"Where the birds are!" by Luke Clayton Luke Clayton Yantis, Texas- Duke, a big liver and white pointer with a highly refined nose bred to sniff out the most faint scent of game birds and running gear and lungs conditioned to cover lots of country in a short time, paused in mid stride. A quick step forward then Duke swung his head hard to the right like the needle on a compass pointing north and, there he froze. The dogs body language indicated, Get ready boys, theres is a pheasant in there, RIGHT there! The dry stalks from standing sorghum rustled and the distinctive cackle of a rooster pheasant cut the cool winter air. My son Drew and our host Billy Burnetts twenty gauges spoke simultaneously and the bird folded in mid air. Our first pheasant of the morning was in the bag and we eagerly looked forward to what turned out to be one of the most exciting upland shoots Ive enjoyed in a long time, and Ive hunted these beautiful birds imported from China from the grain fields of North Dakota to the Texas Panhandle. Photo by Luke Clayton But this pheasant hunt didnt take place in the Midwest or the far reaches of the Texas Panhandle, but rather a short 1.5 hours drive from our home southeast of Dallas. We were hunting on Burnetts Hidden Lakes Hunting Resort, located in east Texas a short distance from the shores of heralded Lake Fork. Billy was enjoying a bankers holiday with my son and I while guide Truman Ragan handled the dogs and ran the hunt. We were all having the time of our lives and it was obvious that although Ragan wasnt doing any shooting, he was as much into the hunt as any of us, probably more. A lifelong bird hunter and dog trainer and handler, Ragan gets as much pleasure out of watching his highly trained dogs perform as he does actually shooting the birds. He certainly kept Burnett, my son and I in the action for the duration of our hunt. Photo by Luke Clayton I am convinced that if I had been blindfolded and driven into our hunting area, I would never have known I was enjoying this red hot pheasant shooting in my native home of east Texas. Rows of sorghum that totaled more than 17 miles had been planted on the vast preserve and strips were left open to facilitate easy walking. Hunting for the pheasant and chucker is done much as it is traditional pheasant country. We formed a line and walked through and along the rows of sorghum which remained standing and was 5 to 6 feet high. Each drive was several hundred yards long and, just like when hunting in the Midwest, it was common for the leggy pheasants to run to the end of the row, and then flush when we and the dogs crowded too close. Our hunt was mainly for pheasant but we bagged several chucker and the dogs even pointed a couple of good size coveys of quail. I was raised in rural Red River County, a little over an hour north of Hidden Lakes and back in the sixties; quail were plentiful in the area. The biologists say that loss of habitat is the primary reason for the decline in wild quail populations but I and many others cannot help but think fire ants played a big part in destroying eggs and newly hatched quail and other ground nesting birds. While most of east Texas might be void of wild quail, hunters need not drive to the far reaches of the state or the midwest to enjoy great upland hunting. Factor in the cost and time required for a distant hunt for pheasant or quail and a close to home hunt at Hidden Lakes is even more attractive. For those that might have heard that hunting preserve birds is not as sporting and challenging as wild birds, I have to agree, in many instances and disagree in others. The birds at Hidden Lakes are raised on the property in long flight conditioning pens and are kept away from contact with humans. The birds are, for all practical purposes, wild and because they fly in the long flight pens on a daily basis, they have the ability to jump into the air and turn on the afterburners. After shooting behind a couple of the pheasant, Drew and I quickly learned to lead the birds, especially on the crossing shots. These birds are big and deceptively fast for their size, the most common mistake many hunters make is to shoot at the center of the bird, rather at or just in front of their head. These center of bird shots often only clip the end of the roosters long tail feather! tipped Burnett after I removed an inch or two from the end of one of the big roosters tail. We watched the brilliantly colored bird said a quarter mile away into another patch of sorghum. Burnett offers day hunts including an excellent lunch and bird processing as well as overnight lodging in one of his remote cabins. This weeks column is being penned only hours before deadline. I was hunting Hidden Lakes this morning and to be truthful, I am still stuffed from a most excellent lunch of grilled pork chops, mashed potatoes, green peas, homemade rolls, topped off with the best buttermilk pie Ive ever eaten. The Burnetts take great pride in the fact that they raise and preserve their own vegetables and fruits on their 2 acre garden and orchard. If you are missing the great wingshooting we used to enjoy in east Texas but are reluctant to drive 12 hours to shoot a limit of 3 pheasant, consider booking a trip to Hidden Lakes. I can guarantee youll find the birds plentiful and challenging and the food and lodging excellent. Youll more than likely leave the place with the feeling youve found a hidden gold mine close to home and made some new friends in the process. And, isnt that what hunting is all about? To book your hunt at Hidden Lakes Hunting Resort, call Billy Burnett at 903-714-7574, 1-888-HUNT TXS or go online to www.hiddenlakeshuntingresort.com. Dallas Safari Club convention First Light will be held at the Dallas Convention Center in Dallas January 7-10. For more information, visit www.biggame.org or call 800-9GOHUNT. If youve never attended one of the DSC conventions, consider doing so this year. Youll find a smorgasbord of things to keep you entertained an enlightened, everything from hunting seminars by the pros to outfitters booking hunts for Cape buffalo in Africa or whitetail deer in Texas, and just about everything between. OUTDOOR TIP OF THE WEEK- If youve spent much time in the outdoors hunting and fishing during the cold weather months, you understand how very important it is to keep your feet dry and warm. For many years, I hunted with 8 to 10 inch hunting boots and always found myself with wet and cold feet; invariably I would step in cold water deeper than the top of my boots. A couple years ago, I solved my problem by switching to taller, waterproof boots. This season, Ive worn RedHeads Ultra Hunter Boots and have enjoyed having warm, dry feet everywhere from the duck blind to hog hunting in standing water. With 1,200 grams of Thinsulate and waterproof construction, Ive found these boots exactly what Id been looking for. If youve found recent outings become more endurance than fun, consider wearing a good pair of waterproof, insulated boots and make sure they are at least 15 inches high. Want even more of Luke's hunting/fishing tips and tricks, wild game recipes etc? Listen to Outdoors With Luke Clayton for a new show each week at www.catfishradio.com and check out the new fishing videos at lukeshotspots.com Contact Luke at firstname.lastname@example.org The BOC has a virtual library of Luke's stories right here on the forums; just about anything you could want to read about the outdoors. Click here to see a boat load of information!