Joys and perils of the outfitting business
by John Woods
Published: November 9,2009
Ahuge misconception exists about running an outfitting business that caters to hunters. People think that outfitters get to hunt all the time. Well, just imagine hunting for a living. Actually nothing could be further from the truth. Outfitters and most of the guides that work for them rarely get to hunt much at all or have to squeeze a day in here and there which is equally as rare most seasons. Running an outfitting business is a challenge offering both rewards and plenty of worries.
An Expensive Proposition
The career choice of operating an outfitting business is not for the faint of heart or for anyone with shallow pockets. An outfitting business plan is wrought with items on the expense side of the ledger even long before one paying client arrives on the property.
“I feel very fortunate to operate an outfitting business in Mississippi. We have a wonderful time seeing our clients have a great time here and sometimes collecting a trophy class buck. It is particularly rewarding to have a young hunter get their first buck on our hunting property. These kids never forget that experience and still call us back years later to talk about their hunt”, says Chris Russell of Keel Kreek Outdoors in Pontotoc (www.keelkreek.com).
“What most people don’t understand is what all goes into the equation of operating a business like a commercial hunting operation. Our overhead costs can literally go up every day when you factor in expenses like fuel, equipment maintenance, and land lease fees, food plot costs like seeds, fertilizer and chemicals. On top of that are labor costs and all the hard work to keep a property up and getting it in shape for another hunting season,” detailed Russell.
All in the Details
Keel Kreek maintains about 40 acres of supplemental wildlife food plots. These are planted both in the summer and again in the fall with different forage types per each season. These food plots add extra nutrients to the already lush natural habitat. Additional proteins and minerals grow larger deer and bigger racks. That is what paying deer hunters expect to see.
Quality wildlife food plots are high maintenance affairs. They have to be mowed, treated with costly herbicide chemicals, disked by tractor, planted, and then harrowed to cover the seeds. This means running a tractor over the same terrain time and time again.
It also means moving the equipment and supplies from one plot to the next. Most plots are rarely over 3-5 acres in size. Some plots are half that size and are usually spread across a property meaning more logistics, time and expense.
Outfitting operations also spend a large amount of time and effort in keeping property roads in good shape as well as maintaining woodland trails leading to hunting sites and tree stand locations. This work is labor intensive, but necessary. Hunting properties have to be well kept and habitats maintained in a healthy status.
As the hunting season approaches, outfitters have to check, clean, inspect, repair, and prepare hunting stands and shooting houses for their customers. Portable stands are placed in strategic places based on scouting efforts in order to put hunters in the most likely places to encounter big bucks.
Outfitters also operating lodging facilities and on site food service kick their businesses up to another level altogether. This means more maintenance, labor, and overhead costs. Good profits can be derived from these services, but they have to be high quality, attractive, and comfortable. Essentially running a hotel is no simple undertaking.
“Some hunters come here with the idea that an outfitter always holds back the hottest trophy buck hotspots for clients willing to pay a premium price. That simply doesn’t happen at my operation. We offer fair chase hunts and a trophy buck could show up at any time at any place on the entire property. Again, we only offer fair chase hunts on open lands that are not fenced or baited. A trophy taken here is an earned trophy. That’s the best kind in my mind’s eye,” remarked Chris Russell.
“Before our hunters head to the field we coach them on hunter safety issues and other rules we have in place to conduct safe hunts. Our buck harvest minimums are set at racks scoring at least 120 B&C. This helps maintain a good population of older bucks that have the potential to grow big racks. Again this is what hunters are looking for and we try our best to deliver”, explains Russell.
Some hunting outfits pack in a lot of hunters to maximize profits. Make sure they have the property to support that. Keel Kreek only takes 4-5 hunters per hunt which is typically a three-day event. They keep the numbers small so they can give personal attention to every hunter.
Mississippi is a natural resource laden state like few others in America. Our deer population is the second or third largest. We also have lots of turkeys, waterfowl, hogs, small game, upland birds, and fishing opportunities. Land owners, and lease holders with an entrepreneurial spirit that just happen to love the outdoors and hunting have elected to create a business around their dreams.
Most of them though the work is hard would not trade it for anything. So what’s more important at the end of the day, the rewards or the worries? You guess.
Dr. John J. Woods, Ph.D., is vice president in charge of economic development and training, Eagle Ridge Conference and Training Center, the Workforce Development Center and contract training services at Hinds Community College in Raymond.
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