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Should you hire a consultant to manage your land?

Paul Mahoney is a wildlife management and habitat consultant from Minnesota. Most of his clients are new landowners, guys who want to turn their recently purchased property into a deer hunter’s haven. They want a place where big bucks ease into well-groomed food plots in the last minutes of legal shooting light or where the turkeys have places to feed, roost and strut. Mahoney can’t guarantee the part about big bucks or strutting turkeys, but he does guarantee the food plot. That’s what he and a growing number of habitat managers do for a living.

“I help new landowners get started planting food plots so they can better understand what to do if they decide to do it on their own,” says Mahoney (www.midwestwildlife.com, 320-279-2315.) “I also provide a turnkey service where I come in and do everything from the soil test and the fertilization to the actual seed bed preparation and planting and seasonal maintenance. I’ll rotate a landowner’s food plots every year or simply keep them in good shape on an as-needed basis. They don’t have to do anything except hunt if they don’t want to.”

Professional wildlife and food plot management help isn’t mandatory, of course, and many hunters enjoy the trial-and-error process that goes with planting food plots and managing their local deer herd. However, there’s often more error than trial. Growing healthy plants and bigger deer is not nearly as easy as it looks, and beginning hunters often give up after a few years because the clover didn’t grow, weeds swarmed the plot and they aren’t seeing more or bigger bucks than they did four or five years ago. Instead of giving up completely, a growing number are calling in hired guns like Mahoney.

“Just reading and interpreting the results of a soil sample can be pretty confusing,” says Mahoney, who has a degree in agronomy.

It’s only fitting that an entire consulting industry is springing up across the country — an industry that not only helps hunters plant food plots and create ideal wildlife habitat, but one that actually helps them manage their entire property from the habitat to the wildlife on the land. Thanks to the growth of the interest in quality deer management, guys like Mahoney are thriving.

While he specializes in the farming side of land and wildlife management, others provide almost everything a landowner could want. They do pretty much everything but pull the trigger for you. Some not only plant food plots, they clear shooting lanes, build tower stands and set up and monitor trail cameras. Depending on where you live and what you want to accomplish, other consultants build duck marshes and blinds, plant dove plots and hedgerows for quail and rabbits, and do pretty much anything a landowner could want related to hunting and wildlife. Some even build and manage ponds.

How To Find A Good One

Whatever you want a consultant to accomplish, make sure the person you are considering hiring is qualified for the job. Just because a guy has a Web site and a business card doesn’t mean he’s capable of helping you create top-quality habitat and game populations. Joe McGlincy, a certified wildlife biologist with the Wildlife Company (www.soforest.com, 229-246-5785) says it’s also a good idea to ask for a list of references.

“If he doesn’t have any or won’t give you any, I’d be very suspicious,” he says. “I would at least make sure he is certified by a professional organization like the Wildlife Society or the Society of American Foresters to do what you want him to do.”

McGlincy’s company, based in Bainbridge, Ga., works with everyone from individual landowners who know what they want but have no idea how to accomplish their goals to veterans who might not be getting the results they were expecting. He also works with hunt clubs to maximize the deer-hunting opportunities and corporate landowners like timber companies who want to increase their value of their land by boosting the quality of the hunting opportunities.

A knowledgeable and qualified consultant isn’t cheap. Although both Mahoney and McGlincy said it’s impossible to give a price over the phone, Mahoney typically charges an hourly rate, plus various expenses. McGlincy said his company will visit the land and spend a couple of hours doing a preliminary assessment of the ground as well as the desires of the landowner. He charges a fee based on the size of the land and the amount of work required for the initial consultation.

“We’ll work up an evaluation that gives a snapshot look of what we would recommend to meet the desired goals. From there, we either devise a plan to implement the required work ourselves or we’ll walk the landowner through the necessary steps,” explains McGlincy. “Sometimes they want us to handle everything; sometimes they prefer to do most of the groundwork.”

A consultant certainly isn’t for everyone. They are, however, the answer for landowners and clubs who have the resources to pay for the services but might not be accomplishing the goals they want to achieve. Whether you want a couple of high-quality food plots, better quail habitat or more quality bucks, there’s an expert who’s more than willing to help — for a fee.

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