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2023 & Beyond - MDLO Hunts Explained

Over the last six years of taking hunters out into southern Iowa, in a variety of different forms, straight up guiding, fully guided, semi-guided, DIY, hybrid DIY+semi-guided, etc., I have seen not one person that has the same hunting mindset and thought process. Hunting is very individualized. Sometimes, especially from more social hunting states where groups of guys hunt together and learn from one another, views and opinions blend. Yet, I am confident that every one of us hunters could disagree with another about at least something, maybe more. That variance is huge! As an outfitter, I can say that I have seen A LOT of variance. So, I am contemplating making a Google Form that I can upload to the site for visitors, clients, past clients, future clients can all fill out on this topic. I want to really dive into the variance, any established patterns, and be able to further adjust or critique MDLO's hunts to better serve. Of course, it will be impossible to please every single hunter. I can honestly say that after this much time, I have had a majority of pleasurable feedback and input. Yet, those few that disagree mightily with MDLO is worthy of this effort from us.


So, as our new website shows: a Hybrid Hunt Model as DIY+Semi-Guided is relatively simple to understand. There are aspects of our hunts where MDLO offers freedom (DIY) actions/decisions as well as restriction (semi-guided). We reserve the right to adjust this per hunter at any moment. Why? If MDLO has to step in and take action to prevent a hunter from messing up their own hunt, it will be done promptly. If MDLO feels comfortable enough letting hunters take it upon themselves to do something (hang a new set, move a set, pop a blind up, move a blind, set their own cameras, move cameras, scout from within the farm, scout from afar by the road, etc.) MDLO will let the hunter(s) do it. Case-by-case. It is the responsibility of the hunter to prove to and convince MDLO of such. No, it's not as simple as just paying us the hunt cost and having free-reign. Unfortunately, we have seen too many of our hunters go against our guidance, in full or in part, and have them leave at the end of their hunt with a tag in their pocket - not acceptable if at all possible to influence. Relative to the minute, per hunter, per farm, this is MDLO's right and discretion. There is not a single mold this fits into, so further explanation is hard to do. It is best to ask MDLO questions prior to booking, prior to hunting, and while hunting. Improve your knowledge and approach, learn from your mistakes (or just don't make them), and it should be smooth sailing from there. MDLO will make every effort to communicate A LOT of information to you before booking and before hunting to make sure you are ready to hunt with them in southern Iowa.


I had one former MDLO hunter say that we do not offer a "proactive hunting experience" and that we should explain such to our hunters better... which can be translated a few different ways....


1) We do not try to control the hunt but rather let it play out

2) We are not physically present to influence the hunt/hunter enough

3) We are basically selling a lease vs. a hunt


I responded back asking if the following was considered proactive:


- Running trail cameras June - February

- Running summer/off-season mineral/feed sites

- Studying aerial maps of farm & neighborhood all year

- Planting or Buying Back Food Plots

- Scouting the farm on-foot during off-season

- Shed hunting the farm in late winter

- Selectively putting choice stands/blinds out


In my opinion, those all meet the "proactive" definition. Everyone has the right to their opinion though, what do you think? Are we just not sniffing it? Let us know.


I also stated to him that he was assuming, despite almost constant and obvious clarification and explanation otherwise, that MDLO does not offer "fully guided" hunts, which would include travel to/from farms and stands, potentially sitting with them during their sits, bringing them lunch midday, moving them constantly if unhappy with deer activity or farm, trying to find a big deer elsewhere to hunt aside from where hunter is currently at, etc. I did those hunts in 2016 and part of 2017. They are fun and also exhausting. They also cost a lot more money which would be directed in the direction of the hunter. The amount of money that it would cost a an outfitter to produce (before mark-up/profit) for the vehicle usage/upkeep, equipment, gasoline, food, and time would be relatively more, like $100-200+ per day. Driving a truck for 8-10 hours per day (or more if going dark to dark) is expensive... gas, tires, oil changes. Add a little profit on that and you're sitting $250+ a day? 7-Day Hunt prices would increase by $1,750 @ $250/day add-on cost. Add-on lodging (huge range high to low) and meals (huge range high to low) and now outfitters can either raise prices astronomically to keep camp sizes small OR try to run as many hunters through as possible in excess of 25-30 per year to try and "cost share" for these things amongst hunters all while losing farm and deer integrity by too much hunting pressure. What would you rather do? Pay more to keep pressure and hunting quality as high as possible or pay less and suffer a loss to hunting quality and farm integrity? I know where my vote would go... It's about the hunt and the hunting quality. If you can't say the same, and if you can't make sense of the hunt costs that go into producing this, you're likely not a good candidate to come hunt with MDLO. I'm just being honest.


We have kept our hunt costs low in previous years to try and help hunters (wasn't admired or respected by all), and we still had a couple guys complain about what they got for their money. I guess this is normal for any business... customers wanting more for their money than what you're able to provide. Of course, we have some awesome clients who take up the majority, but still. "You will never please everyone." It is true, but I'd like to try. This is why in bookings for 2018, we offered a "Custom Hunt Booking" option which allowed for hunters to completely dictate what they would pay (dollars) and what they would receive for such (return).


I only had one gentleman utilize such for bow season (others did gun hunts), and he was perfectly setup to make the most of his hunt with a very large investment, basically double what one hunt costs. He was getting his money's worth, but unfortunately, he had a ton of scheduling conflicts between family/wife/kids and work, that he only got to hunt a few days. I offered him the ability to come back whenever he could during the year, but the schedule never worked out for him. Yet, I felt horrible for him and he is still welcomed back to finish his hunt when he can draw a tag again, likely to be no earlier than 2024 or 2025 with the way the preference point system will creep up costing more points for a bow tag.


I was shocked that more people did not take advantage of such a raw ability to dictate exactly what their money was going for. I stopped offering such as it was taking up space on our website. If anyone would like me to open this back up, let me know. If enough hunters would be interested in it, I would gladly do that for you all.


Now, our hunts are offered, in direct correlation to the dates allowed per season, as 7-day hunts with the exclusion of Gun Season #1 (First Regular Gun Season) due to it only being 5 days long. So, one whole week of hunting dark to dark. That is a lot of stand time, and guys will get tired because of it. I see it every year. It is NOT an easy hunt. Of course, you could kill in the first 2 hours of your hunt. Yep, it has happened. You could kill in the last 2 hours of your hunt. Yep, it has happened in the last 5 minutes! That is the range of potential. Also, you could hunt 7 days straight without shooting a good buck. Guess what? That is always a potential outcome when hunting 100% wild, free-ranging whitetails in southern Iowa. We do have some past booked clients who we are honoring the 7-21 days (i.e., Bravo Section - Archery).


For a few years, we only offered archery hunts, but due to the tag limitations and obviously a reduction in operational cash flow, it actually became slightly harder to produce the hunts compared to when we offered both archery and firearm hunts. So, now we are back to offering both gun and bow options. We have 5 archery hunt slots and 4 gun hunt slots. We are taking no more than 5 hunters per week as an average during those 7-day hunts. This will be very helpful to our farms and the overall pressure that accompanies outfitted hunts and the aggressive nature of them due to the time constraints (versus being able to hunt all year long as a local Iowan).


I am sure that in the future there will be more blog posts discussing our hunts, different hunting scenarios to use as examples of what could, what should, what will happen during the hunts. We could honestly write about it forever. It is very hard to describe our hunts as a one-size-fits-all type or that it fits into one singular mold. There are simply too many variables as to what makes and/or breaks a hunt in southern Iowa. If it was that easy to kill a booner, more people would be doing it. It is hard! Odds are not usually in your favor despite what you read from other outfits and famous TV/online hunting personalities.


I will try to generalize as much as I can about our hunt factors:


1) Affording the hunt price as advertised

This is strictly in your sole control and only relative to you and your financial standing/status. Of course, you can always try to negotiate or barter, but you'll get what you pay for, good or bad.


2) The price of the hunt as advertised

This is strictly in MDLO's sole control and only relative to MDLO. Of course, MDLO can change this or accept more/less in form of negotiations and bartering with hunters but it will cost MDLO loss if such occurs. Prices have reasoning behind them that some people fail to acknowledge.


3) The preference points needed to draw

This is strictly the Iowa DNR's topic because they, along with the State of Iowa (government), dictates the number of tags allotted each year and for which seasons/zones. So, entering the lottery system and inherently playing the game uniquely and solely influences the value of your preference points in regards to drawing the tag. The number of hunters that apply and their respective preference points also dictate your value in comparison to their's.


4) The timing of your availability to hunt

This is strictly within your control, directly or indirectly, as families, work, emergencies, etc., all fall under the 'you' umbrella. You must do your best to make your schedule work with what hunt slot you want and what hunt slot MDLO is able to offer you in a present tense. It is a first-come-first-serve basis.


5) The availability of your hunt with MDLO

This is strictly within MDLO's control due to offering the hunt slots at a price with specific quantity/availability limitations that MDLO sets and operates under each year. Once a hunt is sold and spoken for, the only adjustment can come from MDLO. MDLO will only offer an alternative if it can be so without issue onto other clients and bookings.


6) The overhead (input costs) that comes out of the hunt price

This is mostly, like 95% or more out of either MDLO's control or your control. The market, economy, retail businesses, etc., all have influence on the overhead price that goes into it. MDLO tries to account for a slight increase in cost, and if lucky, MDLO may make slightly more if MDLO is able to save. This is the annual game of profit vs. loss that MDLO plays by nature of the business. Yet, MDLO has to agree to the prices as well to provide the overhead product/service to the hunter for the hunt. It's a tug of war back & forth every year. Considering the post-COVID international economy and supply chain, it is hard to know what the future holds regarding such input/overhead costs. Add inflation to such, and it is getting steep.


7) The profit (net gains) that comes out of the hunt price

As mentioned above in item #6, that is almost not up to you or MDLO as those same influences & context apply here. MDLO has to make something to stay afloat, so naturally like any business, MDLO will try to profit as much as possible.


8) The itemized input costs as physical items (leases, equipment, etc.)

Each item, especially when it applies to the value of the hunt, are almost not a deciding factor in the hunt. Which stand, blind, camera, etc., none of it truly influences the outcome of the hunt. Could it make the hunt more comfortable or easier? Sure. At the end of the day the deer and the tag are the focus, but the leases might be the biggest item here. Gaining private access is a science and an art combined because it is not just about money. It is about connections, friendships, real estate selling/buying, crop/commodity prices, etc. Getting ahold of leases is not very easy, and it is easier to lose them than gain them. Yet, the lease can be the most important physical item of a hunt, and MDLO is well aware of that. We make an effort to find and lease the best available ground that we can, and we will always have turnover on leases from year to year because that is just the nature of it.


9) The itemized input costs as intangible items (time, effort, etc.)

This is a tough one. As much as we would like to place a strict cost or value onto our time, effort, expertise, effort, etc., we can't. More likely, that value is built into the hunt price and is adjusted based on what MDLO needs to operate while also what MDLO is able to save by time the year is up. It is not always that easy though as there is pay every month for output/input costs while we only have two scheduled payment due dates for our hunters. It requires a lot of balancing which is often more challenging than not. Yet, we do our best for you here at MDLO.


10) The deer potential that could be on the farm during or around the hunt

Each farm is unique. MDLO purposely spreads out their farms to better cover more ground/land that would then increase the overall # of potential deer that could visit any given farm on any given day. We try to understand what the neighborhood is capable of producing during the hunting season, and that gives us a high-to-low range. Honestly, it is possible to be skunked any day of your hunt and it is possible to see a shooter buck any day of your hunt. Neither you or MDLO is able to control the overall deer potential for any given farm. It is what it is. Free-range whitetails!


11) The weather that could happen during or around the hunt

This is obviously outside of any control. Mother Nature is crazy and unpredictable. We are at her mercy the whole year, not just during the hunt, and some things from weather can cause lasting affects for years to come. Your entire hunt could be negatively affected by the weather up to and including not seeing a shooter or having a shot opportunity. The only thing we can try to do is be aware of the forecast and plan accordingly within both the hunter's and MDLO's capabilities.


12) The moon phase during and around the hunt

Maybe not as serve as the weather and Mother Nature, the moon phase still influences deer activity enough that it could still negatively affect the hunt up to and including not seeing a shooter or having a shot opportunity. Of course, this is truly outside of MDLO's control and also your control. This should be taken into account because it is known in advance and you can plan your hunt around such if you feel so inclined. That is strictly your choice, not MDLO's.


13) The actual shooter bucks that could be on the farm during or around the hunt

Even more so than item #10 above, the actual shooter bucks, whether we know about them or not, are there. They are out there. MDLO has killed more unknown bucks than known bucks, but that varies each year. The better the rut and the colder the December, the better the total number of bucks we see and we kill. This is strictly in the control of the deer on an individual basis. MDLO can "try" to attract more, within legal confines, but it is still 100% up to the buck. Wild, free-range whitetails are spontaneous and unpredictable because its a wild creature. Plain & simple. This is the single-most important aspect of your hunt and neither you nor MDLO can truly control or majorly influence such.


14) The specific placement of equipment on the farm for the hunt

For instance, where a stand is hung or a blind is set, the direction it faces, the relativity of where that is in connection with the rest of the farm, specific land attributes such as boundary lines/fences, fields, wood blocks, creek lines, natural funnels, pinch points, CRP, topography/terrain, etc. That is the most debatable topic as there is no way to ever know if there is a right or wrong answer until after you go hunt and try it out. It's a complete guess and up to MDLO. MDLO does selectively allow some (if not all) hunters to hang their own sets (blinds or stands) to add set options so therefore the hunter is able to then dictate more so where equipment is on the farm. Still, there is no way to know any spot is better than the other.


15) The usage of above equipment on the farm properly for the hunt

Doing the "right thing" with the hunt involves using the equipment properly when and where it is needed to successfully complete the hunt. Even if such was perfect, the deer still has sole control over whether or not that spot or equipment is sufficient. We would like to think we can improve our odds by proper usage, but that's a thin rope to walk. If a hunter misuses a stand and clunks his foot against the footrest and it makes a loud metallic noise and spooks a deer off, whether the hunter knows it or not, that just attributed to potentially missing an opportunity at filling that tag.


16) The outfitter's control of the hunt outcome/happenings

Some things are truly in MDLO's control (where a hunter is told to go, when to go there, how to hunt the farm, what to do when walking in and out, while sitting there, etc. Very much an open-ended topic, MDLO's discretion is used uniquely per hunt per day per hunter. There is not a one-size-fits-all mold here. Of course, MDLO is trying to get a tag filled, but it is not that easy. Yet, MDLO is 110% trying to control as much as possible to produce that end result that is desired. Unfortunately, a lot of that of which is controllable is already finished and in stone by time the hunt starts. That means it was a "guess" or an investment into the risk vs. reward by MDLO on behalf of you. The outcome, good or bad, is partially MDLO's responsibility, but it is impossible to assign such properly with certainty.


17) The risk of the hunter not properly conducting themselves during the hunt

This is one of the top 3 most important topics regarding a hunt along with the deer themselves and weather. We have seen this negatively happen as often or even more often than we have see the weather negatively influence a hunt. Unfortunately, that is not within MDLO's control and solely the hunter's. MDLO will be very proactive about educating each hunter, but the hunter takes the overwhelming majority of the responsibility on this topic. Leaving a stand too early or too late, spooking deer off, making poor choices regarding scent control, calling (grunts/rattling/snort-wheezes), eating lunch, using their phone, messing around in their backpack, etc., are all potential things that can hurt the hunt if timing is wrong. Of course, the ideal is not obtainable, but that would be sitting perfectly still, a truly clean entrance into the stand (and exit from the stand if no shot occurs but deer are nearby), limited scent dispersion, silence, and visually being nonexistent. We know this is hard. That is hunting. Everyone reading this is well aware of those influences and factors under this topic. The hunter must take responsibility for their actions and accept that they may hurt their own hunt on accident. That is the risk.


18) The odds of exterior influences (farmers, neighbors, dogs, trespassers, etc.) influencing the hunt

During bow season, farmers are harvesting crops. MDLO is not able to dictate such usage of the land because the farming rights and leasing rights are not unified through one party. Farmers are on their own schedule and harvest whenever they feel they can when weather and their hectic schedules permit. We have killed deer during harvesting of a field though, so we know that isn't that big of a deal. Also,MDL can't control other people, neighbors, trespassers, surveyors, USDA workers, county workers, etc. Also, MDLO can't control whether or not a dog or dogs run onto the farm. We can surely complain to whoever owns them if that is known by MDLO (not often). There are so many exterior influences on top of Mother Nature and the weather that it is amazing any hunt is ever successful. There are a lot of things potentially working against the hunt being successful, and with the application of common sense, that should make sense to all hunters.


19) The odds of interior influences (self, outfitter, equipment, knowledge, choices, etc.) influencing the hunt

Most of the time, the majority of influence producing an unsuccessful hunt comes from exterior influences, factors, and variables that are largely, if not completely outside of MDLO's control. It's not a comfortable seat to be in when hunts to pan out with a dead deer. We get it. Yet, if MDLO and the hunter do their best, the rest is up in the air and come what may. That is the best outlook on this respective topic. Interior influences are controlled with purpose and awareness to the best of our abilities.


20) The general odds of any given hunt being successful vs. unsuccessful (shot opportunity, tagged animal)

Hunting in general is defined as the pursuit to find and harvest an animal of game species. Notice that is does not say anything about it being a guarantee. Hunting is naturally known as open-ended. Otherwise, it would be called "killing". "Hey Ma'! I am going killing out back." Most would laugh if we heard that because we know it is not that easy. Yet, the pressure of paying for a hunt, the time and effort invested on top of the money, weighs very heavily. Stay grounded and assured that MDLO is trying their best for you and trying to control as much as they can to help you "hunt" and kill a big deer. Yet, the odds are not usually in your favor. We have had seasons where we killed out, 2018. We have had years where we had our lowest kill percentage ever, 30% 2020 (yet was the most sightings & encounters with shooters ever). The high-to-low range is wide and almost accurate. We just don't know, but darn it, MDLO is going to try! We just hope the hunter does the same for his own benefit so that his investment of money, time, and effort is not wasted or conducted in vain.


This should give potential hunters a more firm grasp on outfitted hunts, especially MDLO's. Like stated above this big list, we will likely be posting more about specific hunts, hunt scenarios, etc., to further expand the availability of knowledge and awareness. We care about our clients and their hunts, and you deserve such effort from us.


Thanks for reading!


-MDLO

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