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Pursuing age-old passion, CEOs thrill to the hunt: as public land diminishes, private lodges and preserves cater to an upscale hunting crowd.

The German wirehaired pointer was working the hillside, bounding off in short bursts in one direction and then another when she hit upon a wall of fresh scent. She wheeled to her left, darted down the slope and froze on point. Then the dog crouched down, crept for a dozen or so yards and seized up again, tail standing on end.

The hunter inched up alongside her, stepping softly in the dry sagebrush, but even that didn't conceal his arrival. In a flurry of motion, its wings beating violently, the pheasant erupted from its hiding place. Once airborne, it let out a startled cackle--both familiar and unfailingly stirring to even the most seasoned wing shooter. The game was on.

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This fall and winter, countless chief executives will rise with the dawn, pull on worn leather boots and take to the fields and rushes in pursuit of a variety of game birds in the centuries-old tradition of wing shooting, or hunting birds in flight.

Count Ted Fowler, chief executive of the Golden Corral restaurant chain, as part of the legion of corporate executives who are drawn to the hunt. The 55-year-old Fowler, an Arkansas native who grew up in Salinas, Calif., has been a wing shooter for years. "Bird hunting is special to me," Fowler says, "because you get physical activity, you hunt in beautiful places and you experience things that are out of your control in terms of how the dogs work and where and when the birds flush."

Fowler, whose Raleigh, N.C.-based company has expanded aggressively and logged consecutive years of strong sales growth, sees similarities between business and bird hunting. "You have to have a plan of where to go, how to approach a hunt in a particular field or area and then execute it," he says. "I really like the excitement of hearing a bird flush at my feet. There is a lot of animation and suspense. And things don't always turn out the way you would like--when you miss."

Like Fowler, Foster Friess longs for the time he will spend in the field this year wing shooting. One day this month, the chairman of Friess Associates, the firm that manages the $6 billion Brandywine Funds, will load up his King Air B200 turboprop and make the flight from Jackson Hole, Wyo., to a small airport in Condon, Ore., for three days of bird hunting at nearby Highland Hills Ranch.

"I like getting out and hunting the varied terrain, with nice rolling hills, rocky outcroppings and beautiful vistas," says Friess, 66, who will be hosting a group of like-minded friends and business associates. "I like the scenery, the variety of birds and the camaraderie and the intimate nature of the place."

With limited time off and dwindling free access to public and private hunting ground--the result, among other factors, of an expanding ranching industry and a trend among landowners to charge fees to hunters--many executives turn to private preserves or plantations such as Highland Hills to satisfy their wing-shooting passion. There are more than 200 private preserves and lodges throughout North America that offer hunting for native and non-native species, including pheasants, quail, chukars, Hungarian partridge, ruffed grouse, woodcock, turkeys, doves, ducks and geese (see sidebar, right).

The private hunting operations offer turnkey services and virtually guaranteed access to lots of birds and shooting. As a guest at one of these lodges, you can expect to hunt with top-notch guides and veteran hunting dogs. Accommodations range from rustic to luxurious, and meals can be pedestrian or, in the case of the higher-end outfitters, first-class cuisine turned out by inspired chefs working with the freshest local ingredients. Many preserves have long hunting seasons, beginning in September and running through March.

Because bird hunting is a sport suited for small groups, most hunting lodges are relatively small-scale operations. The average preserve accommodates between 10 and 20 hunters at a time, most commonly for three or four nights of lodging with two or three days spent in the field stalking birds. Most lodges have on-site sporting clay ranges for fine-tuning your skills, and they often offer hunts combined with guided fishing.

Well-run private hunting operators guarantee access to birds through a combination of wild populations and pen-raised cousins that are released before and during the hunting season. Many lodges release thousands of birds each year; the two most popular species are pheasant and quail. Lodges in the mecca of pheasant hunting--South Dakota--have so many birds on their property that it can be dizzying to hunt there. Pheasants flush in flocks like blackbirds. In the quail country of Georgia and Texas, two states known for their abundance of quail, lodge guides lead hunters into multiple huge coveys of birds every day. It is not uncommon to flush up to 20 groups of birds during a day's outing.

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But as bird hunters of every stripe know, there is more to wing shooting than just pheasants and quail. Whether you favor grouse hunting in thick cover, duck hunting in the swamps of the Bayou or chukar hunting out West, chances are there's a lodge and hunting operation for you.

To get a firsthand experience at a top bird-hunting destination, I visited Highland Hills Ranch in September. A stunning 10,000-square-foot lodge, built of out logs, sits midway up rolling grassy hills in north central Oregon, a centerpiece of the unspoiled 3,000-acre preserve. Even though the operation is just three years old, it is quickly building a reputation for itself. In April, Orvis, the outdoor equipment and clothing outfitter, named Highland Hills its wing shooting Lodge of the Year for the 2003-2004 hunting season.

Highland Hills features a mixed bag of habitat that is ideal for four different species on the spread: pheasants, quail, chukars and Hungarian partridge (often called huns).

A former hay ranch, the preserve plants cover crops as a food source for its birds and as a sanctuary from four-legged and winged predators. The property has a mixture of conditions for hunters of all fitness levels. Bottom ground, near a creek, provides easy hunting, as do the rolling hills. For the most athletic guests, there is steep Western habitat, preferred by hard-flying chukars.

A day at Highland Hills kicks off with a big breakfast and then it's time to strap on your boots and meet your guide for the day. After the introductions, you pile into a pickup and head out for the morning hunt. For three hours, you'll work alongside the guide and his pointing dog. With a guide to hunter ratio of 1 to 3 or 1 to 4, this is an intimate experience--unlike hunting, say, 10 or 15 abreast in a stubble field in South Dakota. It is not unusual for hunters to get in 25 to 35 shots in a morning; bird hunting doesn't get much more intense than that. An added bonus about Highland Hills is that there are no set bag limits or per-bird charges.

After a leisurely lunch that can include a local favorite such as pheasant fajitas, you head back out for the afternoon hunt. A day in the field is capped off with a quick shower, followed by hot appetizers, a well-deserved beverage and a hearty supper.

'Fetch!'

My most memorable moment at Highland Hills came one cool morning along Rock Creek when Penny, a lean, three-year-old German wirehaired pointer, suddenly froze in her tracks when she picked up the pheasant's scent. "The bird must be right there," said our guide, after Penny had instinctively crept to within mere feet of the pheasant.

After my careful approach caused the bird to flush, I clicked off my safety and shouldered my Ruger 20-gauge shotgun. I swung into the bird and pulled the trigger. The iridescent cock didn't miss a beat, gaining speed by the second and angling off to my left. I locked back onto the target and touched off the other barrel. A moment later, the large bird folded.

"Fetch!" yelled the guide, and Penny marked the line of the fallen pheasant and took off on a dead run. In no time, the scruffy-faced pointer trotted back up the slope with the bird softly in her mouth. If only a chief executive could bottle the adrenaline rush derived from an experience like that.

RELATED ARTICLE: IF YOU GO Hunting Around

Private hunting preserves offer wing shooters the best of both worlds: great hunting and comfortable accommodations. Upscale lodges are spread throughout the United States. Here's a sampling of some of the best:

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Highland Hills Ranch (above)

Condon, Ore.

www.highlandhillsranch.com

Hunt pheasant, chukar, quail and Hungarian partridge over 3,000 acres of wilderness canyons and meadows. Orvis wing shooting Lodge of the Year, 2003-2004

Legacy Ranch

Foreman, Ark.

www.ashleyoutfitters.com

Hunt ducks in the morning and quail and pheasants in the afternoon at this 3,000-acre ranch on prime Red River bottom country.

Rock Springs Ranch

Paicines, Calif.

www.rockspringsranch.com

Surrounded by wine country, this sprawling 19,000-acre ranch offers California quail, bobwhite quail, chukars and pheasants.

Wynfield Plantation

Albany, Ga.

www.wynfieldplantation.com

A must-visit for quail hunters. Southern-style hunting through pine-scented woodlands and fields of wire-grass and broomsage.

Source: Chief Executive
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Title Annotation:EXECUTIVE LIFE
Author:Henjum, Scott
Publication:Chief Executive (U.S.)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2004
Words:1543
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