Dream Farm P7: Putting it all Together

The six-year saga of building my dream farm, along with the several properties Larry Kendall and I bought and sold during that time, taught many lessons.

Rather than try to go through them all here, I will likely come back over the next few months with additional land blogs that detail various aspects of buying, improving and sometimes even selling property.

However, the main lesson I learned was the power of a vision and the overpowering momentum that comes from wanting something badly enough.

Ever since I was a kid I loved to fish and hunt.  The thing I loved most about hunting and fishing was not the killing and the catching; it was really the places that these pursuits took me. 

The activity is just an excuse to become a part of the natural scheme, to immerse yourself in God’s great creation as a participant and not just a spectator.

Some people can be very happy just to look at a beautiful valley, I feel an overwhelming need to explore it, to fish it or hunt it – to be a participant.

So, owning land has always been a dream of mine since a very young age and when the chance finally came to realize that dream, I was all in. 

I look back at some of the effort that went into putting that farm together and two things stand out.

Buying Hunting Land

Man, I killed some awesome deer on that farm over the years. This one was from October 23, 2019. What a blessing to be able to hunt such a place!

First, much of this was new to me, but I never paid any attention to my comfort. 

I saw the vision and the opportunities, and I moved – casting doubt and fear aside. I never thought once whether or not I could pull it off. I just knew I had to.

Second, I saw the hand of God at work. I remember several times stating to Rich or Larry (who both watched the process from the start) that if God wanted me to have a certain piece of land, the people who owned it can’t stop it from happening and if God didn’t want me to have it, I didn’t want it. 

That gave me peace and a sense of direction as I approached my neighbors and sought to buy great properties outside my neighborhood.

DIVINE PROVIDENCE

When you look at all the things that had to come together for this dream to occur you have to be overcome, as I was, with the unlikelihood that this was all my chance. 

Even our starting point on the original 125 acres was a piece of land that I once tried to buy years earlier when living on the big partnership farm.

That deal fell through way back in 1997 and when I came back from Michigan to look for a home in Iowa in 2002, I was shocked when one of the neighbors drove me down that same drive way.

There sat the house that Larry Kendall and his wife had built right where I had showed my wife several years earlier that I would love to build.

Shooting Does

My friends, neighbors and I shot a lot of does during the early years of owning the farm. That effort flipped the buck to doe ratio and made the place a zoo during the rut. There is a time and place for shooting lots of does, it is not for every property or every situation, but it improved the hunting dramatically on this farm during the 2000s.

Pam joined me on the next trip, and we ate pizza with the Kendalls at their house and before the night was over we had bought their farm!

Chance? I can’t believe it.  It is not possible for this entire 1,000-acre property to come together from start to finish like this without God’s hand at work.

So, I always felt that the farm belonged to God and I was just the caretaker. That mindset certainly affected what we ended up doing with it 18 years later!

MANAGEMENT

During the years that I owned that farm I watched it go from pretty good to unbelievable, to poor and then back to pretty good again.  The ebbs and flows were dictated almost 100% by three major forces. 

Timber Stand Improvement

One of the factors that I think really impacted the ability of the farm to grow and hold mature bucks was the habitat. I hired a crew to cut out all the junk trees on the entire farm resulting in a very thick jungle of browse that provided both security and food.

The first was my aggressive campaign to reduce doe numbers and bring the herd growth into check.  That created a property, and a neighborhood, where there were more bucks than does.  It was an amazing place to be during the rut.

The 2011 season was the most unbelievable I have ever seen anywhere. On the farm that year we had at least 11 bucks on camera that would score over 170 inches and some of them were way over that number.

That year our family shot a buck in the 160s, one in the 170s, one in the 180s, one in the 190s and I hit and lost one in the 200s that I killed the next year.  That was all in one season!

The second force that created utopia was an aggressive timber stand improvement effort whereby the crew I hired removed most of the junk timber from 800 timbered acres. 

That created thick cover and tons and tons of browse at a time when the deer numbers were slowly dropping due to the aggressive doe harvest.  The result was a very well fed deer herd!

EHD

One of the biggest bucks ever to reach maturity on the farm died in September of 2012 as a bad case of EHD hammered the farm.

The final force dictating the ebbs and flows of the farm was the one I couldn’t control, unfortunately.

The worst possible case of EHD hammered the farm in 2012 that wiped out 70+% of the herd and almost all the bucks.  Obviously, it took years to recover, but is now back on the right path to see consistent improvement as buck numbers again are at a good level.

SELLING THE FARM

Believe it or not, after all the blood and sweat it took to put this farm together, I sold it in late July of 2020. 

As I said, I always considered the place to be a gift from God – His farm.  I was only the caretaker. 

He put all those pieces together, I was just along for the wild ride.

So, when I felt there was a greater purpose in selling it, I was fine with pulling the trigger.

My wife, Pam, and I knew that someday we would have to move to be closer to our aging parents.

My mom and dad live in NE Iowa, more than four hours from the farm, and Pam’s mom lives in Michigan, nearly eight hours away.

We had already been looking casually for a new home that was two hours closer to my parents and two and half hours closer to her mom.

So, when a realtor (Nick Skinner with the Iowa Land Company) called and said he had a client interested in buying our farm if we were willing to sell it, I told him to come on over and take a look. I thought it might be possible.

We didn’t necessarily have to sell the land in order to move.  I could have kept hunting there.  But I knew that if I kept the farm I would be spending all my free time on it. 

It would be much better to sell it and do a tax exchange and replace it with land in NE Iowa closer to mom and dad – maybe even a farm I had hunted as a kid! That vision of the bluff lands of my boyhood sealed the deal.

Buying Hunting Land

This is the new dream! We didn’t necessarily have to sell the farm in order to move closer to our parents, but the idea was to replace it with land in the bluff country of NE Iowa – near my parents – so that I could spend more time with them while hunting and managing the farm. Unfortunately, I have still not found anything to buy.

If I bought something in my old stomping ground, I would be near my parents while hunting, doing land management chores and just hanging out on the property. 

That would dramatically increase the time we could spend together. Plus, I just love that country where I grew up, it is in my blood.

The fellow that Nick Skinner brought looked at our farm for only a few hours and left without an offer or much feedback.

He had some other options he needed to look at first.  It ended up taking a few weeks before I heard from Nick again.  The potential buyer would like to take another look. 

They were there a few days later and after looking at the farm one more time, made an offer close to asking price.

I wasn’t trying to be greedy, I priced it at roughly 10% over the market price for that area at that time. 

Jeff was really good to work with and even gave me an extra six months before the scheduled closing to help me more easily find a replacement farm in NE Iowa.

By the way, Nick did a really good job of working through the process of being a dual agent and handling both sides of the transaction very professionally.

You can see the presentation Nick did of the property after the fact.  It was never actually listed.  After looking at Nick’s presentation, I started to get out my checkbook to buy it back!  He did a really nice job. 

FINDING THE REPLACEMENT

Even though I am fourth generation on both sides of my family in the area where I grew up, I was not able to find a good farm to buy. 

I spread the word far and wide and even contacted specific landowners directly asking if they would consider selling.

I had a couple of really nice properties that I thought would fall my way, but in the end the landowners decided not to sell. 

As I approached the closing of the farm we were selling, I had to give up on the hunting land dream and identify some commercial real estate for my 1031 tax exchange or pay a high capital gains tax.

Assuming I eventually find a good property close to my parents, I can borrow the money to buy it and use the income from the commercial real estate to make the payments. 

So, phase two of the dream is not dead but it is just on hold.

CONCLUSION

That is how I put together one of the best whitetail farms in the country.  The entire project was a massive lesson in how to Dream Big and assemble something special.

I never thought it would also be a story about how and why I eventually sold it.  Maybe someday I will come back with the sequel, detailing how I found my second dream farm in my old stomping grounds.

Look for more Land Blogs right here at BillWinke.com as I dig into many topics related to purchasing, managing and sometimes selling hunting land.

Comments (47)

  1. Cory

    Very well done series…I learned a lot while being thoroughly entertained with the story of how you put your farm together. Thanks for sharing! Miss following your hunting adventures but glad I found your new online home!

    1. Bill Winke

      Thanks Cory. I appreciate the support. Have a great day.

    2. Kevin

      Mr. Winke writes an accurate description of the logging/mill industry. I bout 120 acres of timber land that is surrounded on three sides by 1200 acres of National Forest Timber land back in 2006 as investment property more than as hunting property. I bought it to diversify my investment portfolio that was low on timber and mineral rights. One mistake I made when I bought it was, I should have immediately requested a State Forester walk the land with me to advise me on how I should manage the timber into the future. I did eventually use a State Forester free of charge when I decided to have it logged. Based on his advice and other resources I researched I hired a professional forester to solicit bids and help me pick and monitor the loggers. The prices you can get for your timber is all over the board because loggers work with specific mills and each mill has different needs as to the type of timber they need. So, the highest bid you’ll usually get is from the logger who works with a mill that has large need for the bulk of timber that will come off your property. It could be white oak or red oak or hickory or maple or poplar or walnut etc. The forester you higher will get a percentage of your sales price so it behooves him to get the highest price for your timber and the forester will know what loggers to avoid.

      1. Bill Winke

        Kevin, great input. It is very risky to conduct a timber sale without using a forester or some other expert that is motivated to get you the best possible deal and make sure it is correctly cut.

  2. Lance

    Bill, I’m glad you started this new website and look forward to the future. More than anything, I appreciate the discussion on God’s will and Divine Providence. I have felt this way in my life as well, and some similar (though not near the magnitude) things have happen to me. I remember when I first heard about tithe, and mind of blowing it off. It was never discussed in my home growing up (even though we attended church weekly). This was a big deal to me, but my wife cemented the importance of it. Our life has continued to improve, and I can only imagine what the future holds. This series leaves me joyful, hopeful, determined and yearning for what is to come – I thank you for that.

    1. Bill Winke

      Lance, thanks for the support and the good word. “Yearning for what is to come.” is a great way to live!

  3. Mike F.

    Awesome story and very inspiring to anyone who wants to get started on building their dream properties

    1. Bill Winke

      Thanks for the support Mike. Good luck with the dream property!

  4. Brent

    Hey Bill awesome series, not many other places can you see step by step how someone goes about acquiring that much land ownership. Just curious, how do you think this would have went if you were in today’s land market with today’s prices? During those years your spoke of, it seemed as though recreational hunting property was just starting to become popular and worth a considerable price. Do you think you it would have affected how much land you bought? I’m also amazed on how you were able to put together such a sizeable acreage together in one spot next to your home. Around here (Kansas) getting landowners to sell and land to switch hands is extremely difficult.

    1. Bill Winke

      Brent, I have thought about that. I think I could have done it, but it would have taken a bit longer because I would have had to save up longer to get the down payments. I do think that once you get land in possession, then it is is all relative. In other words, when you are trading land for land, it really doesn’t matter what the land costs. Just getting started, with the first pieces, would have taken longer – to get into the game. That is the key. If you want to own a dream farm, you need to buy something good as soon as you can so you have something to sell when you find something you want more. Now regarding the neighbors: that neighborhood in particular had a lot of older landowners. I did not expect when I started buying there to get that much so fast. God blessed me in that way. It just started to snow ball. Believe it or not, I stopped buying in 2008. If I had kept at it, I could now easily have 2,500 acres in that neighborhood more or less contiguous! The soil was not that good and it was hard for the people that lived around there to make any kind of living off the land, so they were more inclined to sell maybe than people would be in other areas where the dirt was more of an asset.

  5. Garrett Colglazier

    absolutely speechless. great blog and cant wait for more!

    1. Garrett Colglazier

      The Island was my favorite part of this. If there’s a will, there’s a way.

      1. Bill Winke

        Amen to that my brother. Never forget that lesson.

  6. Devon Zimmerman

    Bill, do you think with the current land prices doing something like this is still possible? That was extremely interesting to read and I appreciate you putting it out there. Just curious, are you no longer a part of Midwest Whitetail? Thanks!

    1. Bill Winke

      I think it can still be done but you will need more cash up front to get the initial down payment in place for the first good parcel. Loans would be bigger too so that means you would have to move with smaller parcels meaning it would take longer and more transactions to ratchet up to same final size.

  7. Ben Malone

    Pretty incredible story, Bill. I can’t wait for you to find a new piece of land and hopefully take us along for that journey.

    1. Bill Winke

      Thanks Ben. I really appreciate it. Have a great day.

  8. Kyle Dulek

    An amazing and inspiring story! I’ve followed your journey for many years now and it helped me create my own dream. In the past few years I’ve acquired my own land and this year I had a season for the ages. I was able to harvest 3 mature bucks with the largest being 227 inches. Thank you for all you do and I wish you the best! Congratulations from SE Mn!

    1. Bill Winke

      Wow, Kyle, what a season. You should be writing the Dream Farm Blog with results like that! Congrats. I appreciate the note and the years of support. Have a great day.

  9. Jordan Schuler

    Incredible Bill…..you’ve hinted at bits and pieces of this for years but it’s truly fascinating to read now that you’ve shared the whole story with us, relatively speaking. I grew out of my infancy of bowhunting reading your articles. Due to my close following of your writing, I was in on Midwest Whitetail as soon as it got fired up on realtree.com. It’d be pretty astonishing to actually try and calculate how much of my bowhunting/deer knowledge stems from a concept or thought that you shared in either your writings or on the show. Most importantly, as I’ve mentioned to you before in other messages, I’m always appreciative and thankful for the way you utilize your platform to gracefully and tactfully point back to the Lord…..in all things. Best of luck going forward. I sincerely hope you find that “new” dream farm and can enjoy your certainly earned peace and quite away from the “mainstream” hunting world. Blessings to you and your family.

    1. Bill Winke

      Thanks Jordan. I really appreciate the kind words and encouragement. I am glad I could help you along the way. I will try to be consistent with this new site and see where it leads. I do really love the hunting industry so I can’t stay out of for too long! Have a great day and God Bless you.

  10. Darin Witmer

    Bill, I really enjoyed that story. Just proof that most times if someone is willing to get after it they can succeed. Also was an encouragement for me to keep after it. Enjoy hearing from you again and hope there is a few video hunts in the future.

    1. Bill Winke

      Darin, thanks. I feel that the vision comes first and then the passion follows and that leads to effort which leads to success. It is hard to be really good at anything if you don’t see the big goal and have passion for reaching it. That advice will work for anyone, I believe. Have a great day.

  11. Troy

    Wow such a great story! I had to read straight through because I just couldn’t stop. And now you have ideas in my head churning on putting together the pieces. Land has really jumped making it a very difficult process. I was able to purchase an 80 a few years ago that i would love to 1031 into perhaps a 120, perhaps then a 160-200 & so forth. But like u said it’s hard to sell the pieces you have when there’s nothing wrong with them! A strategy i try to have is to have to justify the acquisition to myself is for the income to at least cover the interest portion of the payment. At least then my principal portion I’m paying is paying back myself. Can still be difficult to cashflow and justify to the wife. Working with nrcs/usda on tsi and controlling invasives can help w/ more cashflow but only doing the work yourself. Your ability to work with private/Personal investors in addition to banks is intriguing as well. Would love to know more about this. Advantages/disadvantages for them, ever any strain/awkwardness in those relationships? Sorry for the questions, just so locked in and fired up now!

    1. Bill Winke

      Troy, I never had any problems with my private financiers. I had one guy that seemed a bit too aggressive as we discussed, so I shied away from him. You have to select these people carefully, of course, but as long as you make your payments and the deal is done using a good attorney, there is never any friction. You have a good strategy for cash flowing, but as you note, that is getting harder to do. Also, really good hunting land doesn’t always have much income, which is unfortunate. It is a good investment though. Over the long run of owing that farm, I averaged about 7 to 8 percent annual appreciation in price. That is pretty good compared to some investments, but nothing special compared to the stock market when it is soaring. However, we (Larry Kendall and I) rode out some rough economic stretches without seeing the land drop in value. In 2008-2010 when the economy and stock market were getting hammered, the land prices weren’t affected much. They didn’t go up during that time, but the good properties also didn’t go down. Good luck.

  12. Zachary Falkofske

    I too, was very interested in the Island and how that turned out. Thank you for being so open about your journey, especially with land purchases and selling. It was an amazing read. Not everyone is an open book like that. I’m from Western Pierce County, Wi, So like many hunters here, bluff country is home to us along the Mississippi. However, we had family Christmas in Solon, IA along the Coralville Lake/ Iowa River. For 10 years We traveled there and i always remembered how hilly it was. It reminded me of home and i always wondered what hunting would be like down there. I’m sure it feels great to be home again, permanently. Your facebook posts about classic deer hunts is what brought me here, so now im sifting thru all your old stuff that i can find. I very excited to hear/see what you have upcoming in the future. Good Luck Bill!

  13. Joe Chambers

    Bill,
    Not gonna lie here, I did shed a tear reading through all the segments about your farm. Amazing story my friend. Heidi and I closed on our second property adjoining our home farm on three sides this past February (we now have 130 acres) and I’ve already got the itch for more. You have inspired a generation of men like myself to do what you did and always “Dream Big”. Thank you for that.
    Sincerely,
    Joe

    1. Bill Winke

      Joe, I appreciate it. Yes, the whole adventure of putting it together and then selling it was bittersweet. But it was only land and not something really important. God has taught me that lesson as I have felt sorry for myself these past months not finding a good replacement. Maybe I never will. Maybe there is something else I am supposed to be doing. But at least I lived that adventure once, for that I will be forever thankful. Keep at it and keep Dreaming Big.

  14. Drew

    Bill,
    Your story about putting your dream farm together has been great to read. Thank you so much for sharing this and inspiring us all. Stay positive about the possibility of finding your new farm – you’ll find something soon. Don’t stop dreaming big now!

    Drew

    1. Bill Winke

      Thanks Drew. I appreciate it. Not much out there for sale right now. I hope you have a great day.

  15. chris yates

    Wow Bill..what an awesome story and just goes to show how hard work and dreams can come to reality with Gods help. I am so glad you have this website and looking foward to your next adventure and knowledge going foward. i truly enjoyed Midwest whitetail and glad you are staying active on this site so we can follow along on this life journey..

    1. Bill Winke

      Thanks Chris. I appreciate the comment and your support. I will keep posting new material to the site on a regular basis. Have a great day.

  16. Tdog

    Great article! I read this when you first posted but had to come back just now as i may have a farm transaction in my future. What would you say to someone who has a good offer on their small farm and now wants to 1031 to a slightly bigger/better farm…And here’s where it gets tricky, they are pretty sure they can roll/purchase next farm from a family member. But if they do that, they may be done as other family members will expect them to always keep it in family. Or then look for the next farm purchase from a non-family member to stay un-attached emotionally, however may not identify a property in the 10-31 time frame.
    Having not been able to locate a property to buy have you been happy with your 10-31 to commercial property to avoid long-term cap gains tax?
    thank you!

    1. Bill Winke

      I am traveling now, but will get you a more in depth answer when I return. A good land deal that you have to hold is still a good land deal. If it isn’t priced very friendly I might be tempted not to do it unless the property is very nice. One of my land mentors always said that until you land on your dream farm, everything is for sale. Don’t get emotionally attached, but the family dynamic is different.

      I am still not sure on my commercial investments. It will take time to determine how good those were. Basically, I need to see what happens to each when the tenants’ lease terms are up. That will be the true test of how well I did. Has me nervous.

      Good luck.

    2. Bill Winke

      So far I have been happy, but the real test will come when the leases come up on these properties for the commercial tenants. If they all renew, I stay happy. If not, I start to wish I had bought land instead!

  17. Kyle Parr

    I just bought a 50 acre piece of ground in Southern Indiana in August. The whole deal came up pretty quickly, and things fell together so fast and perfectly. I was talking with my parents about wanting the land. I’d been walking it almost daily and praying about how to make it happen. My mom directed me to Joshua 14:9 “So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever.” Immediately I knew God had set this whole ship in motion, and nothing was going to stop it if it was God’s will. It’s in an area where I can possibly keep expanding. I hope to, and I hope that’s God’s will for my family. Great article, and I hope to continue seeing future materials you produce.

  18. Jeremy Lacey

    Great series read! It is incredible to see how all the pieces fell together in such a way that is undeniably out of your control. Thank you sharing your story and showing us that no matter how young you are, dreams can come true. With hard work and time of course. Inspired.

    1. Bill Winke

      Thanks for the comment. Good luck with your dreams!

  19. Jim Machado

    Hey Bill, I followed you at Midwest Whitetails, which I really miss your hunts. I always told you that you were living in God’s country. I just found this site and just read your land purchase story. Its just unbelievable, a lot of of moving parts. I don’t think I would have been able to do it. But if you have a dream and want it bad enough you’d find away.
    I had a dream to buy my dream farm , now at 60 years old I have the money and time. But I think that my dream has faded to a wish.

    Great story God bless.
    Best Regards,
    Jim from Massachusetts

  20. Joe Blanchard

    Bill, what a great story!! Good of you to share the details. I have to say I was very curious when I saw you sold your place. Great for you!

    I also began with a dream, inherited 20 acres, bought out two aunts, an uncle, a cousin and some from the timber company. Total 495 acres. People of course think I’m nuts.

    Dreams!! God’s hand of course…

    All the best! Joe

    1. Bill Winke

      That’s awesome Joe. Congrats and enjoy!

  21. Ryan L

    Bill, this was the best thing I’ve read from you ever! Im dreaming of land and have wife and three boys . Appreciate your pointing this all to God, that’s how we feel as we search. Demand is high and supply is low so things are tough. Thoughts on things going back down?

    1. Bill Winke

      Ryan, I don’t know, but I doubt that the demand can stay this high for the long term. Eventually, it will die down, maybe as interest rates increase (which is bound to happen). I hate to try to predict the future. All I know is that if you can find something it is probably better to buy now rather than hope it drops – it rarely actually drops except in the case of a true farm crisis which we haven’t seen since 1980s. Good luck and thanks for the support.

  22. alan lenske

    Most enjoyable reading I’ve had in a while. Merry Christmas. to you and your family Bill,

  23. Matt H

    Thank you for sharing your journey. I learned a lot, got inspired, and lived your dream!

    1. Bill Winke

      Awesome. Thanks for the note. Good luck to you.

  24. Casey

    Bill, your journey putting the dream together gives me much motivation. I have been buying and selling land for 15 years now trying to put the “right” piece together, its not always been easy, but i have been blessed to have the farms ive sold bring good profits and buy more acres in each trade. I now have a great hunting farm in kansas with alot more acres than when i started. With the current land prices being so high im thinking of selling my home farm which is a 250 acre cattle farm in arkansas and investing this into all tillable ground and cash rent for additional income. my wife thinks im crazy but after reading your dream farm series she feels alot more confident that it will all be good, thanks for your help and thanks for an awesome article!

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