YANTIS — I had driven past the tower field at Hidden Lakes Hunting Resort for years and never gave it a second thought.
The idea of standing at a station and shooting launched pheasants never held any interest to me. I much preferred walking behind dogs.
Then I watched one of the shoots. It could best be called controlled chaos, and whether you are a shooter or just watching, it is the closest you will ever get to a shotgun rodeo.
The history of the tower shoot actually goes back to the early 1800s in Europe and the development of side-by-side shotguns, an improvement that for the first time gave hunters a rapid second shot. In those days nobility participated in driven hunts where they would sit at stations as peasants would come from the brush, sending the birds toward the shooters.
The amount of countryside needed, along with the lack of peasants these days, doesn’t exist in East Texas or anywhere else in the state causing hunting resorts such as Hidden Lakes to improvise with the use of a tower.
Hidden Lakes has been holding the tower shoots since it opened, but interest has ballooned this season.
“We are doing more and more every year. We used to do about six or seven a year. This year we have done 14 or 15,” said Cord Burnett, Hidden Lakes owner. He added it hasn’t been a problem to fill all 20 spots.
Burnett said the shoots often become corporate outings for clients or in-house rewards with the bulk of the shooters coming from the Dallas-Fort Worth area and Tyler. He said they are also likely to attract more local shooters than the resort’s walking hunts.
There are a number of variations on the modern tower shoot. At Hidden Lakes there are two shooters at each of 10 stations situated around a grove of trees. The hunters are armed with either 12- or 20-gauge shotguns and go on point as the birds are launched skyward.
That is when it gets wild. Singles or flights of multiple birds are launched and once away from the tower there is no telling the direction the pheasants will fly. Initially, they all look like they will come to your station, but as they climb upwards they will often catch the wind and go with it … but not always.
Flushed by dogs, a pheasant might get 20 or so feet in the air. From the tower they fly high overhead like a dove going to roost, making the 12-gauge the choice of most hunters and the 20-gauge a challenge.
“A 20-gauge is enough gun, but you have to be a good shot or an experienced shot, especially if they get real high,” Burnett said.
With the rapid launch cycle, a shooter being able to reload quickly is a key to success. So is learning how to have patience for a bird to come into range. Some of the more inexperienced hunters are quick to throw up Hail Mary shots that do nothing but rain down lead on the opposite side of the field.
Being able to lead a pheasant flying at full speed is also important. Hunters are going to get a lot of straight up shots, but will also be tested swinging left or right.
Because on a given day the birds are most likely to go with the wind, hunters shuffle from station to station after so many birds are launched so everyone gets a chance at the hottest stations.
The shoots often include both men and women, along with a number of youth, who are shooting upland birds sometimes for the first time.
“It is easier for them to do this than to shoot over a dog,” Burnett said of the younger participants.
A tower shoot brings out as many types of shotguns as there are shooters.
If not over-gunned, a lot of the hunters come over-ammoed. Under the worst conditions, a high, blue sky and wind, shooters might need 2 ﾾ-inch No. 5s. Typically No. 6 shot is adequate.
Burnett recommends four boxes of shells for a 300-bird shoot and six for 500 birds.
On a 300-bird shoot hunters average taking about 225 birds. The count climbs to about 350 for the 500-bird shoots. At the end of the day the birds are cleaned and divided between all of the hunters.
The events also work out for Hidden Lakes walking hunters, who find plenty of extra pheasants to shoot the next day.
Hidden Lakes has two 300-bird shoots Saturday and a 500-bird shoot April 5. Saturday’s afternoon shoot and the April 5 shoot are already filled. A handful of positions are still open for Saturday morning. Because these are the last shoots of the year the cost for Saturday morning has been discounted to $250 per shooter.
For more information on the shoot, contact Hidden Lakes at 888-486-8897 or go to their website at www.hiddenlakeshuntingresort.com .
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