Paid outdoor recreation – including hunting – on farms brings promising profits to farmers

Maine Farm Bureau photoOutdoor recreational opportunities on the Nation’s privately-owned farm, ranch and woodlands, which comprise nearly three-fourths of our land area, are virtually unlimited.

Many farmers and landowners have already found recreation to be a new and profitable crop. Land formerly in grain is now meeting the needs of fisherman, hunters, campers, hikers, and others who seek the out-of-doors.

The new farm enterprises range from a few acres for picnicking and camping to watershed lakes of several hundred acres. The crops harvested include fish, duck, mink, muskrat, pheasants and quail. The recreational areas established are ideal for swimming, camping, boating, hiking, and nature study.

Some farmers are turning to recreation as an alternate use for cropland. They realize our farms are producing more food and fiber than we can use at home and market abroad. Some of the acres producing surplus crops are already meeting the needs of outdoor recreation. Many, many more can be profitably converted to such use.

These are the opening paragraphs in U.S. Department of Agriculture brochure published in the late 1950s. While Maine farms never embraced the concept – partly because of our state’s hunting heritage and tradition of free public recreational access to private unposted land – I know some Maine farmers now lease their farmland to guides or groups of hunters for deer or turkey hunting.

While we cling to the free access tradition, and work hard to maintain good relationships with private landowners in order to sustain that tradition, it is clear to me that Maine farmers and others, in the future, will be looking for new profitable enterprises like those described in the USDA brochure.

A major private landowner in the state of Washington now charges fees – and limits permits – for hunting its property that is broken into hunting areas. Given that private equity investment companies now own some of Maine’s largest tracks of land, I wonder how soon we’ll see that same concept launched here.

Without question, Maine farmers are waking up to the fact that there is great demand for hunting opportunities on their farmland.


The specific examples in the USDA brochure are very interesting. Here are some of them.

The Paul Pearson farm in Montgomery County, Maryland (is) a 250-acre tract now used primarily as a wildlife area for controlled hunting.

A Los Banos, California, farmer operates a commercial duck hunting club as part of his dairy ranch. He has 660 acres of grazing land that has been developed into a waterfowl habitat. The farmer built 27 blinds. He rents them for $10 a day to hunters and allows hunting three days a week during the season.

In Pope County, Minnesota, a farmer built a dam with the assistance of the Soil Conservation Service in 1957 to flood 139 acres of land to increase mink production. He also sells duck hunting rights for $4 a day. His return has been 18 percent on his total investment.

In Illinois, a Kankakee County farmer took a long look at the hunting problem and decided he could profitably devote a sizeable portion of his land to raising ringnecked pheasants to supply controlled hunting areas. He bought a hatchery in a nearby town and moved the incubators to his farm. He now hatches 50,000 pheasant chicks, 10,000 Mallard ducks and thousands of quail each year. He raises about 10,000 pheasants a year and sells them to private hunting clubs. The others he ships off newly hatched as far away as Hawaii to farmers and ranchers interested in the same business.

These are a few of the successful farm recreation enterprises. There are many others. The need for more is great. There are opportunities for thousands of such developments throughout the Nation.


I hunt wild pheasants each fall in North Dakota, with a group of friends from Maine. Some outfitters there are farmers, while others are lodges and guides who lease farmland, often paying the farmers for each pheasant shot.

The payments encourage farmers to grow crops specifically for the wild pheasant population, provide exclusive access for hunters, and offer the best hunting in the state. You can hunt public lands there, but they can be crowded, and they don’t usually harbor as many pheasants.

As goes the nation, so goes Maine?



George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.