buyers to take a long-term return-on-investment look at potential areas.
If I were considering purchasing a place, I would go for a turn-key operation, he said. It takes so much time and resources to develop property and then you run the risk of it not working. An established place costs on the front end, but the investment is safer. It's kind of like buying a finished dog versus a puppy. Any place that needs significant upgrades would be a lease-only option in my opinion.
Some properties look like immediate producers, where you can start shooting ducks and geese almost after you sign a deed or lease agreement. Others, however, might require work but have better long-range potential. Are those project properties worth the investment? That seems to depend on perspective.
For Canadas, I look for properties that will produce right away, Carr said. For ducks, I'm a little more flexible and can spend the little extra time to develop something along the lines of flooded impoundments or fields.
If you are going to go the route of trying to develop an impoundment or flooded field for ducks, know that it's a long-haul process. After you have built your structure, it's going to take some time for the ducks to find it and bring more of their friends to it. The farther you move from the traditional eastern flyway, the longer it will take. The rule of thumb is going three years without hunting it.
I would rather hunt a property with improvements already in place and a proven track record of success, he said. But if a place has potential (in the right area), it's worth considering. The main steps to take are establishing a resting area to keep birds on the property and then developing food sources outside of there to hunt on.
A project requires a minimum of three to four years to attract birds and imprint them on the property. It's hard to be that patient, but that's what it takes in my experience.
Vandemore takes a less patient view.
Personally, I want something that will produce immediately, he said. Land is expensive, so don't waste a year or more in getting it set up right. Modifications are an assumed part of duck management. No matter what it is, it can always be better with some foresight and management practices right off the bat.
Your piece of duck and goose hunting heaven might be out there. Go find it. Just follow these common-sense guidelines when considering laying down your money. If you choose wisely, you'll never have to dodge shot or bump boats again.