South Central Florida is a mecca for hunters, fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts of every kind. The natural treasure of the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee affords outdoorsmen boundless opportunities for exploration. And from trophy largemouth bass, many exceeding 10 pounds, to a variety of duck and game hunting, Camp Okeechobee, in Okeechobee, Fla., is the perfect location to combine both shooting and outdoor sports with camping.
Jeff Wait, the owner and manager of the shooting sports facility and campground shared the attraction of his facility in remote Southern Fla. with WOODALLSCM.com (WCM).
“We’re probably just 10-minutes from Lake Okeechobee,” he shared. “It’s famous for its bass fishing. But there are actually more people that come here for shooting sports than bass fishing. They hunt duck, deer, hogs and alligators. There are a number of hunting preserves out here that have different activities as well. There are several very high-end shooting clubs in Okeechobee with $30 million-plus facilities. Ours is about 100 acres.”
Wait said he ran the shooting center before he added the campground.
“The shooting center has been here for about 12 years,” he explained. “We just opened the campground side of it a short time ago. We are in phase one of that process. Our business was good and steady in 2021. We have 24 different ranges here and there are shooting sports for every interest, from sporting clays to rifle and pistol ranges.”
Camp Okeechobee’s website states that if you are looking for peace and quiet, this might not be your spot.
“We may not be that ‘quite pristine creekside sanctuary for meditation,’ but we are a campground for outdoor enthusiasts that enjoy the shooting, motocross sports and outdoor sports lifestyle,” explained Wait.
The shooting side of the business has its own website at www.okshooting.com that showcases the massive facilities with 24 gun ranges and courses. This includes skeet, trap and sporting clay shotgunning ranges, even a 500-yard rifle range. Gunsmithing shops are on-site for the repair and modifications of firearms. A pro shop provides safety classes and instruction, and a gun shop provides licensed sales of firearms, ammo and even rentals.
Wait said that the security and safety of the facility are the top priorities of the business with check-in, wrist-band ID and rules set forth clearly to all guests. Private ranges are also provided for events and gatherings.
The camping side of the business is springing from the need to attract more visitors to the site, once he overcame the hurdles from local government officials.
“We had wanted to do camping from the initial founding but it was a matter of getting it through the county,” Wait explained. “That was a bit of a hassle, but we finally got that done. Actually, we got it approved probably three or four years ago. And then it was a matter of getting permits and contractors lined up, and that sort of thing.”
Phase one of the camping side started with 30 sites and is expanding from there.
“Right now, there are only 30 sites, but by the time we’re done with phase three, it will be 100,” he said. “The park will have 20 tent sites, 60 RV sites and 20 cabins when completed. Our initial goal was to just attract those interested in shooting sports, but there is a motocross facility next to us and we get a lot of campers that ride there as well.
“And then we get a lot of sportsmen that are either going duck hunting or fishing on the lake,” Wait added. “And they want to stay next to their boat, so they can keep an eye on everything or bring their dog with them. Not always the easiest thing to do at a hotel, so they prefer to come here.”
The nature of his business is to attract more short-term destination campers.
“We’re more of a transient type setup as opposed to people that stay for the winter,” Wait reported. “So, there’s sometimes a few days during the week that are slower than others. But most of the other campgrounds in south Florida are really set up for people that are going to stay the winter. That is an advantage to us because there are not a lot of places if you were just cruising through Florida with your RV with sites available.”
Because his business model is so unique, Wait feels as though he is on uncharted ground.
“Everything that we’re doing is brand new,” he said. “We will make an expanded agility dog park and all of our RV sites are pull-through, except for the tent sites. We’re going to add more pedestals for electric vehicles as we build out these next two segments of RV sites. Now that they’re coming out with electric trucks, we’ll be able to handle those too.”
Like many expanding campgrounds, challenges include labor on every front.
“It’s really a construction challenge,” he lamented. “It’s like everybody else, just trying to get the parts, equipment and contractors together in a timely manner to get things done is tough.”
But Wait believes the future of camping is trending in his direction.
“There are segments of the camping market that are looking for some sort of adventure,” said Wait. “In other words, people are looking to learn something or overcome something or just do something more than sitting there. I wouldn’t say the demographics are changing as much as that group is being added to what was there. There’s room for any kind of park, but things that are more unique certainly stand out and will get people’s business.”