Back in 2015, when I started Midwest Dream Land, LLC (MDL Outfitters), I was doing such as a real estate consulting company. Not knowing the difference between my rear and a hole in the ground, I decided to better focus on something I knew very well: deer, hunting, and hunting land. So, I started trying to tie up hunting land for leases. After being blessed with meeting a few generous landowners, I was leasing out ground in Illinois and Iowa. I was even contacted by people hoping for me to host DIY hunts. This was a first for me, as I knew this was almost what outfitting was. I even had an outfitter pay for a short-term access, but unfortunately, his check bounced. I had written a check to the landowner when I deposited the checks, and then my account went into the red. Being upset, and knowing that I could basically do outfitting better than this clown, I decided to move forward with MDL being an outfitter. I decided to go the text-book route by labeling myself as a "fully guided outfit" hosting hunters and providing lodging, meals, transportation, and field/trophy care in 2016.I made a website and bought a domain name, filled the site with some photos and text content, and within a short time I had my first booking, a father-son group from Mississippi for a 1st Gun Season hunt. The rest was history. Running ads online only, I was able to book enough hunters to fund the start-up. I was stoked!
2016 was a very special year for us as our first full-year doing publicly offered guided hunts as an entity. Starting with bow season, I made memories and friendships that I will never forget. My first bow kill was a hunter from NY, Robert S., who shot a beautiful 150-class 10-pt in Zone 6. We then shot a few other deer, wounded a couple, and kept on after it through the gun seasons. I learned a lot of very valuable information that first season, and I was more determined and focused for 2017.
2017 started as a promising year, leasing more ground, booking more hunters, and expanding into Zone 5 much more than the one farm I had there in 2016. However, this ended up being a catastrophic year. Starting in the summer, southern Iowa hit a severe drought. I lost all of my food plots in Zone 5, so I asked some friends for some help. Luckily, I had a friend connect me another outfitter who was starting up in Iowa as well, but didn't book any bow hunters at the time. So, we reached an agreement for me to hunt on some of his access in Zone 5 for archery and late muzzleloader season. We harvested some great deer in Zone 5, and chased some good ones in Zone 6. My experience with a landowner, a guide, and some problematic hunters in Zone 6, lead me to leave Zone 6 and focus my efforts in Zone 5 starting in 2018.
2018 started as the best year yet. After learning a lot about people in 2017, I decided to stop doing fully guided hunts and switch to semi-guided hunts, which are basically glorified DIY hunts except with stands & blinds already in place. We ended up killing out with everyone in bow season who hunted 7 full days. It was a record year for sure! This is also when I started recording recoveries. I wish I would have started that in 2016, but I know I won't miss any going forward. We had some tough hunting in the winter, but yet, continued to learn a lot.
2019 started off as a great year with high hopes. Moving into the fall, we realized we were going to have a problem due to the excessively wet weather. Corn stayed in and it housed the deer until it came out in December, and then the flood gates opened as it should have back in October and November. So, a lot of deer around southern Iowa survived due to this late harvest, and 2020 is looking to be a stellar year!
I usually share stories with clients of years past. I have too many stories to share, but I can assure you that if I share a story, it's a worthy one.
Photo: My first picture on MDL's website, a buck I killed in 2010 with my bow.