Hunters, your dream experience is right around the bend — on Stewart ranch

Hunting and fishing enthusiasts looking for a unique experience can soon find one right in Columbus.

On a 414-acre private, fenced property west of the city limits.

That will offer turkey and deer hunts, and fishing trips.

And happens to be owned by champion racecar driver Tony Stewart.

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Oh, and you can stay overnight in his home, too.

Stewart’s 16,781-square foot home, built in 2011, has six bedrooms, seven full bathrooms and four fireplaces on three living levels, including a bowling alley in the basement. It is assessed at $3.5 million, according to Bartholomew County property records.

“These people that will come hunt will actually stay inside my house. They will not stay in a bunkhouse that is separate from the house,” Stewart said during a phone interview.

The three-time NASCAR champion, who retired as a series driver in November, will begin using his Columbus property — west of Interstate 65 — as a commercial hunting and fishing operation for the first time during this year’s spring turkey hunting season.

He received unanimous approval in December from the Bartholomew County Board of Zoning Appeals to use his Hidden Hollow Ranch, 10285 Youth Camp Road, for such a purpose.

Indiana’s turkey hunting season is April 26 through May 14. Stewart said that all the hunts for that period have been sold to Browning Trail Cameras — an outdoor sporting goods company based in Birmingham, Alabama — to use as a corporate event.

He added that some some fishing excursions might be sold this year as well. However, deer hunts could be four to five years away, Stewart said, because the deer population on his property has to replenish through breeding after a winter in which a lot of guests hunted on the property.

Working in conjunction with Bass Pro Shops, which has been one of his racing sponsors, all hunters will be kept under the supervision of an experienced guide, Stewart said.

Stewart, who is co-owner of the NASCAR team Stewart-Haas Racing, and owns race tracks and series at racing’s grassroots level, said he’s home about 21 days a year. Although he is a hunting enthusiast, Stewart said he doesn’t hunt very often.

“I couldn’t tell you the last time I shot a deer on my property. It’s probably been five or six or seven years,” he said.

When he’s not home, he has friends and people from race teams stay at Hidden Hollow Ranch.

“I really enjoy having people coming to stay at the property,” Stewart said.

The idea for selling commercial hunts evolved from his efforts to fence the ranch.

“When I bought Hidden Hollow, we had to fence it in just for liability reasons. If somebody came on the property — even if they were trespassing — and got hurt we were liable. We put the fence up. Our local DNR had our gate codes; we gave them the gate codes because we wanted them to come in and make sure that we were doing everything it right. We always wanted them to feel like we had an open-door policy with them, that when it came to hunting and everything we were doing, we were doing it right.”

He said the DNR found a guy who backed up a four-wheeler to property and used it to jump over the fence. Stewart said he has installed high fencing around the majority of the property.

When the state changed laws about high fencing and making hunting preserves, Stewart said he saw an opportunity to build a nice deer breed that he would own. Up to that point the deer on his property were owned by state of Indiana.

Selling hunts also was a way to further his enthusiasm for hunting and offset the cost of installing the fencing and building a deer breed.

Stewart won’t necessarily be at his home for the hunts, but said a staff member will be present to handle them.

A website is being built to market the hunting and fishing trips. People won’t be able to sign up and automatically reserve dates, however. They will have to apply and undergo background checks to be approved, Stewart said.

“Because they are staying in my house, I want to know who the people are,” Stewart said.

While the zoning board unanimously approved Stewart’s request to use his property for commercial hunting and fishing trips, some neighbors expressed concerns about the plan.

“Anytime somebody like me does anything, you’re always going to have people who will scrutinize it because it’s me,” Stewart said.

Neighbors expressed to Stewart and zoning board members safety concerns.

However, Stewart said that no safety problems have arisen when he’s had guests hunt on his property.

“We had more (deer) hunters hunt this past winter than we ever had,” Stewart said. “We’ll eventually sell these hunts, and (the neighbors) never knew about it. The only reason they knew about it is because it had to go before the board.”

After Stewart’s request was approved, he met privately with the concerned neighbors and agreed to give the neighbors a tour of the property in the spring.

Stewart said that has not happened yet because he’s waiting for nicer weather that will make touring the property easier, and so he can have a day of tours.

“I’m trying to be a good neighbor; I’m trying to ease their minds,” Stewart said.

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Tony Stewart and a representative shared with the Bartholomew County Board of Zoning Appeals in December how commercial hunts would work at his 414-acre Hidden Hollow Ranch. Guidelines include:

  • Using experienced guides to supervise hunters
  • An average outing will consist of five hunters
  • All hunting will be from either stands or structures set up on the property, and none will be within 150 yards of the edge of his property
  • All stands will face inward
  • Hunts will be held only in areas of the property with hills featuring high ridges

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“These people that will come hunt will actually stay inside my house. They will not stay in a bunkhouse that is separate from the house.”

— Tony Stewart on plans to open his 414-acre, rural Columbus property for commercial hunting and fishing outings.