In the hunting world, there are some polarizing subjects. And in upland hunting circles, game preserves (also called hunting preserves, hunting clubs, or game farms) can trigger some interesting conversations. Some sneer at the thought of captive birds being released for hunting purposes. But to those that react negatively to it, pause for a moment and consider the following. In the article below, the author (Alex Rank) raises several great points about the value of game preserves and what a tool they can be for hunter recruitment.
Guest Post | Game Farms for New Hunters?
“This one is coming back,” I said to my wife, hardly looking up from the bowl of salsa in front me. Sure enough, the yellow flag flashed across the screen and landed lamely on the turf. The official announced that number 75, offense, was guilty of holding. A ten-yard penalty was assessed as punishment for his transgression and the game resumed.
“How did you see that penalty? Sometimes I feel like you and I are watching a different game,” my wife said. I shrugged my shoulders and casually replied, “Well, I’ve seen that a thousand times. The left tackle was getting beat and out of desperation he grabbed a fistful of jersey.” It was only a split second, but I was positive I saw it and the instant replay supported my claim.
I’m no great football mind, let me assure you. I have, however, watched a couple thousand football games in my life and grew up with a dad who was a high functioning football-aholic. We lived, ate, and breathed football in my house for as long as I can remember. Decades of exposure gradually imbued me with a fairly good eye for the game. My wife isn’t less intelligent than me. In fact, she’s much, much more intelligent than I am (her decision to marry me excluded). It’s just that the game is very fast, and it takes a long time to learn it.
Application to Hunting
Football is a lot like bird hunting. On the surface, they both appear relatively simple. Move the ball down the field and cross the goal line to score points. Simple enough, until a 325-pound defensive end has a say in it. Find the bird, shoot the bird, recover the bird. That’s how you hunt upland birds, right? It’s just not that simple, and if it were, it wouldn’t be very fun. It’s the complexity and nuance that keeps people coming back to bird hunting (and football) for their entire lives.
My dad instructed me in the highly technical science of football. This is how most bird hunters learn their craft. It can be incredibly difficult to replicate the one-on-one instruction that a mother or father who hunts imparts on their children. And while I eagerly welcome the chance to watch football with my wife and help her learn the game (if for no other reason than if she liked it, I could watch more football), chances to learn about bird hunting firsthand aren’t so readily available to me.
So how does a new hunter get his or her feet wet? How do you get that practical, firsthand experience that’s so critical to being successful and safe in the field? Enter the game preserve.
The Value of Game Preserves
I know, the topic of game farms is fraught with controversy. Some say it’s like shooting fish in a barrel, but as somebody who didn’t grow up with shotguns, I don’t think shooting fish in a barrel sounds that easy either. As a new hunter, I have found game preserves to be the most rewarding, most fun, and most instructive.
All of the major upland bird conservation organizations have new hunter recruitment programs. Even with those resources, it can still be very difficult for new hunters to find people to hunt with. “I only hunt with my dad,” or “We don’t bring new guys to the farm,” are common responses to a new hunter seeking instruction. So many new hunters are left to go it alone.
Let me tell you, for the record, walking around in the woods, alone, and not finding grouse, is a great way to ensure that person never hunts again. Is this the “right” kind of aspen? Is this the kind of soil woodcock prefer? It’s one thing to read about habitat and wingshooting methods. It’s an entirely different thing to actually find and kill wild birds.
Learning From Hunting Preserves
After many attempts at solo, dog-less bird hunting, I had had enough. I called up a local game farm, booked a date, hired a dog, and was all set. I showed up at 11 A.M. on the day of the hunt, signed a few release forms, and took the German shorthair I had rented out to my field.
The experience was amazing. The pheasants were hidden in a large field for me and the dog to find. Some of the birds were easier to find than others. Some of them held tight until I was practically on top of them, and others flushed at longer distances. I left the game preserve with a new sense of confidence, and three fully dressed pheasants ready for the table or freezer. In short, I was completely hooked on upland bird hunting. I had successfully shot pheasants. I drove away grinning from ear to ear.
The next day, I joined the Ruffed Grouse Society. A few months later, I had a brand-new English Setter puppy in my house with dreams of an autumn full of adventures afield with my dog and a gun. I had taken the plunge and there was no going back.
Game Preserves for Hunting Recruitment
The things I learned that day at the game preserve were invaluable to me. I had never seen a dog point a bird. I’d never shot a flushing pheasant. And I never had to retrieve downed game. Those are all experiences that I will build on in the coming season with my own dog.
The next time somebody you know wants to try their hand at bird hunting, take them with you and teach them how it’s done. If you’re not able to do that, point them in the direction of a game farm. The best way to learn something is to get out there and do it. Game preserves provide a safe and controlled space to learn and become a better wild bird hunter.
I will be making several trips to game preserves this fall. I want my new dog to get on birds and I need wingshooting practice. The best way for me to guarantee that is through a preserve. After that, we will move on to wild grouse and pheasants. Game farms have created at least one more wild bird hunter.
The great sportsman and writer George Bird Evans was known to frequent pheasant game farms in order to extend his gunning season. If it was good enough for him, it’s probably good enough for the rest of us.