This week I got an opportunity to do something new. Although I have read about pheasant hunting in the Midwest all my life, I had never actually been on a bird hunt and hunted over dogs. Tuesday, I got the chance and managed to do it without the expense of a long, drawn out trip to the Dakotas.
My oldest son Travis arranged this hunt at the Hunting Hills Preserve in Dilliner, Pennsylvania.
This was an amazing time for a couple of reasons.
First, the facility was incredible. Hunting Hills is owned by Roy Sisler who started the facility in the late 1960’s at a different location. Sisler, who is a retired school teacher, has been training world class bird dogs for decades. He tells me at one time he was training more than 100 bird dogs at once for customers stretching from New York to California. The original location where he was engaged in the activity was too small. He bought Hunting Hills in 1979.
“This whole place was an old strip mine,” he explained to me in a conversation as we looked out onto the fields. “That worked really well with us with those long corners.”
Over the years, Sisler discovered switch grass out west and added it to his 750 acre facility along with autumn olive trees. All were deliberately placed in such a way to create habitat for birds. As he trained dogs, many of Sisler’s clients also wanted to hunt, but didn’t want the time and expense of going out west. The hunting preserve was born and at Hunting Hills you’ll hunt only roosters.
“I’m the only preserve that hunts 100 percent roosters,” he explained. “I negotiated that with the great grandfather of the company I buy the birds from. I started out ordering 300 birds in the 1960’s and got 60/40 roosters to hens. I had a bunch of hunters who wouldn’t shoot a hen and I was wasting money.”
The deal for the birds struck in the 1960’s is the same one in effect today.
The birds use the cover planted along the preserve as dogs owned by both the preserve and clients criss cross and look for a point. A guide slowly moves in to force the birds into the air. It’s quite a rush as the bird goes straight up before taking flight.
The other remarkable note about this hunt was who I was with. Travis learned about Hunting Hills through his workplace and often shoots sporting clays there. The club during the summer months features several world class sporting clay ranges and five-stand configurations. He had always wanted to take a hunt like this and arranged for it to happen.
This was a radical departure from the old days. As he and his brother were growing up, I always made the arrangements. This time, I was just along for the ride along with my other son Hank and my grandson Danny–or “Bub” as we call him. The four of us had a blast and that was something special.
It’s been a while since all of us have had a chance to go hunting together. It used to happen a lot until the boys grew up. Now Travis is married with kids and a full time job. Hank just completed his degree at Marshall University and the day after our hunt moved out of state to take a job of his own.
I knew this day would come. Life happens. Kids grow up and become adults with families of their own. It’s the natural order of things and why you work so hard to raise your children well. This is the goal. Yet it’s a tad bitter sweet that the get togethers are fewer and further between. However, when you have a chance to pull it off they are made that much more memorable.
We’ve already booked another hunt on the same day in 2020. I’m already counting the days.