It's 6:30 am in Pocahontas, AR. The sun isn't scheduled to rise for another 45 minutes. My cousin, Keith Futrell, pulls up in his truck. We load my gear and we're off, headed north toward Warm Springs. Twenty minutes later we arrive at Buck Hollow Ranch. It's still too dark to really see anything, but I already know it's going to be a good day. Keith takes me down to the lake house where we meet Tom Baker, the owner of the ranch. His usual unlit cigar already in his mouth, we have our coffee and wait for the sun to barely crack over the horizon. The three of us pile into his truck to begin driving through the 60 miles of road within Buck Hollow Ranch.
Like previous features, my goal is to shed light on an interesting person, place, thing or idea. In this instance, I get to talk about all four. Keith is the ranch manager for BHR. The ranch consists of 2,600 acres of wooded and grassy landscape, nestled in the hills of Northeast Arkansas.
Keith begins the story.
This ranch is the lifelong dream of Tom and Ronda Baker. They pretty much worked all their life and decided to retire and go into the ranching business and ended up keeping this ranch in Arkansas, Buck Hollow Ranch. Tom is a huge conservationist. So, we do our best to manage the ranch to the benefit of the wildlife, and that's why we have so many elk, so many deer and that's why we have the best turkey population in the state of Arkansas. All because of management. To be a good steward of the land, you have to harvest the animals. And that has turned into a business for myself, where I have guests that come to hunt, fish, go on photo safaris, to ride horses - anything you can do outside, we try to do here.
I am the ranch manager. I take care of 13 miles plus of high fence around the ranch, bush hog the grounds we want cut. I do all of the prescribed burning during the late winter - early spring. And then whatever maintenance on the equipment and general repairs needed for the everyday farming operation. During the regular work, we'll prep our tractors for the day. If we're bush hogging, we'll grease the hogs and take off and run all day. Or if we're working on the fence, or building a new fence or whatever we're doing, we're just set up from day to day. In the winter I spend about 4 days planting winter feed plots for the deer. We plant between 140-160 acres every year.
Keith has worked in this capacity for about 8 years. His connection with Tom through Ducks Unlimited allowed the two to form a friendship and solid working relationship. They both see the importance of properly managing a precious ecosystem of some of the finest wildlife in the region.
We're trying to produce the biggest and best animals we can. Every year we improve the grounds. A couple years ago we did an "open woodland" project where we took 220 acres and cleaned out the basal area on it. Our grass production increased 600% inside those woods, and our acorn production quadrupled in those 220 acres.
We have mainly deer, elk, then turkey. The state of Arkansas claims to have around 500 [elk] in the wild. I've got about 180 in Northeast Arkansas on our ranch. In 2000, Tom went to several livestock auctions for game - game auctions - and purchased 70 animals (elk). They bred and have been harvested every year since. We'll sell off a couple mature bulls every year. The bulls will be between 12 and 14 years. And then we'll sell younger bulls and then some older cows just for the harvesting.
When Keith brings clients to the ranch for hunting, he knows which animals are for harvesting and those that need to be left alone. Tom and Keith drive the ranch several times a week and know the wildlife population inside and out. This extensive knowledge allows them to be specific in their hunts, allowing for the ecosystem thrive, while still satisfying their broad client base.
When we have hunters here, I'm the first one up. I collect my hunters and we go down to the lake house and meet. We have coffee and breakfast, just something to tide them over until brunch. Then we leave and take them to the shooting houses or stands, which ever they want. I'll leave them with radios, though most want me to stay (that way I can judge the deer when they walk up, if it's a shooter or not). They'll harvest their animal and then I'll clean and process the animal for them, debone the meat and put it in the freezer. Or we can take it to a processor. It's basically the same with my turkey hunters, except we do guide one-on-one for them. And then, if they don't kill anything that morning, we'll go back out and hunt 'til dark or 'til we've harvested something.
My favorite part of the job is taking turkey hunters out and getting a gobbler. Or taking kids out to get their first deer or first turkey. They'll always remember the very first one and always remember the very last one. There are some in between that they'll forget, but not the first or the last.
We work off of repeat people. We don't really advertise as such. I keep brochures in all the Arkansas Welcome Centers in the state. Our local chamber of commerce - I'm on their website. We have a Facebook page that somebody else monitors - I don't know anything about Facebook [laughs].
We do our best to manage the ranch to the benefit of the wildlife...
During my time with Keith, I've seen an abundance of elk, countless deer and several flocks of turkey. And that's just within our 4 hours of driving. That's right…4 hours. Not all shooting is done with rifles or bows. I've been able to aim my camera at several of the most beautiful creatures I've ever seen. I should mention we're in the middle of the elk rut. In case some of you don't know what that is…it's mating season. Elks can be heard bugling to each other from across the ranch. And even though we're able to get close with the truck, we are sure to stay inside the vehicle.
The danger is when the [elk] bulls are in rut and people don't appreciate how big the bull is… [or] the speed. If they were to mess with the bull, the bull could kill them very quickly. That's why we don't let anybody go out unsupervised during the elk rut.
When he says big, he's not exaggerating. I've picked up one elk antler and it weighs close to 20 lbs. They have two and the ability to wield them with extreme efficiency.
From intimate knowledge of the wildlife to the overflowing hospitality, Buck Hollow Ranch offers an incredibly unique view of the outdoors. While some places would require a whole team to maintain such a vast landscape, all BHR needs is Keith.
I think Buck Hollow Ranch is one the absolute highlights in Randolph County. There's nobody else in Arkansas that has the quality that we have. It's a labor of love.
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