Buying land and building a hunting camp, Part I

Posted by on Mar 21, 2018 in Hunting, Minnesota Northwoods Life | No Comments
Improving the driveway

Many of us were lucky enough to grow up with a hunting camp, be it a family member’s or other acquaintance. For those hoping to someday own, it seemed land prices were pricing the dream out of reach of the average joe. But right now may be the perfect time to buy, before land prices get out of reach. Here is the first part of my story.

Three tips
My criteria for a Minnesota ruffed grouse base camp: undeveloped land with three season road access, and in the heart of grouse country. I wanted a base camp, from which to hunt the nearby public land. Deer hunting would be a bonus.
I started by drawing a 100 mile circle around the area I wanted to search for land. My realtor set up a search that would email me listings in that area. Tip one: the larger the parcel, the lower the cost per acre. I started looking at 20 acre plots but soon recruited a buddy to go in on a 40 acre parcel. Tip two: buying recreational land is seasonal, so more listings will show up in late spring. I would notify my realtor which parcels I wanted to look at on a weekend and he would get the directions from the listing agent. Ahhh, the kitchen table realtor selling rural land, I know him well. Don’t expect land with a sign on the road and corners marked. Heck, some realtors never bother to go look at the land they are selling. If they can’t define exactly where the land is, have them give you driving directions, with odometer milage from the nearest road junction. Tip three: look over the land on google earth from home before driving out there.
On those excursions we also road hunted, and looked at some properties we saw For Sale signs on along the way.

Our first tenants, a brood of woodcock

Auctions for land
I also participated in auctions, one at a farm being parceled out, another offered by Potlach, and another by the DNR. Other auctions were offered by Cabelas and several counties. We pursued two online auctions for properties but were outbid. We eventually found a property from our realtor’s listings in mid-May. On my first visit, I flushed a few nesting woodcock and figured we had the right place- and our first tenants. We closed in July. We wrote out an agreement setting the rules for co-owning land. Then the real work began.

Laying out the deck

First things first
Meeting our neighbors to build good relations was a first priority. Next up was building the driveway in and clearing a building site. I bought a couple trailer loads of driveway gravel to begin filling in the soft spots. Finding that insufficient, the next year we brought in 6 dump truck loads of gravel and hired a bucket loader operator. As it turned out, the driveway could have used double the amount of gravel. Don’t skimp on your driveway! I searched for a proper cabin building site, one with good drainage and a nice view. I found a spot on a gentle hillside that slopes down to the alder run and creek below. The site is a bit uphill from the alders, providing a view across the run to the tamarack and black spruce bog on the other side. We are treated each fall with the colorful sight of tamaracks when their needles turn gold. The chainsaw got quite a workout felling the trees, and we had several years worth of firewood stacked to dry and split.

View from the deck first fall on our land

Bird camp the first couple years
First fall at bird camp we built a deck from salvaged cedar decking donated by a neighbor. The canvas wall tent went next to that, and camp was open for business! An old camping trailer provided the privy. A cast-off gas grill, a few Coleman lanterns and a double-burner stove set up the kitchen. Soon we were learning the land of the nearest state forest and terrorizing the local partridge. A few metal ladder deer stands were put up, and November brought in the first venison off the property.

In parts two and three, I’ll describe building the cabin.

by Joel Schnell

Posted March 21, 2018.

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