Avid hunters are always in search of good hunting spots in Montana and other states. The perfect hunting spot is different for every hunter. For some, it is a piece of land that is abundant with big game, or any other species worthy of hunting. For others, it’s easy to get to, or vacant of any competing hunters. The search for this perfect spot can feel like trying to find El Dorado: impossible. This guide outlines the factors on how to find hunting land that fits your wants and needs.
Finding hunting land can be quite an extensive process, Venture West Ranches is here to help you find hunting land that fits your wants and needs. Whether your ‘perfect’ hunting land is in Montana or halfway across the world, this guide will help you find hunting land that fits your needs. By determining the attributes that are most important to you, you can then search for land that fits your criteria. After determining exactly what you want, you will be able to use the tips and tricks provided in this article to find hunting land that is perfect for you.
The first step in finding your ideal property is to figure out what are the factors that will make a piece of hunting land the perfect hunting spot for you. Some questions you can ask yourself include:
- Do you want hunting land that is flat or mountainous?
- What kinds of animals do you want to hunt on your land?
- Where do you want your hunting land to be located?
- Is travel a consideration?
- What is your budget?
Focus questions on the following topics to paint a picture of your perfect hunting land:
First and foremost, you need to identify what animals you want to hunt. You wouldn’t want to purchase waterfowl hunting land if you want to be hunting Rocky Mountain Elk. That just doesn’t make sense. Having in mind what kind of game you want to be hunting, is essential when finding hunting land. If you want to hunt several species, make sure you find hunting land that will fulfill that requirement. Some combinations such as Elk and Deer are very easy to find, but some other combinations are next to impossible to find. Do your best to be realistic and understand there may be compromises. Deciding what animals you want to be hunting on the land you buy, will help answer almost all other questions. Prioritize the animals you want to hunt in numerical order with the animal you have to hunt ranked at #1 and descending from there.
After identifying what animals you want to hunt, you now need to look at properties critically and make sure that the land can sustain the hunting frequency you desire. Some hunting land will be teaming with wildlife and in need of a wildlife management plan that involves culling the population. Other properties will be in need of a wildlife management plan that requires you to grow a population for a year or more before it is sustainable for you to harvest from the population. Finally, some properties will have a healthy population that is ready for sustainable harvest. Knowing the time frame of when it is responsible to harvest animals is crucial. If the time frame needed to create or maintain a sustainable wildlife management plan is not the same timeframe you want, you may want to look at other pieces of land. Just make sure you think long term when making this decision. These factors will also impact values of the land and what you are willing to pay for certain properties.
Another thing to consider is that in certain parts of the country, some game animals are not managed heavily, which gives opportunities to hunters. A perfect example is in Montana, whitetails are viewed by many as a nuisance. They generally aren’t managed to grow large antlers through genetics or nutrition. This can give hunters from other parts of the country opportunities to find land that might not be priced at a premium for an out of favor species like Whitetails.
The terrain of the land you plan to buy can vary depending on the animals you wish to hunt. If you want to hunt several different animals, the terrain requirements your land must fulfill will be stricter and more varied. For example, if you want to hunt Elk and Mule Deer, you will need mountainous terrain to hunt Mule Deer which is where Elk can also be found. Or, if you want to hunt Whitetail and Antelope you need to look for prairie hunting land with riparian corridors. Finding the right hunting land needs to be suitable for all the animals you wish to hunt.
You may also want to hunt in different ways on your hunting land. Do you like to hunt waterfowl as well as big game? If yes, look for land that has a pond/lake or has an area where you can build or develop one. A pond is great habitat for all species of waterfowl, but will also attract all kinds of wildlife. Keeping in mind all the types of hunting you want to do is also important when trying to find the hunting land you want. Every property is going to be unique so do your homework and make sure the property is everything you want or can be potentially developed.
You also need to think about the physical requirements of hunting certain terrains. If you purchase a mountainous terrain piece of land, are you going to be able to get out and hike every time you hunt? Knowing your limitations and the limitations of those you may be hunting with is another thing to consider. If you don’t enjoy hiking for miles while you hunt, maybe you look for a property that is better suitable for tree stand hunting or is easily accessible by an off-road vehicle.
Weather is another very important factor to consider when looking at hunting land. You want to make sure that the climate you are going to be hunting in is conducive to the animals you wish to hunt. You also want to make sure you are prepared for the types of weather you’ll be hunting in. Does the hunting land you are looking at purchasing receive a lot of rain? If so, do you have the necessary rain gear to keep you dry while out on a hunt? If you are going to be hunting in Montana are you prepared for 6” of snow. Do you have a vehicle that can handle that situation? The last thing you want to be doing is hunting in weather that you despise or that can be dangerous.
Another element to analyze when looking at potential hunting properties is food supply. Do the animals on the hunting land have sufficient food supply or will you need to plant food plots? The property you are looking at may have great natural vegetation, but you may want to focus on creating a healthier population. This can be done several ways. You can plant food plots that will increase antler mass, length, or body mass on animals you plan on harvesting. Keep this in mind when looking at hunting land you may want to purchase. Also, learn about regulations of food plots in the states you are looking at. Sometimes you will need to harvest some of the food plot to sell to meet regulations and laws.
Another variable to look for when finding hunting land is preexisting wildlife. Preexisting wildlife can be a blessing or a curse. If the hunting land has dense populations of predators, it may not be the best land for hunting animals susceptible to predation. Now, if you are wanting land where you can hunt predators such as wolves, mountain lions, or bears, then a property with a dense predator population is just what you want. This is also where knowing regulations come into play. Some states protect predators and this should factor into decisions on finding hunting land.
For those of you that want to try and develop a naturally sustainable ecosystem on your hunting land, the best thing is for you to have a healthy predator to prey balance. This classic survival of the fittest can often be the best thing for your animal population. Predators almost always go after the weak animals in any population and if they remove the weaker animals in your population, you will be left with a stronger, healthier population. This could mean larger body mass, increased antler mass, and overall healthier animals on your hunting land. Before trying to manage predator populations, make sure you look at your state’s recreational predator shooting regulations. You need to make sure you are lawfully harvesting animals.
In states such as Pennsylvania and Montana, Fish & Game Departments do extensive research to better understand the ecosystems they manage and maintain. In Pennsylvania, a study was conducted that found, of 200+ radio-tagged fawns, 84 percent of tagged fawns younger than 9 weeks died due to predation. After 9 weeks of age, 57 to 72 percent of tagged fawns were still alive. This study allowed researchers to better understand that predators have a drastically smaller impact on older deer. What does this mean for you and your hunting land? It means that if predator populations are high, you will see a low growth rate among game animals. If predator populations are low, then the population of game animals will increase at a much faster rate. Predator populations are not the only determinate of overall game populations, but when they are paired with other population influencers such as a hard winter, game populations can see a drastic increase or decrease in numbers.
Hunting Land Upkeep
From a new car to that nice scope that’s been sitting in your Cabela’s cart for 3 months, you need to do your research before purchasing anything. This is also true when it comes to hunting land. One thing to keep an eye out for is necessary upkeep that must be done on the property. Do you need to clear trees in an area to reduce the risk of a forest fire burning your property or to increase forage? Do you need to plant more vegetation on your property to help animal populations survive the winter? Are there nuisance animals such as beavers that keep damming up a stream and flooding low areas of your property?
Accessibility to Land
Another area to look at is the access to the hunting land you are considering buying. Is there easy access to your property? Can the public easily access your property? If they can, how will you deal with and prevent trespassing? These are all important questions. When you purchase hunting land you want it to be your area where you can harvest trophy worthy animals. You also want to be able to get to it easily. Maybe you want hunting land close to home or maybe you want your piece of hunting land to be a week or weekend escape. Either way, you need to think about what you want and then find hunting land that meets your needs. You don’t want to purchase land that is going to more of a curse than a blessing. The last thing you want to have to deal with is someone trespassing on your property and harvesting your trophy game animals. Keeping in mind the accessibility of prospective hunting land is critical.
Regulations are one of the most important things you need to look at when considering hunting land for purchase. States, such as Montana, have differing regulations depending on species and location. For example, look at the following table below comparing hunting districts 301 and 314.
I know what you’re thinking, “Wow, that’s a lot of information and it’s confusing.” Let me break it down for you a little bit. Hunting District 301 is just south of Bozeman and borders Highway 191 to the west and meets Hunting District 314 to the east in the Gallatin Range. HD 314 is located south of I-90, borders the Yellowstone River and Highway 89 to the East and HD 301 to the west, and stretches all the way south to the entrance of Yellowstone National Park. These two hunting districts border each other but have different hunting regulations. During archery season, Sep 02 – Oct 15, in HD 301, you can harvest either-sex Mule Deer, but in HD 314, you are only allowed to harvest antlered buck Mule Deer. Some districts even have varying regulations for different areas within the district. Under the general Elk license section, HD 301 allows you to harvest a brow-tined bull or antlerless Elk anywhere within the district between Oct 21 – Nov 26, but in HD 314 you can only harvest a brow-tined bull or antlerless Elk north of Big Creek. South of Big Creek, you are only permitted to harvest a brow-tined bull Elk.
Regulations for nonresident hunters also vary. Nonresident guests to Montana are eligible for most, but not all, hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses. However, State law mandates that nonresidents are limited to, but not guaranteed 10 percent of license or permit quota for a district. What this means is that of the entire permit quota for a given district, all nonresidents applying for a license or permit for said district will possess no more than 10 percent of the total number of licenses/permits available in the district. Regulations for nonresidents aren’t the only thing that is different. Costs associated with resident and nonresident licenses and permits also vary. For example, the cost of a Base Hunting License, which is required for hunting or applying for a permit or license, is $10 for residents and $15 for nonresidents. For more specialty drawings and permits such as winning the drawing for Bighorn Sheep, the cost for residents is $125 plus an additional $10 application fee, and the cost for nonresidents is $1,250 plus an additional $50 application fee. More information about the prices of specific permits and licenses can be found on pages 114 and 115 in the Montana Deer, Elk, and Antelope Hunting Regulations.
Failing to follow regulations such as these and harvesting an animal illegally can result in steep fines, confiscation of your firearm, the animal harvested, and even jail time. If you or anyone you see harvests an animal illegally or by accident, notify a game warden or call 1-800-TIP-MONT and follow their instructions.
Knowing the regulations for any area you plan to hunt is critical. When looking at hunting land to purchase, you must look at the regulations for the district the land sits in. You don’t want to purchase land that won’t allow you to hunt the animals you want to hunt.
Some but not all hunting districts provide the opportunity to enter into drawings for certain special permits and licenses. Some tags are B tags and some are for either-sex animals, but each district’s drawing varies from other districts. When looking up regulations for districts you plan to acquire hunting land in, you will see if drawings are available for the district and what animals the drawn permit or license is for. When applying for drawings, there are a few things to keep in mind.
First and foremost, just because you apply for a drawing does not mean that you will receive a tag. Drawings are a lottery system and hunters who draw tags, draw them by chance. One thing you can do to help better your chances is to look at the Drawing Statistics Report (DSR) to see the total number of licenses available and the number of applicants for those licenses in each district. The file is a little confusing so I will help break it down. Here is a line from the DSR for HD 314.
The DSR divides into landowners and regular applicants and then further divides them by Resident and Nonresident. For HD 314, there are 25 available permits up for drawing which is represented by the Quota. Moving from right to left, the next category is Resident Landowners. The quota for resident landowners is 4 licenses. Of the 4 applicants, 4 successfully drew Elk B Licenses for HD 314. Zero nonresident landowners applied for the license so none were granted to them. So this could be an opportunity for a nonresident owner. For Regular Resident applicants, the quota is 25. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd columns represent the choice an applicant placed the district in on their application. On Drawing Applications, an applicant is required to enter their first choice in a hunting district they want to draw a license in. The second and third choices are optional but will only be considered if there is a quota remaining after all applicants within that district as a first choice have been filled. As you can see from the table above, 198 residents put HD 314 as their first choice, 46 put 314 as their second choice, and 13 as their third choice. Of the 198 first choice applicants, 19 successfully drew an Elk B license for HD 314. Zero applicants with HD 314 as their second or third choice drew a license. For nonresidents, their quota is 2 licenses. Nonresidents are limited to up to 10% of the licenses available in a district. 10 percent of 25 is 2.5 and since they can’t hand out half of a license, nonresidents have a quota of 2 licenses. Of the 27 first choice applicants, 2 successfully drew a license and the rest were unsuccessful.
When finding hunting land, it is imperative that you look at drawing requirements and statistics so you understand what is available in the hunting district your property lies within. It is also good to know how competitive the hunting district is. Some, such as HD 314 are very competitive while others, such as HD 311 with 366 surplus licenses, aren’t very competitive. DSR’s are great tools to get an idea of how competitive certain hunting districts have been in the past. Make sure to keep in mind drawing regulations and opportunities when looking at hunting land in Montana or any other state.
By now you should have a pretty good idea of what the hunting land you want looks like, but what do you want the animals to look like on your property? My guess is you want a trophy, if not world class, game animals on your property. Finding record statistics is fairly easy. Simply search for [State] [animal] records on the internet. For example, if you search “Montana Elk Records” you’ll find a link to Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks that will show the Score, County, Year, and Owner of the trophy animal. Just last year, a massive 430 0/8 Typical Elk was taken out of Powder River County. This massive Elk passed the previous record Elk which scored 419 4/8 which was taken out of Madison County. Having an idea of where record Elk have previously been harvested can give you a better idea where you should buy hunting property.
Hopefully, all of these areas I have outlined have helped you create a picture of what kind of hunting land you wish to purchase. You should have an idea of what animals you want to hunt and where they live, what the terrain of your ideal hunting land will be, and what kind of weather you will encounter. Once you have identified these characteristics, I challenge you to dig deeper and consider food supply and other preexisting wildlife, necessary upkeep, and accessibility. Once you have addressed these topics and start looking at hunting land keep in mind what regulations you have to abide by, the drawing statistics of the district, as well as the possibility of harvesting a record-setting animal. Hopefully, you have a mental picture of a piece of hunting land that will be perfect for you, but before you immediately start contacting land owners or real estate companies about their property for sale, consider getting buyer representation.
Before you go out and start negotiating with private landowners and real estate agencies, consider getting someone who can represent you as a buyer. A buyer representative is someone who represents you, as a buyer, when negotiating with private landowners and real estate companies about purchasing land. They will keep your best interest in mind and make sure you get the best deal possible. If you try and go to real estate companies or landowners directly they already have the sellers best interest in mind. They want to sell the property for the most money possible while you want to pay the least money for the property. Real estate companies can be great buyer representatives as long as you aren’t trying to purchase a piece of land they are trying to sell. Venture West Ranches is a great buyer representative and we are devoted to helping our buyers get the best deal possible. Having one real estate company represent you while negotiating with another real estate company is a good idea. They understand the buying process and may know the other agency well enough to get you a better deal.
If you do not have the time or don’t want to have to deal with a third party when trying to purchase hunting land, consider looking at consolidated land sites. Sites such as Land and Farm and The Land Report are alternatives to buyer representatives. They bring real estate from several agencies and private parties and consolidate them in one location. You can easily search and sort through the available properties to find one that suits your needs. The nice thing about these consolidated land sites is that they are completely unbiased and are a way for sellers to advertise their land. These sites have no interest in the final negotiated price and therefore act as though they are a buyer representative. Their main goal is to bring buyers and sellers together to negotiate a deal on a property.
Many people may ask why I am telling you this. The answer is, it’s the right thing to do. The best decision is a well-informed one, which is why Venture West Ranches does its best to inform buyers and sellers alike before committing to a long-term commitment such as a farm, ranch, or hunting land. We do believe strongly in having your interests represented but that may not be for everyone. Hopefully, this article helps you build a vivid image of the kind of hunting land you want as well as inform you about the buying process. Next, look at the second part of this article series: How to Buy Hunting Land. This step by step guide is to help you through the buying process of hunting land or any other land for that matter.
Buzz Tatom is a Partner at Venture West Ranches. He moved to Montana 6 years ago looking to retire. That lasted 6 months. Buzz still owns the 5T ranch in Texas and has extensive experience adding value to ranches. He has a BBA from Texas Tech and an MBA from SMU. When not mentoring students or being a part-time professor at MSU, Buzz and his wife, Kathy are involved in a number of business ventures.