Hunting means different things to different people. In the end, it is about dreams and making them come true.
What would it be like to be in a waterfowling wonderland where there are enough naturally-occurring birds that you could focus only on big, fully-mature ducks of various species to have a bag of nothing but mountable-grade drakes? Or what if you could choose to take only particular ganders from among tens of thousands in the immediate area virtually any day during the season?
It is possible to have hunting – big-game, upland birds, waterfowl, small game, and any combination– with the right land and habitat. Hunting clubs generally represent a level beyond freelance hunting on public land. There is a level beyond hunting clubs. It is private ownership and stewardship of recreational land.
Sitting in a duck blind, in the shadow of Chimney Rock, a famous landmark on the old Oregon Trail, is a perfect place to reflect on that most American dream of owning land, improving it and putting your own personal stamp on it. Chimney Rock was first recorded by Joshua Pilcher, a mountain man traveling to Rendezvous in 1827. In 1840 one family of six took the trail to Oregon to find land. By 1849, nearly 200,000 people went overland. By the 1880s more than 500,000 people had made that 2,200-mile, six-month journey on foot. Braving hostile natives, critters and weather, many of them didn’t make it. What drove them on this perilous trek was the chance to own a piece of ground.
Private ownership of substantial recreation properties is a growing trend in the United States and is part of an expanding community of hunters who buy and/or lease property for hunting and improve habitat. According to the latest reoccurring, six-year U.S. Fish & Wildlife National Survey of Wildlife Related Recreation, hunters annually spent $7.1 billion to purchase and lease land for hunting. That was 21 percent of all expenditures on hunting. We additionally spent over $700 million on plantings for wildlife. Most significantly, in a period of growth in spending on hunting recreation, expenditures for land and leasing was the fastest growing segment at 40 percent. Safari Club International members are certainly prominent in this trend, with close to 40 percent owning ranches, farms and tractors.
This is a really positive trend, because habitat is the key factor in wildlife populations, both the species diversity and volume of wildlife. Also, this trend helps wildlife overall, both game and non-game, because it affects wildlife in adjacent areas. This means that neighbors also benefit from anything that is done to enhance wildlife on a given piece of private recreational land. Hunters once again contribute to the conservation of wildlife.
From its temporary perch on a bare branch that brisk December day, a mature bald eagle visually surveyed the adjacent North Platte River before launching skyward and then soaring in the biting wind, looking for its dinner.
Not far away in the woods, a flock of wild turkeys scratched and pecked the ground while squirrels scurried to and fro. A few hours later, white-tailed deer magically materialized where woods met open fields.
Flocks of wild geese, numbering from 10 or 20 to hundreds in multiple flights dotted the sky, providing background audio as ducks of various stripe shot like feathered fighters over the trees and into the maze of small lakes and sloughs.
Nature, in all her glory, was happening right there, right then and right in front of us.
Ever think about having a private hideaway where you can escape, hunt and be one with nature, with no time pressure to connect before the trip is done?
Do your hunting experiences include others in the family, friends, or maybe business associates?
When hunting and conservation are serious considerations, it is time to think about investing in the future – both yours and that of your children and grandchildren.
We’re talking about land here – real estate that you can dedicate to your passions and pass on.
With the right piece or pieces of land, it is possible to create the kinds of habitat that support and maintain a myriad of species. In the U.S., that easily can include deer, elk, upland birds, waterfowl and small game like rabbits and squirrels.
To illustrate just one interpretation of what privately owned recreational land CAN be, old friend and hunting buddy Jim Morey (former head of Swarovski USA, among other things) and I ventured to western Nebraska where Michael Lashley of Lashley Land and Recreational Brokers showed us around Winemaker’s Island Preserve, a 2,000-acre wildlife Eden just outside McGrew. Lashley is associated with Land Leader, a Corporate Sponsor of Safari Club International and multi-national group of experienced Real Estate professionals who specialize in recreational properties. They are also serious outdoorsmen.
Winemaker’s Island Preserve is the creation of California winemaker Sam Sabastiani – an avid waterfowler and passionate conservationist.
Years of dedicated work have gone into this private hunting mecca that now boasts deer, as well as world-class waterfowling, the likes of which few hunters ever experience.
It was late season, which meant tens of thousands of Canada geese on and around the property. Our duck bag included mallard, pintail and widgeon, as well as goose.
Although some such private places are available only to the owner(s) and invited guests, some, like Winemaker’s Island Preserve, are available via a guide/outfitter arrangement, which can provide offsetting revenue for those places where that makes sense.
The operative concept here is that with private ownership comes a tremendously expanded number of possibilities, all under the control of the owner.
“Winemaker’s Island appears from the sky as a land of lakes and waterways,” Lashley explained. “Power was brought to several ponds and sloughs to provide enough heat to create inviting, steaming open water in the dead of winter. There are now 18 ponds connected by undulating streams of warm water.
“Corn and alfalfa fields are perfectly placed as food sources. Hundreds of thousands of invasive Russian olive trees have been removed, opening up once again room for native grasses and pasture. Only the best trees were left in pockets, strategically placed along established game trails to provide cover. There are now over 18 ponds, numerous waterways, wetlands and over six miles of river frontage.”
All of that, and virtually no hunting pressure.
“Ethical hunting and habitat management have been paramount,” Lashley continued. “Only family and friends hunted the property from 1992 to 2009, and even that was infrequent.
“In 2010 the ranch was opened to carefully controlled commercial hunting,” he said. “Hunting parties are moved from zone to zone over the six-mile stretch of river, maintaining light hunting pressure on the game.”
To give an idea about just how selective it can be on such a layout, amid a whole series of sloughs and lakes was a single waterfowling blind. And the place is big enough with enough variety, that there is no need to use the same blind twice on a multi-day hunt. Literally, each session is like a new world all over again for both hunters and birds.
For our expedition, guide Scott Schafer set the decoys, did the calling and generally made certain everything was just right.
In the blind, Lashley, Morey and the author were free to watch birds, take photos and, from time to time when the spirit moved us, to take a shot or two at birds as they literally glided into the decoy spread.
We could have taken longer shots, but why? At a place like Winemaker’s Island, 20 yards is as far of a poke as is normally necessary.
The author’s 20-gauge Beretta 686 with steel shot did the trick well when the pilot did his job. The property often hosts 30,000 to 40,000 birds per night during migration.
When not in the blind, there was time to drive around the property and check out the waterways, woods and meadows.
Before and after hunting sessions, the luxurious lodge offered all amenities imaginable.
The primary compound on the ranch includes a main house with garage, shop and kennels.
The property often hosts 30,000 to 40,000 birds per night during migration.
There are other buildings on the property, some used specifically for hunters and guests, others used by staff, etc. One other building is called the “Pirate House,” which is used as extra accommodations for hunters.
In the main lodge, there are six guest bedrooms, which share a Jack and Jill bathroom with the neighboring bedroom.
A great room with fireplace and lounging furniture offers posh relaxing between hunts, and a full kitchen and dining area are there for the using.
The shop and attached kennels feature indoor dog quarters and feeding room.
One could go on and on about the improvements and amenities at Winemaker’s Island, but the point is that this recreational property has been in the development stages for years.
As the trend continues for private ownership of recreational lands, you can have many levels of properties that can range all the way from raw land to fully developed operations. There are many reasons to own land – hunting, investment, family recreation and sanctuary, but many hunters discover an unexpected new passion. That is the pride of ownership and sense of accomplishment from seeing growing wildlife populations. For many hunters this comes to be just as satisfying as harvesting the game they have nurtured. Developing plans, implementing improvements and discovering what works best in the complex art of wildlife management for your land can be shared and enjoyed year-round.
Yes, hunting means different things to different people. Which means different dreams. The common denominator is the dream factor – and making it come true.
If you would like to hunt Winemaker’s Island Preserve, contact Scott Schafer. Phone 308 430 2479 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.–Steve Comus