Colorado & New Mexico Big Game Hunting on Private Ranches
25 July 2021
Often, one of the great benefits of large land or ranch ownership is the big game hunting prospects that go along with it. More and more, we’re seeing entrepreneurial-minded property owners making a profitable hunting business on the side.
The vast and diverse landscapes of the region are teeming with wild game, including mule deer, elk, antelope, barbary sheep, plus prolific bird hunting. Private land hunting consistently outperforms for sportsmen and women, and as a result, it tends to command a premium in the marketplace.
Yet, with hunting privileges and land ownership, also comes responsibility to the wildlife which habituate upon it. Ideally, owners and managers will have a pulse on the landscape they control. This includes routinely working with state game agencies, wildlife biologists, or wildlife professionals.
Knowing wildlife numbers, predator densities, harvest objectives, age structures, reproduction rates, and how your neighbors manage all tie into the ecological health of your ranch. This bank of knowledge informs stocking rates of livestock, pasture rotations, forestry management, water and irrigation, crop rotation, and so on.
Ranchers are also encouraged to participate in conservation, and this is often done through hunting. When managed properly, it can be a valuable conservation tool that provides benefits and resources for wildlife and landowners alike.
Hunting as a side venture on the ranch
It’s becoming more common for the business-savvy ranch owner to balance operating costs and enhance their wildlife conservation footprint with a small-scale hunting business.
If you’re looking to maximize the ranch property’s earning potential while it appreciates, here are a few options to consider:
1/ Public Access or Trespass Fee
Where once it was commonplace to knock on farmers’ doors for access to hunt or fish, in more recent times this privilege is reserved for friends and family.
In this scenario, where a permit is sold or a fee is charged to the wider public, the trespass fee hunter can help to control and manage wildlife populations in certain times of the year, or as swings in populations occur (as liability policies allow).
This business model can be kept simple and require minimal time, yet it can also mean owners have less control over the quality and age structure of harvested game, resulting in less of an ability to make positive changes in game animals’ numbers and quality.
2/ The Hands-On Ranch Outfitter
For entrepreneurial owners with ranch management in place, operating a small-scale outfitting/guide business can be a fulfilling endeavor.
There are ranch owners who bring their success in the business world to outfitting and really enjoy it. This approach is advantageous to the landowner who likes to be hands on and enjoys the hospitality side of business as well. Plus, they can hand pick who, when, and how many guests will be on the ranch, as well as block out periods for personal hunting.
Additionally, it allows landowners to be actively involved in directing sustainability of the property and the wildlife resources, and offers more flexibility around changes in wildlife systems.
3/ Out-of-House Management/Leasing
Leasing to a private party manager or an outfitter is often a great option. The most successful arrangements occur when outfitters and owners can collaborate to establish conservation goals that are mutually beneficial.
With up-front planning, a relationship with a quality outfitter can yield terrific results and enhance a property’s natural resources. Outsourcing wildlife and fishery management can also relieve operation and liability burdens for owners.
A few Keys for Success
State wildlife agencies should always be involved in the hunting and wild game planning process.
Always consult an attorney before allowing any sporting activity on the property.
Approach properties with a conservative management approach for the first year or two to fully evaluate what potential it has.
Longer term permits or leases incentivize hunters / outfitters / lessees to manage wildlife in a more conservative manner, and offers more secure budget forecasting to the ranch operations.
Success requires consistency in trophy quality, guest experience, and quality personnel.
Of course, some ranch owners may not want guests on their property, and that means wildlife management responsibility still falls on the landowner.
Whatever direction markets may turn, those in the outdoor ranching and recreation worlds remain the stewards of the land, wildlife and water. And it is a mutually beneficial relationship.
Whatever you put into these invaluable resources, is also what can come back to you in return. When the lands are healthfully and optimally managed, it can be a relationship that keeps giving back in abundant ways.