By Matt Reese
In 2005, Rick Crawford harvested the last tobacco crop from his family’s Adams County farm. His ancestors had grown tobacco on that land since at least the late 1800s. Tobacco was a part of Crawford Farms’ heritage, culture and, most importantly, its profitability.
“Tobacco used to be the main cash crop on this farm for many years. There is not very much of this ground that is tillable. Tobacco is a tremendous amount of hand labor but we made it work. We needed about six people extra to get the tobacco in the barn in the fall and we had to hire nine to make sure we had six. It was always a challenge,” Crawford said. “With tobacco, if everything goes right, you can net $1,000 an acre but it takes a tremendous amount of labor and there are about four times a year where the weather can take everything. Tobacco is a risky crop.”
The big change for tobacco production in Ohio happened in 2004 with the mandatory buyout ending the quota system that had been in place since the 1930s.
“The quota program went out the window and there was a buyout. The companies were wanting bigger producers. We were growing 7 to 11 acres and that would produce 20,000 to 24,000 pounds of tobacco,” Crawford said. “I was wanting to downsize and they wanted me to raise more.”
Crawford knew it was time to be done with tobacco production on the farm, but he did not know what to do to replace the valuable piece of his economic puzzle.
“After we quit tobacco, I ran into a guy in town and he was leasing out rights for deer hunting,” Crawford said.
Leasing hunting rights was a new concept for Crawford at the time, but he was well aware of the plentiful deer population on and around the farm. He’d been battling with them for years. Finding a way to benefit from the local deer population with a growing reputation for producing big trophy bucks seemed to make sense.
“Big bucks like the habitat found in our area. It is not uncommon to observe and have a shot opportunity at 140+ class bucks on the farm. Much bigger bucks also make our farm part of their core area,” Crawford said on the farm’s website. “Because of the type of terrain and the amount of food and cover available, hunters need to bring their best hunting strategies. The trophy buck of a lifetime could step out at any minute.”
Now the farm hosts six-day archery hunts on 1,000 acres to provide a stable source of income.
“We sell six-day hunts and provide the lodging. This is a fair chase hunt using state rules. There are no high fences. That is what our guys want and we only do archery. The insurance is cheaper too,” Crawford said. “We are an LLC that leases property from me. They have to sign a waiver.”
The peak rut season commands a $1,850 per hunter fee for the six-day hunt. The farm hosts hunters through most of the Ohio deer archery season from Sept. 29 to through early January. Outside of the hunting season, there is plenty to do to prepare during the rest of the year.
“It is more than just cashing checks,” Crawford said. “We plant food plots all summer. The permanent plots are alfalfa or clover. We plant late plots too that include brassicas and forage oats that overwinter. That keeps food here clear through January in addition to the deer’s natural food. This year we put in a new camera system that transfers pictures from one place to another and they can be accessed by the hunters to help them decide where they want to hunt. In February and March we do maintenance on the tree stands we provide. We encourage guys to bring their own stands, too. Then in the spring we have maintenance of food plots with mowing.”
The most popular hunting dates are typically in November, though there are strong hunting opportunities all season on the farm.
“Even though the most requested hunt dates are in November, we have learned that our hunt property may actually provide better opportunities during the early and late hunts due to the amount and variety of feeding opportunities,” Crawford said. “There are many different types of terrain on the farm and therefore different types of hunting situations. Even though each hunter may find a ‘favorite’ spot on the farm, our past experiences have proven there is no ‘best’ place to hunt.”
Unlike tobacco, Crawford gets half the money up front, with no risk from weather or a lack of results.
“With the deer hunting we get half the money up front. We have no guarantees. They sign a contract that they realize they may not even see a deer. With the cameras we have set up, though, I can give them a pretty good idea,” he said. “We are open for archery season and we run up to 10 hunts a year. We schedule specific dates a year in advance.”
The farm includes a processing facility complete with a walk-in cooler, freezer, electric hoist, and processing table for hunters to use. The farm also has a nice mobile home that will sleep six hunters. It has an enclosed outside porch area to store hunting clothing and equipment, satellite TV, a full kitchen, and two bathrooms. Optional food for the hunters can be provided. The farm also provides three utility vehicles for the hunters to use on the property.
“We have a lot of return hunters. They are pretty much all from out of state,” Crawford said. “Approximately 70% of our clients in 2018 are returning for at least their third year, with some returning for their 13th season.”
For more information, visit crawfordfarmshunting.com.