Shooting Resort Brings Quail Back To East Texas Hunters
YANTIS - The old red dog was a couple of years past its prime, but while its legs may not have been as strong as they once were, its ability to scent and, more importantly, its heart to hunt was still strong.
At sunrise the temperature hovered several degrees below freezing. The hard frost and a lack of wind made conditions perfect for dog work. The red dog hadn't gone far down the milo strip when it locked up on point. Its two kennel mates, a German shorthair and a big English pointer appropriately named Brutus, soon joined. Like the old dog, the two froze like statues with noses to the ground and eyes darting back and forth from the approaching hunters to the source of the scent.
Tyler's Dennis Loosier, a novice to the game, approached cautiously alongside dog handler Truman Ragan. Coming from the other side was landowner Billy Burnett.
A single bobwhite quail busted from its hiding. Quickly, using the brown milo stalks as its cover, it snaked its way safely out of range.
Throughout the morning the scene would be repeated time after time at Hidden Lakes Hunting Resort. Sometimes it would be a single quail flushed. Or, it could be three or four. On other points, it might be chukar, a bird about twice the size of a quail, or a pheasant. Unlike the first encounter, however, more fell dead to the ground than got away as the hunters got their timing down.
GETTING AWAY: Billy Burnett (from left), Truman Ragan and Dennis Loosier let a quail slip away at Hidden Lakes Hunting Resort near Yantis.
Burnett has spent a lifetime hunting quail. The birds disappeared decades ago from the Wood County countryside he grew up in, a victim of the coastal Bermuda grass pastures that fed the area's lucrative dairy industry for years. That forced Burnett to move his bird hunting base to western Texas and shooting preserves around the state.
A successful businessman, Burnett decided two years ago to take the best of what he experienced at other preserves and incorporate them onto the 550 acres he purchased eight years ago just north of Lake Fork. After a year of experimentation with field crops and rearing birds in on-sight flight pens, Burnett and his family opened the Hidden Lakes Hunting Resort.
A work in progress, Burnett has sculpted the property into five fields for upland bird hunting - quail, pheasant and chukar - as well as a site for occasional European-style pheasant tower hunts.
"I have always wanted to do this," Burnett said of the shooting operation. "I just like to be around people, and everyone is happy when they are out here."
While learning that operating a hunting operation definitely means you hunt less and work more, Burnett and his wife, Kathryn, have turned Hidden Lakes into a family operation that includes many of their six grown children.
After seeding millet last year only to have it lay over after the first frost, Burnett planted 9 1/2 miles of milo strips around the ranch this year. In some cases the plantings were done in old hay meadows, but the plan is to begin after the season converting the pastures to fields of prairie grasses along with the farming that will include sunflowers and the grain crops. The hope is that eventually the Bermuda grass will disappear.
Farming aside, raising birds that imitate wild ones in flight is the difficult part for any shooting preserve. The use of flight pens, such as the 150-foot ones at Hidden Lakes, has resulted in a marked improvement over the years, but it isn't a given.
"I am pleased with our pheasant and chukar, but not with our quail. I would like to see them to be about 75 percent of wild birds. Maybe more, but I don't know how you get that," Burnett said.
He admits he made a mistake this year by having too much human contact with the quail after they were released into the flight pens when just days old. Next year all contact will be eliminated with the use of automatic feeders and watering systems. Their first encounter with humans will be in the field.
Shooting preserves have been slow to catch on in Texas because the state still has good quail numbers in comparison to others. And the truth is the birds, especially quail, aren't as challenging as wild birds. But with the swing from bust years to booms getting longer and costs getting higher, they can provide a suitable and entertaining alternative.
Most of Hidden Lakes' hunters this year have come for either the quail or pheasant. Once they experience chukar, Burnett said they often add them to the list.
The first season of hunting at Hidden Lakes will continue through March, weather permitting. Burnett, on the other hand, is already working on upgrades for the years to come.Things To Know
Here are some things to know about Hidden Lakes Hunting Resort: Like other shooting preserves, Hidden Lakes Hunting Resort offers hunts for either quail, pheasant or chukar, or a combination of the three.
Hunts are either half day or all day. Quail hunts are $250 per person for a half-day hunt for 15 quail or $365 for all day and 24 birds. Half-day pheasant hunts are $395. Prices are based on hunting parties of four, but Hidden Lakes can accommodate several parties at once. Smaller parties are accepted, but at an additional fee.
All hunting packages include transportation to the field, birds cleaned and packed and lunch. The meal includes fresh vegetables raised and canned on the resort.
A Texas hunting license is required to hunt at Hidden Lakes.
Hunters can use just about any shotgun from a 28 up to a 12 gauge on a shooting preserve, and to be honest a 12 might be overkill. For those interested in shooting a variety of birds, No. 7½s may be the best option since shots are generally closer than in the wild.
For safety purposes wear as much blaze orange as possible; it is a good idea for this type of hunting. An orange hat is a minimum. Hat and vest are better.
The grounds around the ranch are level for easy walking. However, hunters are going to do a lot of walking. Wear comfortable boots. Carts are available for older or disabled hunters to ride through the field and then get out and shoot.
Hidden Lakes Hunting Resort is located about 60 miles north of Tyler and about three miles north of Lake Fork. It is about an hour-and-15-minute drive.
For more information on Hidden Lakes go online to www.hiddenlakeshuntingresort.com or call 1-888-HUNT TXS.
Contact Outdoor Editor Steve Knight at 903-596-6277 or by e-mail at email@example.com.