By Mark Fike
Now that the hunting season is over for most of the country, many of us are taking a short break but already starting to miss picking up the gun and going out for a good hunt. While wild birds may no longer be fair game, preserve raised birds are still an option.
In some parts of our country, there are game preserves that offer hunting for pheasant, chukar or even quail. While the conditions at a preserve can vary and some are not quite as “wild” as wild birds truly are, preserves are a great place to accomplish a lot of things to include extending your hunting season.
A game preserve will pretty much guarantee you will at least see some birds. While many of our states are at historic lows on quail numbers, this option at least gets your dog some work even if it is not at the same level they might have to work to find a wild covey of quail.
Working your dog is a good thing and it keeps your dog tuned up. While hunting a game preserve, hunters have the option to address shortcomings they witnessed during the season. Having an environment that is easier to maneuver in while working your dog will assist your endeavors to smooth out problems.
When looking for a game preserve to hunt, scour the classified ads of your state or regional outdoor pub. Many of these operations advertise in such places. Once you find an ad, begin doing your homework before you agree to go hunt the place.
The first thing I would do is get a list compiled of at least three game preserves within reasonable driving distance. Second, I would note their price. Prices for hunts vary a lot and depend on the hunt being unguided or guided. Then the price varies depending on how many and what type of birds are offered.
Game preserves buy and then raise, at least temporarily, the birds in long flight pens. They are regulated and licensed. Don’t be afraid to call the preserve and speak to the preserve manager. Ask them how long they keep the birds penned before they are put out. This will tell you how fast they go through birds.
The faster they go through birds, the better their business is and that will tell you how good they are. Be direct and ask what kind of cover they have planted, what condition it is now in since it is late winter and how many acres you will have to hunt while there.
Typically cover is planted fields with some hedgerows and edges. Having one field to hunt is not nearly as good as having a few fields to hunt. If the place is packing in hunters and cramming you into small fields, that is not a quality hunt.
With this in mind, it may be better to try to take a day off midweek to go hunt when the preserve may have less clients and be willing to spread you out a bit.
Another consideration is to ask if you can continue working your dog after your dog points and flushes your allotted birds you paid for. For instance, if you pay for 5 pheasants to be put out in the field before your arrival and your dog is a whiz and points them in two hours but your hunt window is four hours, can you hunt another two hours?
I say this because it is very possible previous hunters haven’t shot all their birds. I have gotten several bonus birds in the past this way. Even finding one or two more birds and getting the dog extra work is a good thing. Having a heavy bag at the end of the hunt does not hurt either.
If this is a possibility, consider taking a Monday off and going hunting. Most people go hunt on the weekend. Leftover birds are more likely to be on the property the day or two after that. Once the foxes and hawks get in line to get their meals—and trust me, they are constantly hunting preserves too—the bird population goes down quickly. Most leftover birds don’t last a week for one reason or another.
Last, hunting a game preserve is a great way to enjoy a family or friends day out. Introduce a young person or new hunter to our sport in an environment where the possibility of at least seeing something to shoot at is nearly guaranteed.
With the rest of February and March still yet to come, hunting a game preserve is a fun option to finish up the winter and take us up to spring gobbler season.