by Lori Capullo
Four years ago, when the Williamson family purchased the original 3,600 acres that would become home to Honey Lake Plantation, the plan was for the patriarch, Bob Williamson — who had just sold his software company — to retire there with his family. “But then we had so many neighbors contact us to have their weddings out here, we figured we would do enough to cover overhead,” says COO Jon Williamson, Bob’s son. “It just kept expanding from there.” Today, in addition to weddings, spiritual retreats and other events, 25% to 30% of the property’s total business comes from hunting and fishing revenue.
What it costs: (for quail hunts, including lodging, meals, skeet/trap/warm-ups, licenses, guides, dogs, ear protection, transportation from Tallahassee Airport and on-property transportation)
Single Occupancy/Double Occupancy
3 night/2 day: $2,150 / $1,950
4 night/3 day: $3,000 / $2,750
5 night/4 day: $3,845 / $3,475
Who comes: “We have customers coming from Colorado, Minnesota, New York, Texas, you name it, and there’s a huge market up here for south Floridians,” Williamson says. Honey Lake Plantation is also a favorite spot for corporate retreats; companies often hold meetings in the mornings and then head out in the afternoons to hunt.
Catch and eat: “We have a smokehouse, so if a guest ends up with 30 or 40 quail, our staff will clean them, and the chef will prepare them for dinner. He has about 35 recipes, and in one night he’ll do five different ones.”
Harold Ross, who retired at age 42 from his position as CEO of a software company and spent three years traveling and hunting around the world, decided to open his hunting ranch after discovering that lots of places “overpromised and under-delivered.” He bought the property 16 years ago and opened it to the public in 2000. Today, he says, “We get people from all over world — Russia, Spain, Germany, Australia, New Zealand. But I’d still say that probably 60% of my business comes from Florida residents.” And like most other attractions in Florida, the busiest season is from mid-October to mid-April.
What it costs: $295 per hunter per night or $145 per night for non-hunters. The fee includes lodging, meals, snacks, a guide, ranch vehicles, fuel and having the staff skin, quarter and clean your game. There’s also a harvest fee for what you actually shoot. “You can spend as little or as much as you want,” Ross says. “For example, a Florida white tail buck is one price; wild hog is another. Then there is some exotic game that can become pricey — like a trophy Asian water buffalo, which will run you $2,900.”
Who comes: “We do have a lot of first-time hunters. But we also get guys who have hunted Africa 20 times over. We have women hunting here almost every week.”
For nearly 12 years, Little Lake Lodge has been offering swamp buggy hunts, archery hunting, gun hunting, half- and full-day fishing trips, lodging, meals and even processing of game and taxidermy. Bob Hayes and his partner, Daryl Hazellief, say they provide “all the gear, guns and land and instruction for first-timers,” says Hayes. “A lot of people get hooked. Occasionally, someone doesn’t like it; but this way, they don’t have the major expense of buying all their own equipment before they discover that.”
What it costs: “We price according to budget, time, just about any way you want us to. When I put together this model, I decided to focus on the working guy who can’t necessarily afford a $2,000 deer hunt every year. For $300 for a half-day here, you can shoot quail and have a great time. We clean everything for you. You just need to grab some ice on the way out, and you can bring it home in a cooler.” Pricing is customized to the package desired.
The prey: Hog, Osceola turkey, alligator, dove, duck, quail, small game and deer.
Who comes: Locals do getaway weekends, often with their families, as well as executives who bring customers to entertain them or employees to thank them, from all over the country and the world. “We just had a group here a week ago on a business trip from Beijing,” says Hayes.