Close counts in horseshoes, hand grenades … and pheasants!
The first two are self-explanatory, but with pheasants, “close” is how you hope stocked-for-the-gun birds will act compared to wild birds. At Ringneck Ranch you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference.
“I like to equate our pheasants with opening day wild birds,” says Keith Houghton who has been at the shooting preserve game a long time, and whose Tipton, Kansas, ranch has been in the family for five generations.
For the old time, hard-core bird hunter, preserve hunting always has had a faint taint to it, like old sandwich meat with a greenish tinge, but that’s a bum rap.
Two dogs on point at Kansas’ Ringneck Ranch.
Hunting ‘The Way
It Used To Be’
I remember a Ringneck Ranch rooster that ran ahead of us for a quarter-mile until he reached the property line beyond, which was sere shortgrass prairie and then flushed many yards out of gun range and crossed the horizon, a tiny dot headed for, perhaps, a distant galaxy!
This was wild bird behavior, but when I said I thought it might be a wild bird, our guide just shook his head.
With 12,000 acres of controlled shooting preserve land to roam, habitat that is ideal for pheasants, Ringneck Ranch is close to “The Way It Used to Be.” As a bonus, you very likely will get shots at wild prairie chickens. They are deceptive flyers, seemingly slow, but actually moving at the velocity of your average artillery shell.
Keith and Debra Houghton started Ringneck Ranch in 1983. Keith is an airline pilot and Debra was a flight attendant. Ringneck became a retirement activity well before retirement.
A pheasant flushes ahead of a hunter.
“We have shooting parties of four- to six hunters, with five being ideal,” Keith says. Each party has a guide who will furnish dogs, or hunters can use their own. There is a sag wagon for those hunters who wind down toward the end of a cover strip and want to warm up and rest.
Hunts start about 8:30 and there is a mid-morning break with hot chocolate, coffee or soft drinks. Lunch is a real meal back at the lodge — no baloney sandwiches on the tailgate of a field vehicle.
There still are huge public acreages, especially in the West, where hunters can find birds and not be trampled by the mob, but those areas are shrinking. Walk-in hunting programs exist in a few states where the state wildlife agency pays landowners to allow bird hunting.
Leased hunting is expensive. Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Michigan (and perhaps others) have state-sponsored pheasant stocking.
But many areas simply don’t have wild birds or if they do, the places are locked up, either closed entirely to hunting, leased, or reserved for family and friends.
A major difference in preserve pheasant hunting compared to wild bird hunting is that you are encouraged to shoot hens as well as roosters. I had three straight hen shots over points by my dog at Ringneck Ranch. And killed three hens. I’ve long figured I was going to Hell for my sins on general principles and now I know I am.
Recommended Preserve/Lodge Hunts
These are several hunting lodge/preserves in different states that I would recommend. They include the following:
Ringneck Ranch: As stated above, this Tipton, Kansas, operation gives you excellent flying birds in a natural hunting setting and a chance at prairie chickens, a trophy bird every bit as rare and desirable as any trophy animal. Here’s a link to the website of Ringneck Ranch.
This dog retrieves a pheasant for the successful hunter at Ringneck Ranch.
Running Spring: Bill Cork worked around hunting preserves for years and absorbed the good and bad and incorporated the good into his modern operation near Everton, Missouri. His pheasants and quail fly exceptionally well and his pheasant pot pie is wonderful. Here’s a link to get more info on Running Spring.
Thunderstik Lodge: South Dakota is synonymous with pheasant hunting and there is much private land available, but few places any more scenic than Thunderstik, near Chamberlain, with its location overlooking the Missouri River. It also offers Hungarian partridge hunting. Here’s a link to the website of Thunderstik Lodge.
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