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Think pheasant hunting fees are outrageous?

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By: Chris Hitzeman
UGUIDE South Dakota Pheasant Hunting

Consider owning your own private pheasant camp

Have you ever looked into a wild pheasant hunting trip for your friends and family in South Dakota? You may be surprised at what the costs are compared to a hunt at your local game farm. You're not alone. Many sportsmen around the country are noticing limited access to private lands for hunting and rising rates for commercial hunting fees. If you grew up with free access to good hunting of any kind it can be hard to stomach the thought of having to shell out a weeks pay just to hunt some ducks, pheasants or deer for a few days a year.

Now consider the American dream of owning your own little piece of hunting heaven. I don't think any of us has not had this cross our minds a time or two. Who wouldn't love to have their own little hunting honey hole that affords them private exclusive use and control over the hunting environment. For many this dream is simply not possible due to cash flow, time, distance or family constraints.

How many of us have heard the phrase "You get what you pay for?"? How may of us have oftentimes found this to be quite true in dealings in our lives? I can assure you I have learned these lessons more times than I care to admit.

Maybe the bitter pill of commercial fee hunting rates might be tamed if we understood these rates as compared with the costs of ownership of a similar hunting setup that we wanted to own ourselves instead. For the purposes of this article, we will look at pheasant hunting land which has been in the spotlight in South Dakota-one of the nations premier destinations for pheasant hunters seeking the ultimate pheasant hunting experience.

First let's set our expectation baseline by looking at commercial fee hunting rates on a 4-night stay/3-day hunt for anywheres from a do-it-yourself pheasant package to a premium all-inclusive guided package. As you search the internet you will typically find these packages to range from $500-$2,000 for a person depending on what is provided in the package. Since non-residents buy a license that gives them 2 five day periods let's assume that a group would want to come out twice and take advantage of the two hunting periods on their license. Let's also assume that we're going to go all out and stay with the 5 star outfitter. Their rate is $2,000/person X 2 trips and you are looking at a $4000 annual bill.

Now that we have set our baseline, let's compare these costs in order to have a similar experience at your own little private exclusive pheasant hunt. For these purposes let's make some assumptions about a typical private property in South Dakota that is managed for pheasants but can also double as an investment property if the buyer/hunter is approaching this in an intelligent manner. Here's a list of the assumptions: total acreage = 700, tillable acres = 525 (75% of total), fair market value of land = $1500/acre, cash rent for tillable acres = $70/acre, property taxes = $12/acre, down payment required on a 20 year mortgage @ 7.0% interest = 20%. Let's also assume that you can only hunt for two weeks out of the year because you are a non-resident. You are smart and you're going to try to make the farm cash flow. You are hunting 2 weeks out of a 12 week season so that leaves 10 hunting weeks left. You are a nice guy so you leave 2 weeks for friends,family and neighbors to hunt for free. That leaves 8 weeks in season to lease to paying hunters. Assume an average group size of 6 hunters per week with and average price per hunter of $595/person. You're going to have to have a place for the hunters to stay and you'd like to have a place yourselves so you throw $40,000 into fixing up the pole shed that came with the property. Luckily for you it already has water, septic and electric at the building.

OK, with all the assumptions in place for a typical South Dakota Wild Pheasant Ranch, here's how the cost of ownership numbers shake out:

The Purchase + Annual Expenses:
700 acres @ $1500/acre = $1,050,000
20% Down Payment Required = $210,000 (Cash)
Balance on 20 year mortgage @ 7% interest = $840,000
Annual Mortgage Payment = $79,290.06
Annual Property Taxes = $8,400 (700 X $12)
50 Food Plot Acres - Fertilizer/Seed/Labor @ $70 acre = $3500
Water and Electric = $1500
Total Annual Expenses years 1 = $342,690
Total Annual Expenses years 2-20 = $92,690

The Income:
8 Groups of 6 @ $595/person = $28, 560
Cash Rent on 525 acres @ $70/acre = $36,750
Total Annual Income = $65,310

The Cash Flow:
Year 1 Income - Expenses = ($277,380)
Year 2-20 Income - Expenses = ($27,380)
Long-term Annual Cash Flow = ($27,380)

Now of course this doesn't factor in tax breaks, investment appreciation, etc. But then it also doesn't capture all the true expenses either. Bottom line, that $4,000 premium hunting trip(s) of a lifetime is looking like a pretty good deal about now, and the do-it-yourself option is looking even better!