Laurie Tipps laughs when she recalls the evening her husband returned from a weekend deer hunt and excitedly talked about a new venture he wanted to start.
At first, she was dumbfounded. “I told him, ‘Deer? You want to breed deer? Are you serious, Steven?’” she says. Tucking a long strand of hair behind her ear, Laurie pauses in her reverie and smiles. “Now that was a hard sale!”
It wasn’t long, however, before he convinced her to let him buy some bred does.
That was more than a decade ago. Today, the Tippses — who live on Padre Island and make their living in oil and gas rental equipment — own Tipps 5T Ranch, a scientific deer-breeding operation located northwest of Beeville in the South Texas brush country. On an adjoining property, they offer commercial whitetail hunts with accommodations in a comfortable, four-bedroom lodge.
Hobby Turned Business
Steven, who grew up hunting and fishing with his father, still vividly remembers the visit to a friend’s white-tailed deer facility that first piqued his interest. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is so cool! How can I get into it?’ After Laurie and I discussed the idea, my friend helped me to get going,” he explains. “I started with four bred does and put them in pens on 100 acres that we owned at the time near Lake Corpus Christi. Then I started building additional pens and bought 20 more bred does.”
As his operation grew, Steven realized that he needed more room. “We looked three years for a place,” he says. “We wanted a ranch that had mostly brush with rolling hills, big oaks and big mesquites. When we drove into this ranch for the first time with our real estate agent, we were in awe of the canopy of trees that arched over the road. We looked at one another and knew that we’d found our place.”
In 2005, the Tippses financed the 1,250-acre ranch through Capital Farm Credit in Kenedy, working with Russell Chesser, branch manager and senior vice president, to complete the deal. “We feel very comfortable working with Capital Farm Credit, not only because they make the process easy and stress-free, but because we feel like we’re friends, too,” Laurie says. “Russell is the greatest person to deal with. We will never go anywhere else.”
Chesser agrees. “The feeling is mutual,” he says. “The Tippses are great folks and do a wonderful job of preparing requested information, which makes my job easier.”
After purchasing the ranch, the couple gradually moved the deer operation to its new location. “Today, we have 40 pens and more than 700 deer,” Steven says. “It’s turned into a business that makes our ranch payments.”
Hard Work Pays Off
On a breezy April afternoon, Steven and Laurie — high-school sweethearts from Alice, Texas, who raised three daughters (hence, the name Tipps 5T) — have driven from Corpus Christi to check pens and visit with ranch employees. Behind the wheel of a ranch pickup, Steven drives slowly along a dirt lane that cuts between two long rows of high-fenced pens. As the truck approaches, some deer scatter to a far side of their enclosure. Others stand and stare at the vehicle, apparently unfazed.
“Let me look at these,” he says, braking to a stop and reaching for a pair of heavy binoculars. “Those are 2-year-old bucks. See the nubs on their heads?
“Each pen has food, protein pellets, alfalfa and fresh water, all they want,” he continues. “We run them through our deer facility twice a year for vaccinations. We also DNA-test all our does, our bucks if they’re big, and every animal we sell, because we want people to know exactly what they’re getting.”
Breeding Trophy Whitetail
Like an increasing number of Texas ranches, the high-fenced Tipps 5T has no cattle. “We chose to grow white-tailed deer only because a lot of people come to Texas to hunt a trophy whitetail,” Steven says. “White-tailed deer are among the most sought-after game animal in North America. For myself, I also find deer breeding more interesting. To me, most cattle look the same; you want them to be uniform. But each deer looks different. Every year, a buck drops his antlers and grows them the next year so you have to wait and see what they look like.”
Laurie nods. “In our early years, we learned a lot the hard way,” she says. “People in the business now are extremely helpful and eager to put you in the right direction. It wasn’t always that way. Overall, genetics are getting better and better, too, so now breeders are growing big deer all over Texas.”
“In the deer business, you can make your land payments from the hunts or deer breeding. But even if there wasn’t another dollar to be made in the business, I’d still raise deer.” – Steven Tipps
Outstanding Deer Genetics
Their own outstanding deer genetics have earned the Tipps 5T Ranch a respected reputation in the state’s deer-breeding industry, which reportedly generates $1.2 billion in retail sales annually.
“Our ranch sells does, bucks and semen to other deer breeders,” Steven says. “We also sell does and bucks to ranches wanting to improve genetics in the pasture. We produce very wide and ‘framey’ multi-pointed racks. We have raised several bucks that have scored more than 300 [Boone and Crockett].”
Trophy producer or not, “we care about all our animals,” he adds. “We want them to be healthy, with low stress.”
Toward that goal, animals are moved only after dark. Through a series of gates and lanes, ranch hands funnel deer out of pens and into the operation’s deer-handling barn, dimly illuminated with red light. “Inside, they’re moved through a series of rooms so certain animals can be cut out and separated,” Laurie explains. “We use a squeeze chute to hold a deer during medical treatment, sawing off horns, and giving immunizations. Semen extraction and artificial insemination are also done in a separate room at the facility.”
Hunts Add Value
In 2010, the Tippses financed with Capital Farm Credit again when they purchased an adjoining 500 acres for a commercial hunting operation. Soon thereafter, they built a 2,500-square-foot lodge with a huge common living area, a fully equipped kitchen and a cook’s bedroom.
“This is a great place to entertain guests,” Steven says, seated next to Laurie on a cushy leather sofa near the rock fireplace. “Plus, we don’t mix groups. When people come to hunt, we take them to the stand, but we don’t tell them what they can and cannot shoot.”
Depending on their budget, hunters at Tipps 5T can choose from three packages: trophy, management and cull. In the deer business, trophy and management bucks are mature animals distinguished by their antler scores. Generally, cull bucks on the ranch are taken by young hunters or hunters interested in just the meat.
Steven especially enjoys hosting families who come to the ranch to involve their children in the outdoors. Some experience hunting and sitting around a campfire for the first time. “I love it when a man brings his son here,” he says. “I go the extra mile.”
For the time and investment that they’ve put into their ranch, the Tippses are happy with the return they receive.
“In the deer business, you can make your land payments from the hunts or deer breeding,” Steven says. Then he pauses and grins. “But even if there wasn’t another dollar to be made in the business, I’d still raise deer.”
For more information, visit tipps5Tranch.com.