Shot in the Dark
An investment in hunting in Alabama seems a sure thing. But sometimes the risk is in the timing. Billy Ainsworth and sons launched a luxury shooters’ resort just as the economy blew up.
For hunters, Dream Ranch is nirvana.
The hunting and fishing resort spreads across 2,000 pristine acres of Browns Valley at the southern tip of Lake Guntersville. Services feature fully guided hunts for huge trophy whitetail deer, bobwhite quail and wild duck, along with fishing trips for largemouth bass.
The eight-bedroom, three-story lodge is 14,000 square feet of log and stone, every detail down to the deer-themed lamps designed to make hunters feel right at home. The lodge even features a chef to prepare special-request meals and a skeet shooting range off the back deck.
“From the time they make their reservation, we start finding out what they want to eat, how they want to hunt, what they’re hunting, whether they have a particular like or dislike, whether they have a dietary need,” says Melanie Moss, manager of the lodge since July. “It’s very specific, down to what guns they’re going to shoot, what kind of ammunition they want to shoot.”
Dream Ranch continues to thrive despite an extended economic recession that started in 2007 and the historic Alabama tornado outbreak in April 2011.
Brothers Will and Austin Ainsworth manage the family business, a venture with their father, Billy Ainsworth, the CEO of Progress Rail Services, headquartered in nearby Albertville.
While the hunting business opened in 2004, the lodge was not completed until 2007, on the eve of the recession. The Ainsworths used targeted marketing strategies through apparel company Orvis and hunting organization Safari Club International to continue attracting customers.
“At the start of the recession, we had eight employees, and now we have 11,” Austin says. “We continued to spend money on advertising, because we knew that in tough times it was more important than in the good times. We offer a premium product, and there are always consumers of high-end products. Initially, some of our bigger clients didn’t stop coming; they simply spent less. We had a great base clientele. While the recession did affect our business, we were able to get people and companies that still had money to spend. We believe that if you treat people right, they will continue to return and tell their friends about it.”
Moss agrees, attributing an estimated 35-40 percent growth over the past year to attentive customer service.
“People who hunt are going to find the discretionary funds to hunt,” Moss says. “From a corporate aspect, the big clients that are entertaining their guests or trying to keep their customers, if their customers are wanting to hunt, that’s where they’re spending their entertainment dollars.”
Another unique draw for Dream Ranch is the fact that it’s the only Orvis-endorsed wingshooting lodge in Alabama.
“Orvis has been in the outdoor clothing and hunting business for over 100 years,” Moss says. “They’re very well respected. You have to go through a lot of scrutiny to be endorsed by Orvis.”
While successfully navigating the recession’s pitfalls, Dream Ranch couldn’t avoid damage from the outbreak of tornadoes that slammed much of the Southeast on April 27, 2011.
Moss says tornadoes skirted the lodge on two sides.
“We were scrambling to be open by October,” she says.
“We lost a lot of trees—26 percent to be exact,” Austin adds. “We had two miles of fence down that had to be replaced. Trees had to be cleaned up on quail courses and deer food plots.”
The Ainsworths grew up in nearby Boaz and graduated from Auburn University—Will with a degree in marketing, Austin with one in finance. Will chiefly manages the successful deer-breeding aspect of the business, while Austin is responsible for the lodge and hunting.
The brothers are capable hunters themselves, with trophies from their hunts in Zimbabwe, including Cape buffalo and a warthog, fleshing out the cozy furnishings of the lodge.
A visitor’s log inside shows how popular the resort is to hunters throughout the United States. While the majority of guests hail from the Southeast, a number arrive from cities as far away as Las Vegas, Nev., Big Bear Lake, Calif., Schenectady, N.Y., and Salt Lake City, Utah.
Dream Ranch also hosts special events, weddings and corporate retreats. For the past two years, it has hosted the Rick and Bubba Father-Son/Daughter Hunt, a family oriented deer-hunting weekend featuring the radio personalities.
“We are in the plans of adding lodging,” Austin says. “At our current facility, we are often at maximum capacity and are having to turn away business, so we are actively pursuing that. We also have recently leased an additional five quail courses so that we can accommodate more hunters. We also added two quail hunting jeeps to our fleet, for a total of six.”