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Rural Missouri Magazine

Not your average deer camp
World-class hunting, five-star amenities
await guests
at Heartland Wildlife Ranches

by Jason Jenkins

Heartland Wildlife Ranches' hunting guide Joe Allen, left, imitates an elk bugling in hopes of enticing a trophy bull closer and providing hunter Richard McCullough of Salt Lake City with a shot.

For most Missouri hunters, deer camp is a simple place, where the pursuit of whitetails and camaraderie with friends and family overshadow most all creature comforts.

Deer camp is where cooking instructions are often no more complicated than “heat and serve;” where entertainment consists of a deck of cards and telling tall tales around the campfire; where your nightly accommodation is likely to have a full-length zipper down one side.

But Heartland Wildlife Ranches is not your average deer camp.

Located near Ethel in north-central Missouri, Heartland is one of the nation’s premier hunting lodges, providing sportsmen the opportunity to pursue trophy-class animals across thousands of acres while enjoying the amenities of a luxurious, 20,000-square-foot lodge.

Here, a full-time chef provides hunters with hearty meals; entertainment not only includes cards and tall tales, but also billiards and satellite TV; and you’ll find your bed turned down and a chocolate mint truffle on your pillow at night.

Thanks to its large acreage, intensive animal and habitat management and world-class service and accommodations, Heartland Wildlife Ranches, nestled in the rolling hills of Macon County near Ethel, offers big game trophy hunting that ranks among the best in North America.

In addition to hunting white-tailed deer, Heartland offers hunters the thrill of stalking both elk and red stag, along with a variety of other exotic species from around the globe, including fallow deer, sika deer, axis deer, water buffalo, kudu, bison, zebra and many others.

When owner Jay Brasher, who lives in Utah, began purchasing land in Macon County in 1994, his goal was to create a family hunting retreat, says lodge manager Kim Souther, who has been with Heartland for 13 years.

“He wanted it to be a place to bring his friends, family, some of his business partners and customers to take them hunting,” she says. “It has just evolved and evolved since then. Now, we run this business 365 days a year.”

In addition to hunting, Heartland operates a bed and breakfast and a restaurant (see sidebar below) and hosts corporate retreats in its lodge. The company also has begun breeding and marketing its own line of ranch horses that allow elk, cattle and other livestock to be worked from horseback in a less stressful environment.

The lodge, which is served by Macon Electric Cooperative, was built in 1996 and expanded in 2005. At first, Heartland ventured into velveting, where an elk’s antlers are removed (before they calcify into bone) and sold for medicinal purposes, most often to Asia. Today, the ranch focuses on hunting and has established breeding programs for both elk and red stag. The white-tailed deer herd breeds naturally and is managed for trophy-class bucks.

“It’s a bit of a unique business,” Kim admits. “There’s a whole world of hunting that I had no clue about before I came to work here.”

Customers from across the country and around the world find Midwestern hospitality throughout their stay at Heartland. Guides are matched to hunters based on hunting styles and preferences. This one-on-one attention extends beyond the field.

The great room of the Heartland lodge is decorated with trophies from the property. It’s a great place to relax and enjoy a quiet moment during your stay.

“The guides are there when the hunters arrive,” Kim says. “They unload their bags from the car, and they are with that hunter until they leave, until they load their bags back in that car and send them home.”

Such catering to the guests is something Kim instills in Heartland’s 10 full-time and 12 seasonal employees.

“We really try to just make them feel at home,” she says. “This is their time away from their hectic lives, and we want them to be relaxed and have a good time and really not want for anything.”

This desire has prompted the lodge’s all-inclusive philosophy. Guests have access to the kitchen, where they’ll find an entire refrigerator stocked full of goodies. If you get hungry in the middle of the night, you’re welcome to come downstairs, make yourself a sandwich and have a glass of milk.

“You’re not going to come here and find bottles of water in your room that cost $4, or Cokes that are $2.50,” Kim says. “It’s all included.”

Although an 8-foot-tall fence surrounds Heartland’s 4,500-acre hunting grounds, conditions are as close to free-range as possible without allowing the trophy animals to wander across all of Macon County. Thanks to the property’s size and undulating terrain, finding a trophy animal can be challenging.

From left, Daniel Long, Ryon Long and hunting guide Ben Williams pose for a picture with a trophy elk that Ryon shot at Heartland Wildlife Ranches. The father and son traveled to north Missouri from Logan, Utah, to hunt elk, and both left with trophies.

Earlier this year, for example, guests on a bison hunt spent three days searching for their quarry — and came up empty. “There were four big buffalo in there,” Kim says. “I mean, come on, that tells you the vastness that we have.”

Daniel Long and his son, Ryon, came from Logan, Utah, to hunt elk at Heartland in late September and agree with Kim’s assessment.

“This was my first private hunt, and it’s a for-real hunt,” says Ryon. “We bugled and actually called in a bull elk. It’s actual hunting.”

Hunters pay $400 per day to hunt, not including their trophy fee. This price includes one-on-one guide service, all license fees, field and trophy preparation, private room and bath, and all meals and beverages. Price for non-hunting guests is $250.

Because trophy bucks and bulls take at least five years to mature, the price tag on these animals can be considerable. Trophy elk range in list price from $3,500 to $13,000 or more; white-tailed deer and red stag also begin at $3,500, with other exotic species starting at $1,500.

Jim Marks, a wholesale auto dealer from Salt Lake City, brought his sons to hunt recently at Heartland.

In addition to white-tailed deer, elk and red stag, Heartland also offers hunters the chance to pursue exotic animals from other continents, such as this European fallow deer.

“They spoil you to death,” he says of the Heartland staff. “We’ve hunted in Alaska and all over, and this is one of the finest lodges. The guides, the cooks, the food, it’s five star or better.

“And the hunting is excellent. The guides get you right on them.”

Guests who choose not to hunt can enjoy a massage, treat themselves to a pedicure, attend a class on scrapbooking or cooking, fish in one of four stocked ponds or go for a trail ride. All of these activities also are available to those who book a bed and breakfast evening in one of the lodge’s 16 guest rooms. An overnight stay costs $250 and includes breakfast for two.

“We treat all guests like celebrities,” Kim adds. “It doesn’t matter who you are, we’re going to do everything we can to make your stay enjoyable.”

To learn more about hunting at Heartland, call ranch manager Luke Blewett at 660-486-3215 or 888-590-4868, or visit www.heartland-wildlife.com.

 

Heartland open for weekend dining

Heartland’s chef Tom Ecklund adds the finishing touches to a glazed pork chop dinner.

Even if you’re not a big-game trophy hunter, you can still take in all the beauty and serenity of Heartland Wildlife Ranches and enjoy the lodge’s five-star amenities.

Since June, Heartland has offered a gourmet, all-inclusive, four-course dining experience. For $55 per person, you receive a personal appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert and beverages. You have a choice between two revolving entrées, including favorites such as blackened salmon with mango chutney, orange marmalade pork tenderloin, pan-seared tilapia with tomato basil butter, stuffed chicken Parmesan, roasted Cornish game hens, smoked baby back ribs and prime rib.

Your dinner, however, is not over when you take your last bite. Like all Heartland guests, diners are encouraged to relax and take their time. After eating, take your coffee on the deck and watch for deer, elk and other wildlife. Head upstairs and play a game of pool. Or, put your feet up, sink into a luxurious leather sofa and soak in the warmth from the fireplace.

Matt and Twila Halley of Atlanta, Mo., recently dined at Heartland in celebration of their 20th wedding anniversary.

“The meal was just outstanding,” Matt says. “This is something above and beyond what you’ll find in the local towns around here. Not that there isn’t some good eating in town, but this is a little more fancy.”

The lodge is open for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays beginning at 5:30 p.m. Please make reservations by Thursday. Call 660-486-3215 or 888-590-4868, or e-mail kim@heartland-wildlife.com. Menus for upcoming meals can be found on Heartland’s Web site, www.heartland-wildlife.com.

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