It started as a childhood dream that formed while Travis Ewing was tagging along on hunts with his father, relatives and family friends on his grandfather’s farm in Promise City, Iowa. Travis’s passion for wingshooting developed quickly, and along with it grew a deep connection with the 3,000-acre farm that the Ewing family had settled in 1865. “I’d run around telling anyone who would listen that I was going to guide hunters on Grampa’s farm when I grew up,” Travis recalls. “Everyone got a kick out of that, and it even became somewhat of a family joke.”
Years later, around the time Travis started college, the family joke took a small step toward becoming reality when Travis began taking the occasional paying guest hunting on the beloved farm. Then, as college was ending, the dream took a giant leap when Travis found himself with an obsession for wingshooting, a business-management education and a looming decision about what career path to follow. “At the time I was deciding what to do,” Travis explained, “Iowa’s bird populations were on the rise and my grandparents were getting to the point where they weren’t going to be farming their land as intensively as before. This led to a group decision with my father, uncle and grandfather to start a full-on commercial hunting operation.”
It was decided that the process would start with Travis increasing the number of guided hunts on the property. Travis then was able to create a business plan that showed enough promise to his family and the bank that he was able to secure funds to build a luxury lodge that would be the centerpiece of the operation. Together with an architect, Travis designed a 9,600-square-foot lodge that would be both grand and versatile—one that would appeal equally to hunters and non-hunters (for off-season events like weddings). It would be roomy enough for large groups yet quaint enough for small groups. In the spring of 2014 ground was broken, and the lodge was completed by October that year.
In addition to lodging facilities the farm needed some habitat work to accommodate the change of use. “It really helped that we were dealing with a primo piece of bird cover that I was already intimately familiar with,” Travis said. “We created some food plots and upped the amount of CRP. That original management plan was so spot on that it has changed very little in five years.”
One of the most critical orders of business was staffing. It was paramount that all of the operation’s services be first class, but it was also important that the “family foundation” of the business be an aspect that greatly enhanced guests’ experiences. For this, Travis had a huge ace up his sleeve. “One of the biggest blessings I have in my life is that I am surrounded by family—immediate and extended—who are both extremely hard-working and excited about contributing to the heritage of the original family farm,” he said. “So the staffing of the lodge was a seamless process. It started first and foremost with my wife, Abby, who is an extremely capable person and is fully adept at both managerial and hands-on tasks. I then made one of the few ‘non-Ewing’ hires in Chef Tim Holmes, and that has proven to be a Godsend. Not only does he serve amazing food, but he also helps with important management functions. After that we were able to plug family members into the roles for which they were best suited.”
The final key component in getting Heritage 1865 rolling was building a clientele. The guiding that Travis had been doing on the property was a source for some clients, but a national marketing plan would be necessary to expand on that. “A comprehensive website was built to serve as a source of information for inquiries,” Travis said, “and then we had to go about generating said inquires. We decided on a mix of sporting shows, like the one in Harrisburg and the Dallas Safari Club Convention, and added print advertising in Shooting Sportsman. We had carefully built our business to meet world-class standards, and one of the ways this paid off was that we passed all of the intense vetting necessary to qualify for the Orvis and Shooting Sportsman endorsed-lodge programs. We got involved with Pheasants Forever, too, which added to our inflow of new guests. Little by little, these efforts have added up to a great group of clients—most of whom have become friends—from all over the country. And the list even includes some national celebrities!”
So in the end, a kid’s dream has become reality in a very big way. And it’s not over yet. “Abby and I are having our first child this year,” Travis said, “and nothing could make me happier than to see Heritage 1865 continue with the next generation!”