Dirt, cheap

How to own a hunt­ing or fish­ing camp for less than the cost of a lease

Outdoor Life - - FEATURES - By tony hansen

ere’s my think­ing when it comes to dreams: They’re sim­ply not worth hav­ing if you can’t see a way to make them come true. Un­til a few years ago, I felt that way about own­ing a hunt­ing camp. I’d al­ways hoped to buy a place that I could share with friends and fam­ily. Fi­nally I de­cided to stop fan­ta­siz­ing and start do­ing. That dream has turned into re­al­ity for me, and I’m bet­ting it can for you, too—and it’ll likely take a lot less money than you’d think.

If you can scrape to­gether about $5,000 for the down pay­ment and then han­dle a roughly $200 monthly pay­ment, you’re in busi­ness. Even bet­ter: Buy the right piece of land and you’ll have that down pay­ment back in your pocket in short or­der. In most cases, that beats the cost of an an­nual lease.


Ob­vi­ously, the ini­tial pur­chase price is a pri­mary fac­tor when find­ing a place for your hunt­ing or fish­ing camp. I look at the price a bit dif­fer­ently and break it into two parts. One is the down pay­ment. The other is the monthly pay­ment.

Let’s deal with the down pay­ment first. The ini­tial cash out­lay for the down pay­ment is the hardest part of the equa­tion to swal­low for a lot of folks. Most va­cant-land lenders re­quire 20 per­cent down. The goal here is sim­ple: Get that cash back as fast as pos­si­ble and then use it to make sev­eral years’ worth of pay­ments. This is most eas­ily done through a tim­ber sale.

Tim­ber val­ues vary across the coun­try, and species prices go up and down. Cur­rently, for ex­am­ple, wal­nut trees and cer­tain va­ri­eties of white oak are fetch­ing a pre­mium. That said, vir­tu­ally ev­ery va­ri­ety of hard­wood car­ries some value, even at saw-log prices.

An av­er­age saw log might bring around $250. If you have 20 logs, you’ve got $5,000. Ve­neer-qual­ity logs of de­sir­able species like wal­nut can bring $5,000 each.

And here’s an­other in­con­ve­nient truth: Many re­al­tors know very lit­tle about tim­ber value. I’ve lost count of the num­ber of prop­er­ties I’ve looked at that held sig­nif­i­cant tim­ber value, but the list­ing agent had no idea what the prop­erty re­ally of­fered.

Here’s a real-world ex­am­ple. I’m in the process of clos­ing on a small piece of hunt­ing land with a sale price of $20,000. The down pay­ment is $4,000—which, I’ll ad­mit, stings a lit­tle bit. But here’s the salve: I’ve al­ready had the prop­erty eval­u­ated by a log­ger and know that there’s roughly $5,000 worth of saw logs on it, along with a few ve­neer sticks that can in­crease its value sub­stan­tially. Within three months of clos­ing, I’ll have that down pay­ment back, and will have es­sen­tially cov­ered a quar­ter of the pur­chase price right out of the gate.

Now for part two—those pay­ments. I don’t think of the pay­ments as sep­a­rate monthly ex­pen­di­tures. In­stead, I look at them as an an­nual cost—just as you would a lease. My $100 per month prop­erty will cost $1,200 a year. Leases al­most al­ways cost quite a bit more. Sud­denly, the cost of ownership makes sense.


To get an ul­tra-cheap hunt­ing camp, you will likely be lim­ited to smaller acreages (think fewer than 15 acres). That’s just the way sup­plyand-de­mand works. That said, you don’t have to set­tle for hunt­ing 5 or 10 acres. Buy the right piece of ground, and your $200 monthly pay­ment just might put you in the mid­dle of thou­sands more—at no cost.

Prop­erty that bor­ders pub­lic hunt­ing land can be ex­cep­tional— or it can be a night­mare. The best ground will pro­vide pri­vate en­try to pub­lic acres that are hard to ac­cess; the worst bor­ders pub­lic land that’s eas­ily reached by oth­ers. Do your home­work be­fore you buy.


Fi­nally, never over­look a prop­erty that in­cludes a “free” cabin. I’m not nec­es­sar­ily re­fer­ring to a pre­ex­ist­ing struc­ture, but one that needs as­sem­bly.

If you buy ground that features an abun­dance of dead ash or pines, you have the start of a cabin. Sawmill fees are usu­ally pretty rea­son­able, and build­ing a cabin with lum­ber har­vested from your own ground is pretty spe­cial, not to men­tion cost-ef­fec­tive.

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