By Suzy Lowry Geno
||Marshall Farmers Co-op, Albertville, Manager Jason Plunket (right) enjoys the view from the lodge with Dream Ranch manager, Will Ainsworth. Jason works closely with Will to provide just the right fertilization for wildlife seed crops that are purchased from the Co-op.
"A Hunter’s Dream Come True" is much more than a slogan for the Ainsworth family at Dream Ranch in Marshall County’s Brown’s Valley.
"We want to make folks’ visit to the ranch an entire memorable experience," Will Ainsworth explained.
Ainsworth, the ranch’s president and manager, said his family’s goal is to not only make the approximate 1,500 acres the best hunting preserve in the Southeast, but also to live out their own life-long dreams of building such a retreat.
That’s one reason construction is nearing completion on an almost 10,000 square foot hunting lodge whose rustic appearance belies all the amenities hidden inside.
The lodge, located atop the ranch’s highest peak, gives visitors a breathtaking view of Guntersville Lake and its causeway in one direction and mountainous terrain equal to any in the Smokey Mountains in the other. There’s a hot tub on a lower level balcony that lets you relax as you drink in the sites.
|According to Will Ainsworth, his crop of three year old breeding bucks are likely the largest herd in the southeast with an average scoring of 200 inches or more on the Boone and Crocket trophy scale.
Balconies and porches add about another 2,000 square feet to the lodge’s living area.
Quail hunters can shoot skeet directly from an extension on the back second floor balcony!
According to Bud B. Builder’s Construction Company Superintendent Scott McCurdy, the massive logs are white pine, the floors are to be heart pine and white pine on all walls except one that features a specialty cypress.
What looks to be native Alabama stacked rock on the fireplaces and outside trim is actually a new, durable man-made rock product from Arrowhead Stone in Knoxville, TN.
A large, flat screen TV is being installed above the massive fireplace in the main lodge living area. The kitchen will feature all commercial grade stainless steel appliances where Dream Ranch’s talented cook can create the finest of Southern cooking.
A loft area features a private master bedroom suite with full bath and garden tub for hunters and visitors who bring their wives. Likewise, two of the bedrooms on the lower floor also features private bedrooms and baths.
A pro shop and office round out the first floor.
In the basement, there is a special unit for handicapped hunters, featuring a bathroom where a wheelchair can be rolled right into the shower or directly underneath the sink and vanity. An elevator makes the entire building handicap accessible as well.
||Construction is nearing completion on a nearly 10,000 square foot hunting lodge located on the highest point on the 1500 acre ranch. Balconies and porches add about another 2000 square feet to the lodge’s living area and give visitors a breathtaking view of Guntersville Lake.
The lower floor features more bedrooms, another "hang out area" according to Ainsworth, including a pool table, coffee bar, poker table, chess board/backgammon table and more!
And don’t think the locker room will be just damp clothes and mud! Private lockers specially crafted of wood by Gary Idson Wood Specialists in Guntersville give hunters and explorers ample room for their guns and other equipment.
A laundry room featuring three commercial washers and three dryers is just across from an equipment room.
Jeremy Robinson of Robinson and Waldrop Landscaping will soon be completing plantings around the massive rock retaining walls.
The lodge alone will be worth a trip to Dream Ranch BUT it’s only a small part included in the ten-mile parameter of fenced area (which includes about 30 miles of roads, trails and paths!).
About 100 deer hunters visited the ranch during its first year of operation in 2002 but this year more than 500 deer and quail hunters are expected. The 2007-08 deer season is already fully booked.
About 30 separate fields are planted with a wide variety of wheat, grain sorghum, millet, lespedezas and winter greens for deer and the large quail population. Jason Plunket, manager of Marshall Farmers Co-op in Albertville, works closely with Ainsworth to provide just the right fertilization for all seed crops that are purchased there.
Plunket, who’s headed the Albertville store for a decade, said it’s exciting to see what the Ainsworths are doing at Dream Ranch.
"This is a way of preserving our agricultural lands and showcasing the type of diversity that many of our rural landowners are leaning toward," he said.
As he rode throughout the area to the new 30-foot deep several-acre lake still under construction, Plunket and Ainsworth recently discussed how trophy bass fishing will, by next year, be added to the ranch’s many experiences.
The ranch also features several test fields monitored by experts from Auburn University, where Ainsworth graduated with a degree in business marketing. (That’s where he met his wife Kendall, a Mississippi native, who has a degree in human development family systems and works at the Marshall County Even Start Program.)
Ainsworth said, "The Auburn plots are monitored to see which crops are more palatable to deer."
Ainsworth, president of ALFA’s Marshall County Young Farmers, explained that warm and cool season plots are planted throughout the ranch to increase antler development. The world-class shooting houses can accommodate one to four folks. All deer hunts are one-on-one with a fully-trained Alabama-born guide.
Two special Kubota all-terrain vehicles have platforms on the back for quail hunting "in plantation style" so hunters have a perfect spot to view the several well-trained pointers, setters and brittanys as they hunt for coveys. There are half or full-day hunts available for quail from October first through spring.
An added bonus Ainsworth said he did not expect has been the ranch’s profitable and exciting deer breeding program, separate and completely away from the hunting operations.
Twenty fenced pens of three to five acres with ten-foot fencing, as well as specialized lower fencing for predator control, are located across the highway and valley from the hunting areas.
Does and fawns are kept in a separate area with those fawns being sold only to other preserves and farms as breeding stock. Fawns are weighed, catalogued, tagged, vaccinated and wormed directly after they are born with hair samples taken to assure which doe is their mother, so they can make certain bloodlines of the herd bucks are kept pure.
All does on the property have genetics to produce bucks of at least 200-inch, according to Ainsworth, providing a crop of three year olds that are likely to be the largest herd in the Southeast with an average scoring of 200-inch or more on the Boone and Crockett trophy scale.
Breeding bucks are also kept in their own fenced preserve away from all hunting.
"We want to stress that our breeding program is completely separate from our hunting areas," Ainsworth explained.
Ainsworth has done extensive study in AI and in all areas of farm management, breeding and wildlife management.
For the first two years, Dream Ranch, LLC (a family operated holding including Will’s dad, Bill, the owner) hired Doug Leitcch, founder of Wildlife Services, to help in establishing the ranch and continuing Will’s training.
Now Ainsworth himself is available for consulting on everything from high and low fence management, doe management, infrared camera surveys and whitetail deer farm consulting including genetics, deer behavior, AI, record keeping, nutritional requirements, fawn rearing, parental matching, semen collection and processing, and more.
If all that isn’t enough, Ainsworth hopes to eventually host summer camps for children and teens, showing them the best of nature and the importance of conservation. "I’d like to have a Christian camp in the summer. Teach them archery, marksmanship; let them enjoy fishing and hiking. That could be one more way the farm is utilized in the summer," Ainsworth said.
And how does the Ainsworth family measure their success: "We have a 96 percent return rate on our clients," he said. "Whatever the reason for their visit, we want their stay here, whether a half-day or a whole weekend, to truly be a ‘world class’ experience, a complete getaway."
Ainsworth can be contacted directly at 256-302-1724 or by writing 7620 Browns Valley Road, Guntersville, AL 35976 or on the web at www.dreamranch.org
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County.