Rancher Dave Hamilton and his father, Reed, enjoy hunting deer, and they possess the deer population on their Sandhills ranch north of Thedford to accommodate that recreational pursuit.
The two center pivots that water alfalfa, corn or wheat near their ranchstead serve as a natural draw for deer — both mule deer and the whitetailed deer that are gradually moving into this region of the state.
And Dave and his wife, Loretta, enjoy sharing their ranching operation with those unfamiliar with ranching or agriculture in general, along with the grazing management and conservation practices they’ve employed through the years.
Put those ingredients together and you have Antelope Valley Outfitters, a hunting enterprise the couple started at the Reed Hamilton Ranch in 2002 to supplement and complement the ranch operation.
At a glance
• The hunting enterprise at Reed Hamilton Ranch proves successful.
• Deer are plentiful, attracted by tree groves and crop residues.
• The ranch hosts a half dozen hunting groups every year.
“We had a goal when we started that Antelope Valley Outfitters’ income might offset our annual property taxes,” says Dave, a fourth-generation rancher. “Well, the taxes have risen faster than our hunting fees, but we’ve been successful with it and really look forward to meeting new people each year.
“This is a low-key business for us, with only about six or seven hunts booked a year. We really didn’t want to oversell the number of hunts, so hunters could have a good chance for a trophy buck.”
It’s seasonal to match the deer season in November and December, after their weaning and other fall cattle work is done. It’s also a time when warm-season grasses are dormant, but the cornstalks or alfalfa, depending on what was grown under the pivots that year, attract deer close to the ranch headquarters. One portion of a pivot this year was planted to triticale, a wheat-rye cross. Deer will paw through 6 to 8 inches of snow to get at it, Dave says.
The hunting groups come from “about everywhere,” including Georgia, South Carolina, Washington state, Colorado, Texas, Utah and Minnesota. “We do have repeat clients, but others like the experience of hunting in a new area every year.”
Most folks think of forests and mountains as the best big-game hunting, but the Plains presents a quality hunting experience, too, and many seek out mule deer.
In addition to rifle hunters, they have booked muzzle loader and bow hunting groups, the latter often seeking out whitetailed deer, since mule deer are more of a range animal, preferring the open grassland, which makes it difficult for bow hunters.
While the Sandhills is primarily open rangeland, their ranch includes numerous tree belts and a couple of old homesteads, all of which provide good deer habitat. A good portion of the tree groves are fenced to keep cattle out.
They book most of their own hunts, although they did use a hunting/agritourism broker in the past. Antelope Valley Outfitters also offers grouse and coyote hunts, but the main interest has been deer.
Food for thought
“I do the guiding, along with my dad sometimes, and Loretta does the cooking, which is a big attraction,” Dave says. Hunting parties are put up in a bunkhouse for a three- to four-day hunt and come to the ranch home for hearty meals. “We feed them real well, including a hot breakfast every morning,” according to Dave.
“The flip side is that we meet some really interesting people and have some neat conversations,” Loretta says. “They often linger after a meal to ask about the Sandhills and the ranching business.”
Antelope Valley Outfitters was formed as a limited liability company and has a lease arrangement with the ranch, which is a subchapter S corporation.
Dave and Loretta belong to the Nebraska Outfitters and Guides Association for exposure to their operation and to recruit hunters for their outfitter business.
The Reed Hamilton Ranch’s conservation practices have been recognized by state and national organizations. The extensive rotational grazing system consists of a 10-pasture rotation with 60 total pastures, most of which have two watering sites. The grazing system, with its many watering sites, is a boon for all wildlife and the cattle, as well.
Their website is www.antelopevalleyoutfitters.com. During the year, when Loretta is out checking cattle, she takes photos of deer on the ranch. Those photos, plus others of trophy bucks taken by hunters, are shown on the website.
HUNTING STAND: Dave and Loretta Hamilton have built a couple of hunting stands, one of which is mounted on skids and can be moved by an ATV.