September 2008
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Ashville Co-op Offering a Different Type of Hunting Rental

  Click to enlarge
  Chris Duke (left), manager, and Johnny Barksdale, warehouse manager, of St. Clair Farmers Co-op in Ashville are getting the ATV rental equipment ready not only for those wanting to plant hunting plots but also the possibility of renting it to those preparing backyard gardens next spring.
By Suzy Lowry Geno

You have two clearings on the back side of your farm, away from the highway and even the remotest neighbors. It’s the perfect spot for those hunting plots where you can take your two sons to sit quietly in a tree stand on cool crisp fall mornings….

But the areas ARE way back in the boonies and your tractor is just too big to travel there and you don’t think too kindly about hand-spading up vegetation roots that have a clinch-hold in that particular section of Alabama dirt.

Don’t despair! Chris Duke may just have the answer to your dilemma!

For a flat fee of $125 he will rent you a trailer already stocked with a disc, cultivator, packer, spreader and drag which are fitted to hook up to your All-Terrain-Vehicle (ATV)!

ATV equipment ready to rent on the trailer include a disc, cultivator, packer, spreader and drag.  
ATV equipment ready to rent on the trailer include a disc, cultivator, packer, spreader and drag.

"We sell the ATV equipment as well but if you’re just going to use it once or twice a year, you might just want to rent it," Duke said. "Or if you just want to try it out and see how well it works before you decide to buy. Either way, it’s a win-win situation."

Duke explained that while it is illegal in Alabama to "bait" property to attract deer or wild turkeys, "you can hunt over anything that is grown on your property."

And being able to rent the equipment to plant your food plots isn’t the only thing that’s changing.

"It used to be most folks planted their plots with wheat, oats, rye, grain and clover. But now lots of hunters are planting clover fields. There’s some that’s developed by Biologic which is high in protein and great for antler growth," Duke pointed out.

While the other plants must be reseeded every year, and usually fertilized heavily, clover doesn’t need much fertilizer because it produces its own nitrogen so it usually just needs some potash and some lime. And that initial seeding usually lasts from three to five years.

Whether you want to switch to the newer ideas, or plant the food plots the way you’ve done it "for years," Duke said the Ashville Co-op is the place to shop: from the seeds, to quality duck calls, to Carhartt clothing and Wolverine boots.

Chris isn’t just a budding expert on growing all sorts of plants for hunting, he’s busy "growing" the Ashville store as well!

This year was the second year in a row St. Clair County was indicated to be the fastest growing county in Alabama, based on population estimates prepared by the U.S. Census Bureau, with its population increasing 8% in the past two years.

"We’re working hard to keep up with that growth and all the changes that go with it," Duke remarked.

In the four years Duke has been Ashville’s manager, he’s overseen the building of a 40 x 60 foot warehouse, an increase of 2,000 to 3,000 new products in the showroom and innovative new ideas like the food plot equipment trailer.

"We’re fortunate in our area to still have several of the larger farms," Duke stated. "But there are also a lot of backyard gardeners and folks with just a few head of cattle or a few horses. Then there are the landscapers and the contractors getting the new homes and subdivisions ready. We want to serve them all.

"But our biggest increase in emphasis has probably been toward the hunters. Hunting is a big industry, big business here. I think hunting is a proud tradition as well.

"I’ve been a hunter ever since I could walk. My granddaddy, Bud Duke, used to take me with him when I was just six or seven years old. I was too young to even hold a gun, but I could get up early and go with him."

Chris and his wife Sandra have daughter Shelby, 13, and son Triston, 4.

"Triston will put on his camouflage and go sit on the porch and wait for deer," Duke said of the family hunting tradition he’s continuing.

Duke said the abundance of wild turkeys in the area make turkey hunting "to me more exciting then hunting deer. You have to call them, you hear them gobble. It’s just a unique experience."

But the idea doesn’t stop with just the food plot trailer. The Ashville Co-op’s warehouse manager Johnny Barksdale came up with the idea of renting the same ATV equipment to back yard gardeners who might just want to plow a small plot in their back yard.

Even that goes one step further. If all goes well, Duke hopes by next spring to provide an even more complete package.

If you can’t, or simply don’t want to, prepare and plant your foot plot OR your backyard garden, they hope to be able to do everything you need from testing the soil, preparing the soil, planting the seed, upkeep and fertilization.

"Whether you want to rent the equipment and do it yourself; or have us come out and prepare the plot and then you plant; or whether you want us to do the whole thing, we’re hoping we start the entire process by next spring," Duke explained.

"We hopefully will be able to do the whole package or just part of it."

While those plans are still being made, the ATV trailer and all its equipment are ready for use right now. You just need to call the Ashville Co-op at (205) 594-7042 or come by their store in Ashville right on U.S. 231 to set up a rental date.

And come to think of it, you might want to just stop by anyway and see just what other news ideas Duke and his four employees are "growing this week!"

 Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County.