Anderson: Hunt clubs help sustain wild-bird hunters -- and vice versa

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 21, 2013 - 11:03 PM
hide

Thickets of willows are among the many landscape features at Wild Wings Hunt Club near Pine City, Minn., that seek to imitate coverts encountered while wild bird hunting.

Photo: Dennis Anderson,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

It could have been a late-season pheasant hunt in any of the usual haunts: Stevens County out west or — to the southwest — Lyon, Pipestone or Jackson counties. These are some of Minnesota’s traditional ringneck hot spots, places where pheasant hunters have hiked for generations, hoping to find roosters that will hold tight enough even now in December to offer a shot.

 

Instead I was in Pine County, a little over an hour north of the Twin Cities. This was Tuesday, and out ahead of me, tumbling through more than a foot of snow, were two Labradors, Mick and Allie, both turning themselves inside out to find birds.

What made this outing different from more traditional hunts was my knowledge that somewhere in the 80 acres we tromped, pheasants lurked.

Welcome to hunting on one of Minnesota’s 63 commercially licensed shooting preserves, in this case Wings North, under the cheerful management of Chad Hughes, 38.

“We opened in September 1998,’’ Hughes said. “There was a lot of interest at the time among hunters for a club that offered the amenities private clubs offered — a bar and restaurant, for instance — with more reasonable annual membership fees. Or no annual membership requirements at all.’’

The son of Jeff Hughes, longtime manager of Wild Wings of Oneka, the fabled hunt club near Hugo, just north of St. Paul, he grew up in the shooting preserve business.

When Wings North opened, well-known metro shooting preserves such as the Horse and Hunt Club in Prior Lake and Marsh Lake in Victoria were full or nearly full, with waiting lists of people and corporations wanting memberships.

In the years since, many state shooting preserves have had their ups and downs.

In 2001, for example, the DNR licensed 41 commercial shooting preserves. By 2006, that number had grown to 82, only to fall to 70 in 2009.

“Right now there are 63,’’ said Mike Tenney, who oversees preserve licensing for the DNR.

• • •

Minnesota commercial shooting preserves are required by the DNR to release at least 1,000 birds a year, whether pheasants, chukar partridge or quail.

Private shooting preserves, by contrast, are allowed to release no more than 300 birds.

Some commercial clubs purchase adult birds for release, managing their inventory carefully, week by week. Others, like Gold Meadows Hunting Preserve near Richmond, Minn., 18 miles west of St. Cloud, raise pheasants from day-old chicks.

“We’re known for big pheasants,’’ said Joe Doubek, the second-generation operator of Gold Meadows. “Our pheasants begin as eggs laid in Pennsylvania. They’re hatched in Wisconsin. Then we get them as day-old chicks — about 15,000 of them — and raise them ourselves.’’

Though dismissed by some purists as “canned hunts,’’ shooting preserves have long been popular in Minnesota, in large part because the state has thousands of uplanders who want to continue hunting after the state’s fall wild-bird seasons end.

Additionally, clubs that offer released birds can be great training grounds for young dogs, while offering veteran canines opportunities to stay fresh.

Increasingly, some shooting preserves — among them Wings North, Wild Wings, and the Horse and Hunt Club — also offer sporting clays or trap ranges.

And some are used by wildlife groups such as Pheasants Forever to offer mentored, daylong youth hunts, which might include gun and safety instruction, lessons in conservation and opportunities in the field to target a bird or two. Often a meal is also involved.

So in some ways shooting preserves help sustain wild bird hunters and wild bird hunting. And vice versa.

“Shooting preserves need hunters, and to sustain hunters, wild birds and wild-bird hunting are also needed,’’ Chad Hughes said.

By contrast, in Britain and throughout much of Europe, very little wild bird “hunting’’ exists as it’s commonly practiced here.

Instead, “shooting’’ on large, private estates — some as sprawling as 20,000 acres — is the way the sport is undertaken. Sometimes this involves “walk-ups’’ through row crops such as beet fields, often by a half-dozen guns or more. But the preferred method is driven bird shooting, in which men (“beaters’’) with spaniels and similar dogs push through a woods and drive birds over waiting shooters (“guns’’).

Whether large numbers of U.S. hunters could, or would, shift to something similar if wild birds declined significantly here is an open question.

Doubek, of Gold Meadows, worries less about the future of wild birds — they will always be around, he says — than about access to good hunting ground.

“The average guy gets frustrated when he goes to a wildlife management area and sees 20 trucks there,’’ he said. “That’s what helps our business. Everyone today has a fast-paced life, and when hunters come here, they and their dogs can head out knowing they’ll have the ground to themselves and that they’ll see birds.’’

As the economy has improved, phones at the state’s shooting preserves have rung more often, said Bette Bensch, who with her husband, Les, owns Viking Valley Hunt Club near Ashby, Minn.

“During the recession, we didn’t suffer as much as a lot of businesses did because hunters and fishermen will find a way to hunt and fish, no matter what,’’ Bensch said. “Still, we’re definitely seeing an uptick this year.’’

The increase might be due in part to the dramatic falloff of pheasants in South Dakota, where ringnecks were down 64 percent this year.

“We have clients come from all over the country,’’ Bensch said. “They stay for two or three days and get much the same experience they would in South Dakota.’’

Hughes, Doubek and Bensch say their immediate concern is the weather. Some snow is nice for their business, but not deep drifts of it. And they don’t want temperatures so low hunters choose to stay inside.

Such was not the case Tuesday, when Allie, Mick and I were happy enough in the elements, trudging through thick willows and stripped crops, looking for the 10 birds that had been released where we hunted.

A few hours passed. But we put all the pheasants to wing and took home a bag full.

Afterward, in the cozy confines of the comfortable Wings North Lodge, Hughes put a pheasant Alfredo pizza in the oven, and we talked birds and bird hunting — wild and otherwise.

This was Tuesday, Dec. 17, and Allie, Mick and I were happy enough to pass the day the way we did.







 

  • related content

  • Scavenger hunt shows off Minnesota in winter

    Saturday December 21, 2013

    Participate in a scavenger hunt called “Checkpoint MN,” featuring 10 locations marked by signs around the state, and you could receive prizes from snow bikes to getaway packages.

  • Looking for winter adventure? Check out these four state parks

    Friday December 20, 2013

    Early snow and cold have made this December the best start to the winter recreation season in years.

  • Chad Hughes, co-owner and manager of Wings North Hunt Club shown behind bar in Santa hat, said his club draws clients from Duluth as well as the Twin Cities and central Minnesota.

  • Birds released and harvested were tallied on a board at Wings North Hunt Club near Pine City.

  • Wild or not? A rooster pheasant showed off his splendid feathered coat. The bird is one of thousands released each year at state hunt clubs.

  • In pursuit of a bird burrowed deep in a snow- and ice-covered marsh, Allie, a yellow Labrador, dug in, following her nose.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Buffalo 17 3rd Qtr 12:51
New England 6
Cleveland 3 3rd Qtr 13:26
Baltimore 3
Dallas 27 3rd Qtr
Washington 10
Indianapolis 17 3rd Qtr
Tennessee 7
Jacksonville 10 3rd Qtr
Houston 14
San Diego 7 3rd Qtr
Kansas City 16
NY Jets 14 3rd Qtr 15:00
Miami 17
Chicago 3 3rd Qtr 13:23
Minnesota 3
Philadelphia 17 3rd Qtr
NY Giants 16
New Orleans 7 3rd Qtr 14:55
Tampa Bay 20
Carolina 3:25 PM
Atlanta
Detroit 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Oakland 3:25 PM
Denver
Arizona 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 3:25 PM
Seattle
Cincinnati 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA
TBA 1/4/15 2:00 AM
TBA
TBA 1/4/15 2:00 AM
TBA
Detroit 3:30 PM
Cleveland
Houston 6:00 PM
San Antonio
Oklahoma City 6:30 PM
Dallas
New York 8:00 PM
Portland
Toronto 8:00 PM
Denver
Phoenix 8:30 PM
LA Lakers
Toronto 4:00 PM
Florida
Vancouver 7:00 PM
Anaheim
Tulane 57 FINAL
St Johns 82
Central Conn St 33 2nd Half 7:58
Connecticut 63
Iona 74 2nd Half 4:17
Drexel 58
Concordia (MI) 39 2nd Half 2:48
Eastern Mich 94
Harvard 23 1st Half 2:39
Arizona State 30
Longwood 18 1st Half 4:51
Ball State 17
Sacred Heart 26 1st Half 41:
Brown 32
Colgate 23 1st Half 5:45
Columbia 27
MD-Eastern Shore 45 1st Half 1:18
Duquesne 38
UNC Greensboro 21 1st Half 5:17
East Carolina 31
Marist 11 1st Half 6:45
Elon 19
NJIT 14 1st Half 7:45
Lafayette 17
Cincinnati Christian 19 1st Half 4:32
Liberty 26
Morgan State 9 1st Half 6:44
Marquette 23
Campbell 14 1st Half 4:16
Samford 17
Bucknell 33 1st Half 3:58
Siena 25
Long Beach State 21 1st Half 7:25
Syracuse 28
Coppin State 23 1st Half 4:44
Evansville 36
UMKC 15 1st Half 6:01
Indiana State 23
Hofstra 5 1st Half 17:46
Long Island 4
Coast Guard 2:00 PM
Army
Thomas (GA) 2:00 PM
High Point
Texas Southern 2:00 PM
Kansas State
Rutgers 2:00 PM
Monmouth
NC Wesleyan 2:00 PM
NC A&T
South Dakota St 2:00 PM
Northern Iowa
Central Penn College 2:00 PM
Radford
Bowling Green 2:00 PM
South Florida
Harris-Stowe 2:00 PM
SE Missouri St
Robert Morris-IL 2:00 PM
SIU Edwardsville
Northland College 2:00 PM
North Dakota St
Milwaukee 2:00 PM
South Dakota
Northwestern St 2:30 PM
Arkansas
Saint Peters 3:00 PM
Cornell
St Katherine 3:00 PM
Fresno State
Haskell 3:00 PM
Oral Roberts
Wake Forest 3:00 PM
Richmond
Fla Gulf Coast 3:00 PM
Xavier
SD Christian 3:05 PM
Northern Ariz
Judson 3:30 PM
IUPU-Ft Wayne
Ill-Chicago 4:00 PM
Bradley
Loyola-Maryland 4:00 PM
Fairfield
Miss Valley St 4:00 PM
Houston
Lehigh 4:00 PM
UMBC
Delaware State 4:00 PM
Temple
Belmont 5:00 PM
Butler
Howard 5:00 PM
Fordham
NW Christian 5:00 PM
Nevada
UC Davis 5:00 PM
Washington St
Abilene Christian 5:00 PM
Grand Canyon
UCLA 5:30 PM
Alabama
Stony Brook 7:00 PM
Washington
Buffalo 7:00 PM
Wisconsin
CS-Bakersfield 9:00 PM
California
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Virginia Tech 33
(15) Arizona State 36 FINAL
Duke 31
Miami-Florida 21 FINAL
So Carolina 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Penn State 31
(25) Nebraska 42 FINAL
(24) USC 45
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Texas
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
Stanford
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
Minnesota
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
Tennessee
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
East Carolina 1/3/15 11:00 AM
Florida
Toledo 1/4/15 8:00 PM
Arkansas State
Drexel 71 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 54
Holy Cross 63 FINAL
Norfolk State 62
East Carolina 62 FINAL
South Florida 69
(10) Oregon State 50 2nd Half 9:08
(8) Tennessee 54
Providence 50 2nd Half 5:11
Boston College 70
Florida A&M 38 2nd Half 7:06
Miami-Florida 71
Oakland 61 2nd Half 2:41
Central Michigan 64
Chattanooga 55 2nd Half 2:35
SIU-Edwardsville 46
Fairfield 57 2nd Half 1:27
La Salle 66
St Francis-PA 27 1st Half 4:20
Pittsburgh 30
Milwaukee 35 1st Half 3:24
IUPU-Ft Wayne 32
Gardner-Webb 15 1st Half 6:03
Longwood 26
New Hampshire 16 1st Half 3:59
Manhattan 24
Bucknell 23 1st Half 7:39
Binghamton 19
Northeastern 27 1st Half 2:33
Albany 23
George Mason 21 1st Half 7:08
Towson 21
Richmond 15 1st Half 6:08
William & Mary 24
Tulane 24 1st Half 3:21
Cincinnati 17
North Florida 16 1st Half 8:22
Florida 25
(14) Georgia 18 1st Half 5:00
Seton Hall 22
Tennessee St 20 1st Half 7:48
(12) Kentucky 24
American Univ 24 1st Half 3:17
Wake Forest 34
Massachusetts 25 1st Half 9:40
Boston U 16
Quinnipiac 24 1st Half 7:35
Saint Josephs 19
Lafayette 13 1st Half 2:41
Saint Peters 14
Northwestern 29 1st Half 2:58
(20) Michigan State 18
Duquesne 33 1st Half 3:58
Lehigh 35
George Washington 31 1st Half 6:18
Loyola-Maryland 13
(17) Rutgers 8 1st Half 11:21
Indiana 10
(24) Green Bay 25 1st Half 7:16
Dayton 20
Western Mich 1:30 PM
Stony Brook
Davidson 2 1st Half 17:22
Virginia 5
UNC Greensboro 2:00 PM
LSU
Denver 2:00 PM
North Texas
VA Commonwealth 2:00 PM
Coppin State
Huston-Tillotson 2:00 PM
Houston Baptist
Lamar 2:00 PM
Rice
Miss Valley St 2:00 PM
Alabama
Saint Louis 2:00 PM
Eastern Illinois
Middle Tennessee 2:00 PM
Tenn Tech
Penn State 2:00 PM
(23) Iowa
Purdue 2:00 PM
Illinois
DePaul 2:05 PM
Illinois State
Sam Houston St 2:05 PM
Wichita State
South Dakota 2:30 PM
TX-San Antonio
(4) Notre Dame 3:00 PM
UCLA
Coll of Charleston 3:00 PM
SC State
Alcorn State 3:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Dartmouth 3:00 PM
Niagara
Colgate 3:00 PM
Siena
Michigan 3:00 PM
Wisconsin
Fla Gulf Coast 3:00 PM
CS-Northridge
Yale 3:30 PM
(25) Arizona State
UC Santa Barbara 4:00 PM
(16) Stanford
Long Island 4:00 PM
Long Beach St
Jackson State 4:00 PM
Louisiana
Eureka 4:30 PM
Western Ill
Cornell 5:00 PM
(22) Syracuse
Temple 7:30 PM
Memphis
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close