The Thrill of the Hunt

At preserves across Virginia, you’ll find good dogs, good birds, and great camaraderie.

Kyle LaFerriere Photography LLC

I was eight the first time I stepped into a covey of quail, while taking a shortcut through a neighbor’s field. Without a bird dog to warn me, I was rattled by the feathered explosion. But in that moment, I developed an instant fascination for Colinus virginianus, or the Northern Bobwhite. I’ve never forgotten the thrill. It’s what has drawn hunters to quail forever.

Kyle LaFerriere Photography LLC

A hundred years ago, you could find enough quail to justify owning a pointer or setter. But over time—thanks to changes in farming, suburban sprawl, and the fact that snakes, raccoons, foxes, and even the common house cat wants to eat quail—the quail population has declined substantially. Today, bird hunting in Virginia continues at shooting preserves, where the quail, pheasant, and chukar are plentiful. You can take your own bird dog or hire a guide, who’ll bring theirs. Each shooting preserve offers something different.

High-end resorts, such as Primland in Meadows of Dan, started by offering quail and pheasant hunting before later expanding to include a luxury lodge with an award-winning golf course.

“On some weekends, hunting at Primland is booked up to a year in advance. Weekday availability is generally good, if you can plan ahead,” says Carl McDaniel, Primland’s Outdoor Activities Supervisor. “We have our own hunting dogs, but we also offer limited kennel space for sporting dogs that are accustomed to outdoor kenneling without climate control.”

For dogs who prefer indoor living, Primland also offers pet-friendly mountain homes. And bird hunters can rent a shotgun, purchase shells, and find a good selection of sporting gear in Primland’s retail shop.

In Cartersville, Mid Oak Farm Hunting Preserve offers some overnight accommodations, though there is no restaurant on the property—the nearest ones being 20 miles away in Powhatan or Goochland. However, Mid Oak does offer a full kitchen and outside grill where you can prepare your own meals. And if you’re not up for the long walk of a bird hunt, Mid Oak will provide you with an ATV for following the guide and bird dogs. When the dogs go on point, you can drive up and get out to shoot.

The tradition of bird hunting in Virginia continues at shooting preserves, where the quail, pheasant and chukar are plentiful.

Kyle LaFerriere Photography LLC

“Bird hunting is a social sport where you walk, talk a bit, observe the bird dog work, and enjoy each other’s company,” says Jane Kauder, who with her husband, Neal, owns and operates Orapax, a 700-acre shooting preserve, located about 25 miles west of Richmond in Goochland Courthouse.

Kyle LaFerriere Photography LLC

Kauder’s father, Andrew Dykers, a Louisiana native, purchased the property—originally part of a 7,000-acre land grant from King George III—in the late 1970s. “Instead of having a private preserve for himself and friends, which he certainly could have done, my father decided he would open his preserve to the public,” she says.

If you’re new to hunting, the first thing you’ll need to do is complete the Official Virginia Hunter Safety Course. Once safety-certified, you’re eligible to purchase a Virginia hunting license through the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.

Next, you’ll need a shotgun, shotgun shells, a pair of comfortable boots, and blaze orange outerwear—because this is a sport where you want to be seen. A pair of brush pants is also a good idea, because you may encounter some thorny weeds. Don’t forget a hunting vest to carry the game you bag.

“If you are new to quail hunting you may not have a bird dog,” Kauder notes. “We’ve had new hunters tell us they don’t need one. We explain to them that, when you’re hunting in a 20–30-acre field, it’s difficult to find birds without a dog.” A guide and a good bird dog can show a new hunter how the game is played.

Kyle LaFerriere Photography LLC

Orapax offers guide and bird dog duos that are assigned based on the visiting hunter’s experience. While you’re welcome to hunt with your own pup, a well-trained dog in your backyard does not always equate to a well-trained dog in the field.

Bird hunting is a social sport where you walk, talk a bit, observe the bird dog work—which is s0 impressive—and enjoy each other’s company.

— Jane Kauder, Orapax

Kyle LaFerriere Photography LLC

Kauder recommends using their guides and their well-trained bird dogs.“Yes, there is an extra cost,” she explains, “but when you come here, you’re putting your money on the ground. If your dog has rarely scented quail or is not used to distractions like gunshots or deer running through your field, it may bump the covey it should be pointing. You’re left watching your money fly away.”

Kyle LaFerriere Photography LLC

Because safety is paramount at any preserve, if you’ve never fired a gun, it’s a good idea to take a lesson or two in firearm safety ahead of time. “We expect every hunter to know how to safely handle a shotgun before they take to the field, not only for the hunter’s safety, but the guide’s and the dog’s safety as well,” says Kauder.

There are qualified shooting instructors throughout Virginia. Any shooting preserve, sporting goods store, or shooting range in your area should be able to recommend one or two. Kate Ahnstrom, with Virginia Shooting Sports, is one of many. “Kate has brought beginners to Orapax and goes out with them as a part of her lesson. We have a guide who handles the bird dogs and Kate works with the students during the hunt, making sure they learn to perform safely,” states Kauder.

For Mike Sisson, quail hunting has always been about family. On a recent fall day, he traveled from 75 miles away in Richmond County to hunt at Orapax with his father, brother, and his delightful nine-year-old daughter, Miriam, who was looking forward to hunting with her relatives.

Kyle LaFerriere Photography LLC

Tom Petree and his Brittanys served as their guide and bird dogs for the day. Dressed in her cowgirl boots, and wearing a game vest, blaze orange, and ear protection, Miriam was prepared to help her family by carrying some of the downed birds.

Dog work is key to a successful quail hunt, and after seeing how a trained bird dog interacts with quail, you may want to own one of your own. Neal Kauder can help. He offers training sessions in both flushing and retrieving every Sunday.

Early one Sunday morning, I met with Kauder and a client, Nathaniel Knopp, who had driven from King William County to complete the training of his pointer, Ike, a Small Munsterlander. “My goal—and why I am training this young dog now—is that I would like him to be in his prime when my son is old enough to hunt with me,” says Knopp. “I have been coming here just about every Sunday since Ike was 2 months and he is 15 months old now.”

For those unfamiliar with either the Large or Small Munsterlander, they are one of many Continental breeds developed in Europe. “I chose a Small Munsterlander because of their versatility, meaning they will hunt different types of game, and also for their reputation of being able to ‘turn off’ their hunting activity when they come home,” Knopp notes. “When it is time to hunt, they hunt. When it is time to come into the house, they relax and become a good house pet.”

A guide and a good bird dog can show a new hunter how the game is played.

Kyle LaFerriere Photography LLC

“Ike is ready to hunt. He is steady to flush and shot,” says Kauder. “We trained Ike using 75 percent the Hunt Smith System,” referring to the Rick Smith training method made famous by the nationally and internationally known bird dog trainer and member of the Bird Dog Hall of Fame, Rick Smith. The remainder of the training was from Kauder’s own experience. To demonstrate, Kauder puts Ike on a lead and holds it loosely. When Kauder moves, Ike moves. But the dog never steps in front of or pulls ahead of his trainer. When Kauder stops, Ike stops and remains standing. Kauder leaves Ike and walks about 50 yards away to where Kauder has hidden two spring-loaded traps with a pigeon in each one. Ike remains standing. Ike has not seen the hidden traps and must find the birds by scent alone.

Knopp gives Ike a release command and the dog sweeps through the field searching for game. About 8 yards from one of the traps—that he still cannot see—Ike goes on point.

Kyle LaFerriere Photography LLC

Kauder approaches Ike, walks around him to create a distraction and test his steadiness. Ike does not move. Kauder goes over to the unseen trap, steps on the release and as the pigeon flies off, Kauder fires two blanks from his pistol. The pigeon takes to the sky. Ike remains calm, does not move but follows the pigeon with his head and eyes. This is what most people want in a pointing dog.

Shooting preserves have become popular destinations for corporate outings and charity shoots. And at Orapax, where Ducks Unlimited and Wounded Warrior Project have sponsored shoots, they may include a party in the barn with a band, cocktails, and dinner. Kevin Kuykendall, with Middle Bay Realty in the Northern Neck area of Virginia, has been spearheading a shoot at Orapax for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation at the end of bird season for about 15 years.

“We usually have a group of 40 to 50 people at the Cystic Fibrosis Quail Shoot. It is a two-hour drive but Orapax is the only place that can accommodate us with the number of fields and guides. They also donate much of their proceeds to the foundation,” he says. “We have been very pleased with their first-class accommodations.”

Shooting preserves offer bird hunters a place to create new memories and acknowledge those from the past. They conjure the excitement of your first hunt, the smell of cordite, the heft of your father’s old 20 gauge, the memories of a rock-solid point from a bird dog telling you, “I got ‘em right here!”

After her first quail hunt at Orapax, 9-year-old Miriam Sisson from the Northern Neck probably puts it best: “I would love to go on another hunt like that. I loved the interaction of the dogs and I loved how the birds would get up and fly with their pretty wings stretched out and the sun shining on their feathers,” she says. “Everybody should experience that!”

Orapax.com, AubergeResorts.com/Primland, MidOakFarm.com, DWR.Virginia.Gov/Hunting


This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue.

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