A pheas­ant hunt­ing blast from the past

The Kutztown Area Patriot - - SPORTS - Tom Ta­tum Colum­nist

I first started hunt­ing back in 1972, shortly af­ter launch­ing my 35-year teach­ing ca­reer at Ken­nett High School. For Ch­ester County sports­men, as well as those in Mont­gomery and Berks, the ring­necked pheas­ant rep­re­sented the fore­most rea­son we pur­chased our Penn­syl­va­nia hunt­ing li­censes back then. Our fields and mead­ows were jam packed with those rau­cous long-tailed birds, so much so, in fact, that I could go tromp­ing through the fields that sur­rounded my grand­par­ents’ home in West Goshen and flush half a dozen cack­ling cock­birds, even when unas­sisted by a bird dog.

The mounted me­mento of my very first pheas­ant still hangs above the door­way to our North­brook home. While hunt­ing with West Ch­ester’s Ralph Haney, I downed that rooster with a bor­rowed 16-gauge Stevens dou­ble bar­rel on the se­cond shot af­ter badly miss­ing the first bird we roused a few sec­onds be­fore. That field along North New Street Road near the old Amer­i­can Le­gion post was among my fa­vorite dove and pheas­ant haunts, but like so much Ch­ester County open space, was long ago sup­planted by a hous­ing de­vel­op­ment.

My ini­ti­a­tion to the sport was fa­cil­i­tated by my Ken­nett teach­ing col­leagues, folks like George Starr, Jack Guess­myer, Greg Gundy, and Haney. Later I would also head afield with for­mer students in­clud­ing Jeff Pan­nell, Mike Baz­zano, Glenn Becker, and Ron­nie Dick­ens. On a num­ber of oc­ca­sions an­other teacher, Tim Sk­iles, in­vited me to tag along with him and his burly black Labrador re­triever, Linc, in chas­ing cock­birds all over the south­ern Ch­ester County coun­try­side. I was a hunt­ing neo­phyte back in those days, in­fa­mously don­ning a pair of high-top sneak­ers to serve as my pre­ferred footwear, a fash­ion faux pas that earned me the amused and last­ing de­ri­sion of those sea­soned veter­ans who un­der­stood that hik­ing boots, not tennis shoes, were the or­der of the day.

Much has changed since those early days afield. I long since swapped out my high-top sneaks for a pair of L.L. Beans and now carry my own Brown­ing Ci­tori over and un­der twenty gauge afield. But, sadly, those ubiq­ui­tous cack­ling cock­birds mys­te­ri­ously disap-

peared from the wild at about the same time the 1980s ar­rived. By then I had in­vested in a pair of English springer spaniels, but once the wild pheas­ants van­ished, any bird hunt­ing ac­tion would rely strictly upon the pheas­ant stock­ing ef­forts of the Penn­syl­va­nia Game Com­mis­sion. In 1988 I joined the Brandy­wine Sport­ing Dogs As­so­ci­a­tion (BSDA). For many years there­after I took ad­van­tage of their Reg­u­lated Hunt­ing Grounds, work­ing my springers on stocked pheas­ants, quail, and Hun­gar­ian and chukar par­tridge.

But “progress” was re­lent­lessly afoot through­out Ch­esco’s fields and forests. So when the BSDA lost most of their Reg­u­lated Hunt­ing Grounds to de­vel­op­ment and my cur­rent bird dog be­came al­ler­gic to the sound of gun­fire, I dropped out of the as­so­ci­a­tion and threw in the towel on pheas­ant hunt­ing. But that all changed last week when my old hunt­ing buddy, Tim Sk­iles, in­vited me along on a pheas­ant foray. Join­ing us for this re­union was for­mer stu­dent Ron­nie Dick­ens. The three of us had last headed afield to­gether some forty years ago, bust­ing wood­cock coverts over Dick­ens’ frisky pair of Brit­tany spaniels.

On Thurs­day morn­ing our des­ti­na­tion was the Pow­der­bourne hunt­ing pre­serve in Mont­gomery County’s Up­per Hanover Town­ship. While other such pre­serves dot the Com­mon­wealth, Pow­der­bourne’s handy lo­ca­tion in East Greenville. (an easy drive from both West Ch­ester and Pottstown), 330 acres of prime pheas­ant habi­tat, and af­ford­abil­ity, is hard to beat for bird dog en­thu­si­asts here in south­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia.

Power­bourne charges $225 for a three-hour hunt for ten freshly stocked pheas­ants, a mix of hens and roost­ers. A max­i­mum of four hun­ters are per­mit­ted in each party and as­signed to spe­cific, des­ig­nated fields. For a party of four hun­ters, the in­di­vid­ual cost breaks down to a very rea­son­able $56 apiece. I sus­pect the ma­jor­ity of Pow­der­bourne pa­trons, like us, en­list the pre­serve’s ser­vices as a wel­come op­por­tu­nity to in­tro­duce, prac­tice, and train their dogs in the fine art of scent­ing, find­ing, flush­ing, and re­triev­ing up­land game. For pa­trons with­out dogs Pow­der­bourne will pro­vide a guide and dog for an ad­di­tional $75. Bird clean­ing is also avail­able for $3.25 per pheas­ant.

We ar­rived at the hunt­ing grounds well be­fore our sched­uled 11 a.m. start­ing time. Af­ter check­ing in and mak­ing pay­ment, we re­ported to our as­signed fields, num­bers 1, 2, and 3, shortly af­ter our ten stocked birds were scat­tered through­out the twenty acres of prime pheas­ant cover. Mak­ing things most chal­leng­ing were blus­tery winds with gusts ap­proach­ing fifty miles per hour. The winds would prove prob­lem­atic in a num­ber of ways, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for the dogs to pick up and fol­low scent, sup­press­ing the birds’ will­ing­ness to flush and fly (more in­clined to race away on foot in­stead) and finally, once air­borne, the birds’ tail­wind-aided flight would rocket them away like the prover­bial bat outta’ Hell.

De­spite the re­lent­lessly bru­tal winds, we headed into the cover be­hind Ruth, Sk­iles’s 12-year-old vet­eran yel­low Labrador re­triever, and Grace, his young and in­ex­pe­ri­enced two-year-old sil­ver Lab. A few op­por­tunis­tic hawks cruised the skies above as Sk­iles directed the en­thu­si­as­tic ca­nine pair through the cover. Dick­ens and I flanked ei­ther side, wait­ing for the Labs to work their pheas­ant magic. And work their magic they did as we dis­cov­ered th­ese pen-raised pheas­ants were al­most as hardy, wily, and as strong fliers as those wild birds we chased so many decades ago.

Within two of our three al­lot­ted hunt­ing hours, we had scoured our des­ig­nated cover with great suc­cess. De­spite the gusty chal­lenges, both pups per­formed ad­mirably well, find­ing and flush­ing eight of the ten planted birds. Of those eight, with Dick­ens lead­ing the way, we col­lec­tively man­aged to down six pheas­ants, giv­ing both Ruth and Grace am­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties to pol­ish their re­triev­ing skills.

Af­ter the hunt we gave the dogs a well de­served tall drink of wa­ter and re­turned to the Pow­der­bourne’s cozy restau­rant for a hearty meal. The restau­rant, open seven days a week, serves break­fast and lunch. There we spoke with Rich Kolb, the pre­serve’s can­tan­ker­ously jovial owner and his con­ge­nial and ex­traor­di­nar­ily pa­tient wife Mar­i­anne. Kolb, age 75, and his wife pur­chased the prop­erty back in 1979. “The orig­i­nal Pow­der­bourne be­gan in 1943,” ex­plained Mar­i­anne, “purely as a trap and skeet shoot­ing fa­cil­ity.”

Un­der the pro­pri­etor­ship of the Kolbs, the pheas­ant hunt­ing pre­serve was added along with a scenic Sport­ing Clays course fea­tur­ing 25 shoot­ing sta­tions that’s open year-round, weather per­mit­ting. Pow­der­bourne also of­fers skeet shoot­ing and hosts hunter safety cour­ses each year. But pheas­ants re­main their bread and but­ter. “We breed and raise around 14,000 pheas­ants each year,” Kolb noted, “all of them used right here at the pre­serve.”

Our pheas­ant hunt­ing ad­ven­ture at Pow­der­bourne proved a very sat­is­fy­ing and some­what nos­tal­gic blast from the past. Like a jour­ney back in time to Penn­syl­va­nia’s pheas­ant hunt­ing hey­day, it was a re­minder of the un­par­al­leled up­land game hunt­ing we once took for granted back in the 1960s and 1970s, a time lost for­ever, now sur­viv­ing only in faded pho­to­graphs and dis­tant mem­ory.

For more in­for­ma­tion about Pow­der­bourne, visit their web­site at www.pow­der­bourne.com or give them a call at 215679-9860.

TOM TA­TUM — FOR DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Ready to be­gin their dog train­ing ses­sion at the Pow­der­bourne Hunt­ing Pre­serve are Ken­nett’s Ron Dick­ens (left) and West Ch­ester’s Tim Sk­iles with ea­ger labrador re­triev­ers Grace and Ruth.

TOM TA­TUM - FOR DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Pow­der­bourne breeds and raises about 14,000 pheas­ants each year.

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