The word homestead typically evokes visions of the Wild West. There is also a deep association with the Homestead Act of 1862, a land program that gave potential farmers 160 free acres as long as they were willing to work and live on the land. While the scale of that offer has long since passed, you can still find yourself a small plot of homestead land for a farm or ranch setup today. There are many different types of homesteads and a multitude of ways to go about finding one that meets your needs. Once familiarized with the most common, narrow the focus to your ideal plot and the process that is required in securing a deed. Much of it depends upon your own hard work and persistence as no one will drop homesteading land in your lap. To extend a helping hand, we've rounded up everything you need to know about this often confusing, and less evangelized process in your pursuit of beautiful, free land.
The DIY Approach
The U.S. government doesn't give away free land anymore, but some state and local governments do. If the goal is spending little to no money for your new home, that's where you'll be looking, but it's going to take some legwork.
First, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but if you are only interested in free hunting or fishing land, you're probably out of luck. Most land owners who get their mitts on a piece of real estate like that are very reluctant to let go of it, and most cheap land is often not well suited for hunting. But, if you are creative and persistent enough, you might get close to what you're looking for. Just don't expect anyone to do the research for you.
Land for Outdoor Recreation
If you are looking for a homestead for hunting, fishing, or camping, your first stop should be the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The Last Frontier is one of the few remaining places still actively putting land out there for new settlers. While this land will not be completely free, it is probably as cheap as you will find pristine, truly wild land. We're talking about off the grid living here for the most part, so be prepared to commit yourself to a level of homesteading that's ratcheted up a few notches.
There are three ways the Alaska DNR sells their land: first, by a sealed-bid auction, where potential buyers submit a sealed-bid with their highest price and the highest bid wins the right to buy the piece of property; secondly, by a over-the-counter (OTC) sales system, where land is sectioned off and then sold for directly at or under the appraised value; and finally through a site staking system, where you actually get to go and stake a claim for a property, which is then assessed and sold to you for the appraised market value.
Ease into Homesteading
Besides Alaska, you'll have to think outside the box to get inexpensive, wilderness homesteading land that allows you the freedom of hunting and fishing. One way to do this for free would be house or land sitting.
Many people who have large lands or properties use them as second properties but need them cared for all year long. There are many long-term house or land sitting opportunities, not only in the United States but around the world. Check the web for sites specific to these opportunities, as well as on places like Craigslist.
This process will let you start small and work your way into fully understanding and accepting the work involved in owning your own homestead. Whether you're getting paid to oversee the land, or you're just able to use it and live on it for free, it's a nice way to introduce yourself to the idea and ensure it's something you truly want to commit to.
Cough It Up
Outside of these opportunities, you are probably looking at purchasing your own piece of land if you want a place with no restrictions on which you can hunt and fish. This option gives you a little more freedom when it comes to where you are going to live, but it also means that you may have to come up with some big time cash if you want prime land, and that can set you back in your attempts at going fully self-sufficient.
If your goal is less wilderness-connected, and you are not necessarily concerned with large acreage but more with having access to build a proper home and life, then the options are a little more open. It may be a little easier if you do not care where you live, because it will be quicker to jump on those opportunities when they pop up. Many off-grid homesteaders acquire their own little piece of heaven simply by not being too picky. And if you are looking for a new adventure, it can be exciting not knowing whether you will be living in Ohio, Colorado, Maine, or New York during the search. Cast a wide net with realtors, you may be surprised what they call to offer you.
Local governments in some states have free land programs that give away parcels for just this purpose. This land is usually located in rural areas or small towns. Areas that participate in these programs are hoping for more small farms, people to populate certain areas, and eventually more full-time jobs in their communities.
States to Consider for Homesteading
States in particular who have a large number of homesteading opportunities are Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota, but it's more so through city municipalities. Plainview, Kansas, Elwood, Nebraska, and Flagler, Colorado are just a few examples. The great thing about many of these properties is that they come at no to low costs, and some even include extended property tax benefits. There are literally acres of land begging to be homesteaded.
Though many times they will have strings attached, which may include specific requirements for when or how a house must be built, and even specifications on the size or layout of the house. But, if those are things you are willing to work with and compromise on, you can be sitting on prime land in an up-and-coming community for little to no cost on the property.
The best way to find these particular homesteading opportunities is to contact local governments. Many have offerings listed on the web, but there are many more that may be available if you make the effort to search them out.
Figure out (generally) where you want to live, and start making phone calls. If you are passionate and show a willingness to work hard, you'll be surprised at how quickly doors will start to open for homesteaders.
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