The two English setters glided through the open expanse of pines like ghosts floating across an ephemeral landscape, their noses searching the air for a hint of game. Suddenly Belle, the larger of the pair, whipped around and froze in mid-
Standing like a statue, the feathering on her rigid tail wafting in the breeze, she signaled the presence of one or more bobwhite quail in the undergrowth.
Belle’s partner, a smaller male with a long rope attached to his collar, approached from the rear and paused momentarily, heeding his instinct to “back” a pointing dog. As he did so, a man dressed in canvas breeches bent down to grasp
the end of the rope and said, “Looks like he’s getting the idea. Go ahead and flush the bird and I’ll make sure Beau doesn’t break.” Another man stepped forward and, with a flurry of wings, a bird exploded from the cover. It fell as a shotgun barked and the dogs were released to retrieve their quarry.
At the same time, about thirty miles away, two elderly men sat in a blind on the edge of a small pond. As the sun started to peek above the trees in the distance, one spoke quietly, “Here come two, about eleven o’clock.” In the next few moments a pair of mallard drakes materialized, wings cupped, orange feet reaching for the still water.
The men rose as one, their shotguns roared and one duck splashed down among the decoys floating in front of the blind. As they picked up the bird and noted the aluminum band on one leg, one of the men turned toward his partner, “Ya’know,
you never could handle those right-to-lefts,” and chuckled.
As the men approached the frame building that served as a clubhouse an hour later, they met a man and a young boy making their way down the path toward the pond the men had just left. “You guys gonna see if you can shoot a few ducks?”
asked one of the older men.
“Yes sir,” responded the boy with a grin. The young fellow in his too-big hunting coat reminded the man of his son when he was about that age. On one hand, those days seemed as long ago as the Middle Ages; in another way they were
What do those two scenes have in common? They both occurred on commercial hunting preserves – places where sportsmen can pursue big game, waterfowl or upland birds and have a much better-than-average chance of success. They are
places where those who want to train bird dogs can have plenty of game in a controlled environment. Or, where hunters beyond their prime can still enjoy the sport that made their younger lives worthwhile. And they are excellent places to
introduce young sportsmen to hunting.
Commercial hunting preserves vary in some respects but are very similar in others. Some offer hunting for deer, bear or wild boar in a fair-game environment.
Since those are classified as big game animals, sportsmen on preserves must adhere to state regulations regarding open seasons, bag limits and other criteria. On commercial preserves, however, the odds of bagging one of those animals is better than in most public hunting situations since a great deal of effort goes into managing the property for that game and hunting pressure is carefully regulated.
Guides, if needed, are generally available both to put hunters in the best locations and to help handle things after a kill.
The “bread and butter” for most commercial preserves, though, is hunting feathered game. Wild ducks and turkeys are offered by some operations but, again, because they are not domestically reared, Wildlife Commission regulations apply and are closely monitored. In most cases, however, the birds harvested on hunting preserves are raised on game farms and released in natural habitat before hunts.
Bobwhite quail, chukar partridge, pen-raised mallards and pheasant are the most common.
Depending on the hunter’s wishes, the set-up can be as challenging as he desires. For example, older individuals with limited mobility, or those with young or inexperienced companions may prefer to hunt tracts that are less difficult to get around in and offer more open shooting lanes. Experienced hunters who want something similar to wild bird hunting may opt for more challenging cover. It depends on the hunter’s desires and, in respect to the number of birds he sees, how much he’s willing to pay.
Another benefit of hunting on commercial preserves, at least for pen-raised feathered game, is that the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) allows an extended season on those sites because the hunting there is
for game that has been produced and released for that purpose. It has little or no impact on wild populations. Traditionally, the hunting preserve season in North Carolina opens on October 1 and closes the last day of March. By comparison, the
wild quail season doesn’t come in until November 23 and closes on February 29.
The first preserves were licensed in North Carolina in 1957, when 10 were issued operating permits by the NCWRC. Their growth was slow, probably due to the fact that the market was limited and other hunting opportunities plentiful. The
number of preserves did increase gradually, however, and by 1977 there were 41 licensed in the state, with the majority located in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain.
In the following decades, preserves not only grew in number but also underwent an evolution in form and function. Today there are about 130 statewide. Beginning in 1965, preserves were allowed to release turkeys for hunting and a few did.
Subsequent research found that pen-raised turkeys posed a severe threat to wild flocks because of the possibility of introducing lethal diseases. As a result, in 1972 the release of turkeys was banned everywhere in North Carolina.
Today, shooting preserves in eastern North Carolina offer a variety of game and outdoor activities. Some have skeet and/or sporting clays ranges so hunters can keep their shooting eyes sharp year around. A few put on “European Tower Hunts”
for pheasants a few times a year. The most important thing offered by preserves today, though, is hard-flying game birds in a quality hunting environment.
Some preserves offer boarding and training for individuals’ dogs. Contentnea Creek Shooting Preserve in Greene County is a good example. J.C. Bryant, a professional trainer and field trial handler, works clients’ dogs on the preserve,
getting them ready for the field or for trials. His list of “students” includes a number of field trial winners and some champions.
There are a number of preserves in this area and they offer a variety of services and amenities. The NCWRC can provide a list of preserves licensed by the state but notes only locations, phone numbers and game offered.
Some commercial preserves in this area are:
Contentnea Creek Shooting Preserve – 252-524-1515
Feather Creek Farms Hunting Preserve – 252-752-3381
Smoke N Guns Hunting Preserve – 252-286-9148
Paradise Shooting Preserve – 252-746-2748
Huckleberry Ridge Hunting Preserve – 866-614-7281
Rose Hill Plantation – 252-459-3730
Shelter Creek Plantation – 910-791-7778
Haddock Guide Service – 252-531-4868
Ed Wall can be reached at email@example.com or 252-671-3207. His web site is www.edwalloutdoors.com