The leaves in Niobrara County are beginning the transformation from the summer hues of green to golden-brown and red foliage. Residents are trading in their flip-flops for hoodies and anticipating the flavor of pumpkin spice. Hunters are sighting in their rifles and bows and the Lusk B.P.O. Elks Lodge #1797 are finalizing the last details for the 57th Hunter Rancher Feed.
The tradition began September 1960 when the Lusk Chamber of Commerce and the Niobrara Cow Belles sponsored the first “Dutch Lunch” at the Lusk Elks Home. That year, 1850 non-resident hunting permits were set aside. The purpose for the feed was to promote a better understanding between landowners and hunters.
By the following year, 1961, The Lusk Chamber and the Lusk Elks held two Dutch Lunches. One at the opening of antelope season and one for the opening of deer season.
In 1963, 2250 hunters were allowed in the Niobrara/Lusk area and the Lusk Chamber was reported as sponsoring the Dutch lunches “with the complete cooperation” of the Lusk Elks. 135 antelope were harvested on opening day, an increase of over 120 head the year before. The novel practice was becoming a welcome community tradition. 275 persons attended the first offered lunch. The second feed, 400 were expected and 500 showed up. They arrived at the total by counting the paper plates.
As fall arrived in 1965 the Lusk Herald reported that Chamber Secretary/Manager, Archie Lauer expected a large turnout to the free meals but the advertising included tips and suggestions for the expected guests to our communities. “It’s not only the law, but common courtesy to get permission before hunting”, and “to show sportsmanship by following a wounded animal to the kill”.
1300 antelope hunters were expected to take to the field in 1966. And the Lusk Chamber of Commerce and the B.P.O Elks Hunter Rancher Businessman free Dutch Lunch was ready to continue a community tradition. Courtesy messages were advertised thoroughly. “Welcome hunters to Lusk and Niobrara County. The welcome mat is out to all and we wish you the best in hunting. We hope you enjoy your stay with us” as well as, “Public hunting on private land is a privilege a few people are destroying by carelessness, vandalism and wanton invasion of private property. Be a good hunter and a true sportsman”.
In September 1973 the Lusk Chamber decided they were no longer able to finance the meal due to increased food costs. The Lusk Lions Club voted to sponsor the event and began to charge $4.00 per plate and to use those funds for a money making project. In 1975 the Lusk Lions Club moved the affair to the Cow Palace at the Niobrara County Fairgrounds.
September 23, 1976, it was reported in the Lusk Herald that the members of B.P.O. Elks were again sponsoring the dinner, moving it back to the Elk’s Lodge and not charging for the repast. It was also conveyed that the original idea was attributed to the Lusk Elks members as a way for the two groups, hunters and ranchers, to meet socially, become better acquainted and talk over plans, restrictions and problems connected with hunting season.
To whomever this tradition can be attributed, it continues on to this day. The Lusk Elks Lodge # 1797 will be hosting the 57th Hunter Rancher Feed Saturday, September 30, 2017 at the Lusk Elks Lodge. Social hour will begin at 5 p.m. with a roast beef dinner served at 6 p.m. The rifle raffle will be held following dinner and lots of door prizes will be awarded. The cost per person will be $10.00.
The purpose remains the same after all of these years. An opportunity for better understanding and fellowship. Some things never go out of style.