As the summer days start to get slightly shorter, and the rare and unseasonable cool snap drifts southward, many hunters begin to shift their mindset to the upcoming waterfowl hunting season. Waterfowl hunting is one of our nations’ most popular sports, and those that brave the early wake-up calls and freezing cold temperatures could certainly be described as obsessed.
According to the US Fish and Wildlife Services’ “2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation,” 2.4 million hunters participate in migratory bird hunting activities annually, spending 16 million combined days afield and racking up an economic impact of $2.3 billion annually. 1.2 million of the aforementioned hunters were classified as hunting primarily ducks.
Few places experience the economic boom from waterfowl season like the Arkansas Delta region. A traditional bastion for quality duck hunting due to its positioning on the Mississippi Flyway and in one of the countries’ key rice production areas, hunters from across the country flock into the Natural State each fall and winter, contributing well over $100 million annually in revenue to the Arkansas economy.
While the state boasts incredible public land opportunities, with famed areas like Bayou Meto and Dave Donaldson WMA, private clubs and leases pepper the landscape for those wanting to get away from the growing crowds on public land. This has led to a strong niche market for Mossy Oak Properties land specialists that are called upon to help find or sell duck hunting property across the Arkansas Delta.
Kevin Keen, Executive Broker for Mossy Oak Properties Delta Land Management in North Little Rock, Arkansas, knows well the allure of duck hunting and its impact on his home states’ economy. As a land specialist, he pairs his degree in wildlife biology with a passion for the sport to help potential buyers of duck hunting property understand what the key ingredients are to a quality tract.
“A duck hunting component drives a high percentage of rural land sales across the Arkansas Delta region,” stated Keen. “While we actively market duck hunting properties for a large number of sellers, we are also called upon quite frequently to find a duck hunting property that fits a clients’ specific wants and needs. As with any type of real estate, sitting down with them to understand their priorities is important. We also make sure they understand the key ingredients of a duck hunting property. Just because a property is located in the Arkansas Delta and has water does not automatically mean it is currently a quality duck hunting property, or capable of in the future, even with proper management.”
What Are the Key Ingredients of a Quality Duck Hunting Property?
As with anything in real estate, location is oftentimes the first key ingredient of a quality duck hunting property. “As a biologist, while there are many ingredients to a quality duck hunting property, the two main ingredients are location and habitat. The importance of being in a prominent flyway and proven county or even smaller portion of a county, where you are amongst other clubs that manage their property and its waterfowl, cannot be understated. Those clubs are going to have water in the early season, and they are not going to over hunt their properties. So it’s a ‘company you keep’ sort of thing,” explained Keen.
“Location, again, is so important to the quality of a duck hunting property and for the prospective buyer to understand. For example, if it is June and a prospective buyer is looking for a place to hunt, location and the infrastructure and/or crops are the main things he can consider at that point. There will likely be no waterfowl present for him to see on the property, which is different than say looking at a deer hunting property where at least sign is present,” stated Keen. “This is where landowners that have kept good harvest records and documented with photos can help their odds of selling. It makes it a little easier for that buyer looking in the summer time to envision the kind of success he’ll be able to have when duck season rolls around.”
Just as few properties simply exist in Delta and hold ducks, outside of natural sloughs and beaver ponds and swamps that are typically small, a property also must have the habitat needed to attract ducks consistently. “Once we have identified a core area, we then look at habitat. With habitat, we simply ask them which habitat type they prefer. We sell to a lot of people that just want pure bottomland timberland, and that’s certainly a great and magical place to be on a cold winter morning. But we also get to personally hunt a lot of WRP (wetland reserve program) properties and those can be excellent tracts also.”
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With Arkansas being in one of the largest rice producing areas in the world, naturally hunters think of land capable of growing cereal grains as being duck havens. While Keen explains that these tracts are great, the WRP tracts can be fruitful because of a key nutritional need of a duck. “With habitat, we work with a lot of people that just want wall-to-wall grain crops, such as corn and milo. While those are great, protein sources are very important. WRP tracts tend to hold a high number of insects and invertebrates that ducks thrive on.”
Management Considerations When Buying Duck Hunting Land
Very few duck hunting places are considered to be turn-key, in that a buyer can purchase it and do little to no maintenance in order to attract and hold ducks. This is a key consideration for first time buyers, according to Keen. “Buyers must consider the amount of improvements they will need to make to the property. Many buyers do not account for the cost to maintain a duck hunting property, which is not always a cheap proposition, depending on what proper management will cost on a property. For example, if a property is a pure duck hunting tract, it is simply going to take money to maintain levees and wells to manage the water. This is why many buyers look to tracts with some farming income to enable that income to offset these expenses, as well as reduce their need to plant food specifically for the ducks.”
Additionally, water assets are also critical and can be the determinant. “With water, obviously that is something very important to a duck hunting property,” said Keen. “If you are reliant on pumping water through a well, being able to ‘hit water’ consistently is important. Many times landowners will be forced to core their wells deeper to do this. So just like farmland having a proven yield record, you need to know if the wells present on a property can consistently hit water to provide you quality hunting.”
Duck Hunting Property Specialists
Keen said regardless of whether you are in Arkansas or anywhere else that waterfowl call home in the winter time, having a land specialist that is knowledgeable and experienced in this niche market is critical. “Land specialists are different than other real estate agents because this is what we do every day. Just as you have specialized physicians such as neurosurgeons and cardiologists, land is a different ballgame because of its nuances. When you add ducks to the mix, the need for a land specialist versed in this particular type of property is important.”
“Again, just because you like to duck hunt and are looking for a property does not mean you should buy the first property in a flyway that has water,” laughed Keen. “You really need to sit down with a land specialist that has a proven track record and reputation of selling duck hunting properties, and discuss your goals and aspirations. They can then walk you through the realities of what the region and market hold so you can make an informed decision and purchase a property than can yield years of enjoyment for you and your family and friends.”
The Mossy Oak Properties land brokerage network was launched in 2003 to help folks buy and sell rural and recrational properties. We have since grown to over 100 franchised brokerages in 28 states throughout the country, with our network completing 3200 transactions totaling $700M+ in sales volume for 2018. Selected as a national "Best Brokerage" for 2018 by The Land Report, our network also had forty groups named as recipients. For more information about franchise opportunities, visit www.mossyoakproperties.com.