Private Birds

Private Birds

Make a good day a great day by turning to private game bird lands for your wingshooting pleasure. Here's where to go and what to expect.

By Dusty Routh

Just 20 minutes into our hunt, a pheasant exploded from scant scrub brush at our feet and rocketed away not more than three feet off the ground. My youngster Nicky, who'd just turned 14, folded the bird with a very nice right-to-left downhill swing shot. Our borrowed wire-haired Griffin trotted over to the fallen bird, brought it to us, dropped it at our feet, and then sat with tail thumping to await our next instruction.

Over the next three hours we flushed 15 more birds, knocking down nine of them. That made for an even 10 - exactly what we had come for. The birds were cleaned for us as we got ready for the drive home. Total cost of the trip? A clean $110.

Not bad for 10 pheasants and a hunting trip that Nicky, now in college, reminisces about to this day.

Sure, we could have trudged across nearby sugar beet fields for wild birds. We could have hunted on public access areas, paid a ton of dough for a lease, or scrambled up the breaks of the Snake River to the outskirts of the alfalfa fields and kicked a bird out here or there. But back in those days I was on the road all the time. Hours spent hunting with my boy were precious. With only a half-day to spare, it made sense to try our hand at our first-ever private game bird hunting ranch.

What a great experience it was! In fact, Nicky isn't the only one who still talks about that trip. I do too. We had a terrific time, a great experience, and there's nothing wrong with bagging 10 pheasants to take home.

You may scoff or be wary of what private game bird ranch hunting has to offer. But consider this: If you can't afford a lease, don't have friends who have leases or you haven't been able to drum up any private land hunting on your own, you're pretty much stuck with hunting on public land.

Now, there's nothing wrong with that, but there are some drawbacks. You've probably experienced them.

Public land gets worked pretty thoroughly during the season, so you're talking about hunting highly pressured, spooked birds whether they be pheasants, quail, Huns or chukar. Public land also means, of course, lots and lots of company, particularly on the weekends. It means check stations and permits and, for ducks, waiting in line to draw a well-located (or not-so-well-located) blind. It means an endless stream of special regulations and game warden checks and all the other not so pleasant things that go with hunting in a crowd.

What's more, public land hunting (and even some private land) means a lot more hunting and hoofing than it does flushing and shooting.

Pen-raised pheasants are highly popular on bird farms, and most operations charge by the bird. Photo by Michael Skinner

THE GOOD LIFE

You might also think that private bird ranch hunting is only for the well to do. You might have been scared off by the cost of some duck club memberships. But there's a wealth of day-hunt clubs for upland birds and waterfowl, and the cost isn't prohibitive.

Such opportunities are especially affordable if you split the cost with some buddies. Considering what a private lease costs, and considering the cost of feeling dejected and defeated after a whole weekend spent beating the brush for a bird or two or less with a hundred other guys in the same field, most of these game bird operations are a bargain.

Day clubs and annual season clubs usually offer a wealth of hunting options. For those situated on flyways, these can include field and blind shooting for ducks and geese on rivers, ponds, lakes and flooded fields. Many also offer upland game bird shooting on both wild and/or pen-raised birds like pheasant, chukar, Huns and quail, with most of the action taking place on the pen-raised birds which are released prior to your hunt.

Most clubs with pen-raised bird operations charge a set fee for a certain number of harvested birds over a set period of time (10 birds/four hours, for example). Shooting is usually conducted in two shoots a day (a morning shoot and an afternoon shoot), but not always. A few of these ranches require an annual membership as opposed to a daily fee, especially for duck hunting, but many are happy with a simple day fee based on harvest.

For entirely pen-raised operations, state and federal licenses and seasonal regulations don't apply (except, of course, for waterfowl); you can go shoot whenever the place is open. It's always a good idea to call ahead to make reservations, especially during the busy fall season. Most of these operators run from roughly September to March, though some do start as early as August.

You'll find that many clubs provide trained gun dogs and guides for an extra fee, while others do not. Be sure to call ahead and ask. A good number of these clubs also offer gun dog training for your own hunting partner, as well as skeet shooting and sporting clays. Some do require steel shot out in the field, and some don't, depending on where they're located and what kind of shooting they offer.

Most states have a variety of these kinds of clubs, particularly on the outskirts of urban areas (there's a slew of them around Denver, for example), so you might want to make a point of sampling a few of them to find the ones that best match your preferences.

These are terrific places to train a new dog, hunt with your buddies, or take members of your family. The best day-hunt clubs offer realistic conditions, with uphill climbs, thick brush and wet ground. If you have special physical requirements, call ahead and ask if they can accommodate you. Many are accustomed to providing these kinds of services.

ARIZONA

One of the best places to start in Arizona is at the Cibola Sportsman's Club in Cibola, only a few miles south of Blythe, Calif. In business for nearly 20 years, this club offers bunkhouse accommodations, cabin rentals, and both upland game bird and waterfowl hunting. All hunts are with a guide. The pen-raised bird hunts are for chukar and pheasant and take place from Dec. 1 to May 1, offered via "bird packages" ranging from four birds up to 36 birds in various daily combinations.

Waterfowl hunting for geese is offered from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31 for $200 per hunter per day in heated pit blinds. The goose hunting here is top-shelf. No annual membership is required. These are day hunts open to the public with advance reservations definitely recommended.

COLORADO

E

ven with the wide-open spaces in this gorgeous state, drought and crowded public hunting are a real fact of modern-day Colorado hunting life. For a refreshing change of pace, consider the shooting you can get at Rocky Ridge Sporting and Conservation Club in Fort Collins. This is one of the state's best spots for fee hunting.

The place is owned and managed by professional game manager and guide Michael Moreng. The setting is varied, ranging from upland hills to thick brush and lots of water for waterfowl. Most of the upland bird hunting is for pen-raised pheasant and chukar. Trained bird dogs in the form of pointers and flushing dogs are available. Upland bird hunts run from Oct. 1 to March 31.

You can join as an annual member and receive discounted daily fees, or simply day-hunt without the annual membership for a slightly higher rate.

Non-member rates run the gambit, from $250 for one to two hunters for six pheasants and two chukars, to $575 for four hunters harvesting up to 14 pheasants and six chukars. An annual membership is $400, which reduces the day-hunt fees to $145 to $290. You can also get a volume discount: pay $1,000 and you can harvest up to 42 birds.

There's also productive waterfowl hunting offered here. Moreng keeps the shooting pressure on these birds at a minimum, with one blind per 80 acres for ducks and geese. Rates are very reasonable for waterfowl, ranging from $150 per day for two hunters, to $300 for three or four shooters. If you've made some money on the Broncos, a blind for the whole season runs $1,600 with a maximum of four hunters in the blind.

IDAHO

Sparsely populated Idaho still offers plenty of wide-open space for bird hunters, but if you're looking for something spectacular, consider the Orvis-endorsed hunting available at the Flying B Ranch.

This upscale lodge is located in Kamiah, about 70 miles east of Lewiston. Shooting is available for a mix of wild and pen-raised upland birds from Aug. 15 to April 15. There's no limit on pen-raised birds. The variety of upland birds here is the real attraction, with a mixed bag of pheasant, Huns, chukar, valley quail and grouse.

Waterfowl isn't available, but there's terrific steelhead fishing on the nearby Clearwater River, and big-game hunting for elk, mule deer, cougar, white-tailed deer and black bear. Sporting clays are also offered, along with a 14,000 square foot lodge that accommodates up to 21 hunters.

Prices here run steep, but if you want some pampering and excellent bird hunting, this is the place. Three-day packages run from $3,600 to $3,900 per gun. Peak season is mid-October to the end of November, so make reservations a good three to six months out. Bird cleaning and vacuum packing is included.

CLUBS & CONTACTS


Arizona — Cibola Sportsman's Club, Cibola, AZ; 928-857-3531.



Colorado — Rocky Ridge Sporting and Conservation Club, Fort Collins, CO; 970-221-4868.



Idaho — The Flying B Ranch, Brian Wilkins, Kamiah, ID; 800-472-1945.



Montana — Terri Lupold, Van Voast's Farms/Big Sky Sporting Clays, Polson, MT; 406-883-2000.



Nevada — Walker River Resort, Teiya Simmons, Smith, NV; 775-465-2573.



New Mexico — BYOH Outfitters, Scott Lafevers, Mimbres, NM; 505-536-3962.



Utah — River Bottom Game Birds, Josh Behling, Castle Dale, UT; 801-891-7827 or 435-384-2113.



Wyoming — Goshen Hole Hunt Club/Little River Game Farm, Dennis Simmons, Hawk Springs, WY; 866-532-3442. — Dusty Routh

 

MONTANA

Looking for something more down home, yet productive and inexpensive? It's hard to come by in these days of Hollywood-gone-Montana bird hunting and trout snobbery, but at Van Voast's Farms/Big Sky Sporting Clays in Polson, you can have all the down-home treatment you can handle.

This 6,000-acre family-owned farm is midway between Missoula and Kalispell, and offers pen-raised pheasant hunting from Sept. 1 to March 31. You can bring your own dog or call ahead and ask to hunt with one of the members who might be willing to bring one of theirs.

Sporting clays are offered on Wednesdays from noon to 5 p.m. and all day on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The birds range from $75 for a minimum of three, to $360 for 15 birds and $695 for 30 birds. This is a small club with around 15 regular members. The rest of the hunters use it on a day-fee basis. The scenery is excellent, and the shooting can be fast and furious. Reservations are required a "whopping" 24 hours in advance.

NEVADA

Shooting and gambling go hand in hand, or at least they did back in the Old West. For modern times, try your shooting irons at Walker River Resort in Smith.

The pen-raised pheasant and chukar here are available from Oct. 1 to Feb. 28. Here you'll find 600 splendid acres of upland bird land. The pheasant fields are along the west fork of the Walker River, with cover comprised of willows and grasses. This upcoming season there will be some farm country also. The chukar fields are up the draws toward Mount Wilson.

Walker River can accommodate groups, and guides with dogs are available but not required. Memberships are an option, or you can hunt on day-use terms of $120 for six chukar and four pheasants. Bird cleaning is available for $3 per bird. Day hunts are open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Call at least a day ahead to make reservations. Overnight accommodations are available via RV sites and cottages, and there's a lounge and store. Smith is an hour and 15 minutes south of Carson City off Highway 208, 85 miles from Reno.

NEW MEXICO

For a change of pace, consider the wild bird hunting for desert quail available on the 85,000 private acres run by BYOH Outfitters in Mimbres.

This is absolutely top-shelf upland bird hunting at its finest, with comfy accommodations and incredible Southwest cuisine. Plan on bringing a lot of shotgun shells.

You'll also find hunting here for just about every other game animal you'd care to pursue, including antelope, elk, Coues deer, mule deer, javelina pigs, Merriam's turkey, cougar and bear. These aren't pen-raised quail, but this area offers

some of the finest and fastest quail shooting of anywhere in the United States if you're a quail junkie.

UTAH

Located two and a half hours from Salt Lake City near the town of Castle Dale, River Bottom Game Birds offers great hunting at reasonable prices for pen-raised pheasants, chukar and quail.

The season here runs from September to March. Rates are very affordable, at $8 per chukar and $12 for a mix of hen and rooster pheasant. Rooster-only releases are $15 per bird. Add another $2 per bird if you'd like a guide on your hunt. Dogs and guides aren't required, but they are helpful and available, or bring your own pooch.

WYOMING

The Western drought of the last few years has hit Wyoming hard and put a number of hunting operations out of business due to a lack of sustainable cover. So it makes sense to hunt along rivers and creeks.

You'll find the Goshen Hole Hunt Club and the Little River Game Farm 50 miles north of Cheyenne along the North Platte River to be to your liking. Both are about three miles outside the burg of Hawk Springs.

Hunting is available (both in the valley and along the treed ridges) for pheasant, chukar, Huns and quail. The season here runs from Aug. 1 to March 31, but it can be so hot in August that it's tough for dogs to smell the birds. Look for the best hunting to start when the weather cools in September.

Waterfowl hunting on a day-fee basis is also done here, with excellent shooting along the river for teal, mallards and goldeneye. The goose hunting here in some years can be phenomenal. Rates start at $100 per gun for up to six pheasants.



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