Dr. Chuck Aswell, III, is pictured with a pair of antlers while standing at the front entrance of his Knobbill Hunting Lodge located across from the old entrance to the Louisiana State Arboretum. (Gazette photo by Nancy Duplechain)
A hill on the range
Knobbhill Hunting Lodge is over 1,000 acres of forest teaming with animals. A variety of deer, rams, hogs, elk, and even buffalo roam the expansive park. Rolling hills are flush with pines and hardwoods and a lake is full of bass, bream, and white perch. There are four lakes, including one that is 50 acres and makes a perfect spot for fishing or duck hunting.
Dr. Charles “Chuck” Aswell, III, inherited some of the land from his parents, bought more property, and fenced it all in to create a serene hunting preserve next door to Chicot State Park.
Originally Knobhill was used as a hardwood preserve, but Hurricane Lilly devastated the property back in 2002. “I guess the sun and the moon and stars all came together at the right time, or the wrong time depending on how you look at it,” said Aswell.
It takes 70 to 80 years to grow a hardwood forest. Aswell already had a deer breeding business where he bred an array of deer from different parts of the world, including India, Asia, and Europe. He started the breeding to improve the genetics in the herds. They sell their deer to other breeders to improve genetics. He said they bottle-feed about 50 fawns a year, and in many ways they are like puppies. They stay pinned up for about a year to keep them safe from coyotes, people and wild dogs. The deer all have special tags which indicate gender and age. “Any animals we release we don’t hunt them for five to six years, and they’re more wild by that time,” said Aswell.
Additionally, people were coming onto the property and poaching the animals. He built a fence around the property to protect the animals. He then brought in different breeds of deer, like Whitetail, Axis from India, Fallow, Black Buck, Red Stagg and Sika from Mongolia. He also has black Hawaiian rams, Corsican rams, and white rams, elk and white elk, wild hogs, and buffalo. He even has white buffalo, which indigenous Americans consider a sign of purity and protection for families.
There are three parts to Knobbhill; primarily it’s an animal preserve and breeding program, but they allow hunting which helps to cover the food for the deer and the upkeep of the property. Word of the hunting preserve spread, so they built a lodge to make it a better place to stay. The lodge and cabins get rented out for Airbnb and are used for reunions or weddings.
Aswell cannot do it all by himself. Ashley, Anthony, Sam, Gerrett, Madeline, Troy, Felton, and others help him to keep up with the property. “We’re like a family here,” said Aswell.
When asked if he has a special bond with the animals, Aswell said he does. In fact, in addition to Bucky, he found another fawn one day outside the fence. It had a skull injury. Aswell performed surgery on him and named him Brutus and raised him in his house. “He became our guest of honor. Everybody would come in a pet him. He was a mess. He was like a giant dog.” Brutus passed away from an infection this past summer. “He almost died four or five times during his life. I was always able to save him. But this time he knew he couldn’t make it anymore. The last day, I sat on the grass, and he put his little head on me. I rubbed him for a couple of hours. He looked up at me. Then he went home and died that night.”
“My dad and mom, when they bought the property, they wanted it to be used by our family and friends, and that’s what it’s become,” said Aswell. “I have people who are in my hunting club who still hunt here. It’s a lot of acquaintances and a lot of people who have become friends.” He said they also participate in the Hunters for the Hungry program every year. As for himself, he shoots maybe one doe each year, and he hunts ducks.
The Knobbhill philosophy is to provide a Texas-style hunting experience that is only a fraction of the distance. “Our goal is to always be good stewards of the land, be good stewards of the animals, and make sure they’re healthy. And we make sure our customers are well-treated,” said Aswell.