The dogs worked the Cambria field with precision as the hunters waited in anticipation. Suddenly, one of the Verein Deutsch Drahthaars, a German breed of wirehaired pointing dogs, did what they do best – point in the direction of their quarry. They were chasing ringneck pheasants and 18-year-old Madison Van Hoff of North Tonawanda was at the ready.
The bird exploded out of the grass and Madison connected as it flew away. The bird went down, and the dogs were off.
“I marked the spot,” shouted John Van Hoff, Maddie’s dad. As he walked with dog owner and handler Doug Werth of Gasport to the general area, the dogs already were retrieving the colorful bird and bringing it back to the group. It ignited memories of a past that was filled with pheasants and pheasant hunting here in Western New York as a kid and young adult.
How could this be? Pheasant hunting for adults during the youth hunt weekend for these upland birds? Pheasant season did not open until Oct. 17. However, the group was hunting at Cambria Game Farm (628-2174), a shooting preserve that allows for this type of activity from Sept. 1 through April 15 every year. Now in its 17th year, owner and operator Ric Siegmann of Cambria is proud of his operation.
“There are a lot of benefits to a shooting preserve and we have a tendency to get a bad rap sometimes,” says Siegmann. “We do things a little bit different here. I concern myself with putting out a quality hunt. It’s not easy by any means, but we have good birds here.”
Siegmann raises his own birds, so he knows what he has in the way of top-notch product. His operation has access to more than 350 acres. He also believes that having that land broken up into 15 to 20 acre lots helps provide a more satisfying hunt for the customers.
“It’s been my experience that most people want to hunt about 2 hours when they are here.”
Because it is a shooting preserve, you do not need a New York State hunting license. However, Siegmann requires anyone who hunts on the property to pass a hunter education program course through the state.
The easiest way to take advantage of the operation is to purchase a season package with a minimum of 24 birds. Pheasants and chukars are offered and once you do that, it is 20 percent off the standard pricing. Dogs and guns are available, should you need to use them. There are several youth model shotguns available for junior hunters.
“It’s a great way to introduce new hunters to pheasant hunting or hunting in general,” Siegmann said. “It is more of a controlled hunt, too, so I believe it is safer. Unlike some public lands where they stock birds in the fall, you have the field exclusively to your group here. There aren’t multiple parties pursuing the same birds that were stocked that week.”
Of course, it is not like the heyday that many of us grew up with in the 1960s and 1970s. It was a different era, a time we will never go back to.
“You need to have the right mindset when you come here,” Siegmann said. “You have to treat this as an overall experience that you can share with family and friends. If you have your own dogs, it is a great way to work and train them. Do not think about the costs or how many birds you took home at the end of the day. In the end, it’s the memories that you make and the experiences you build off.”
Getting back to the hunt, it was a morning of family fun, with John Van Hoff cashing in on some of his package pheasants to take his daughter, Maddie, and son, Parker, for a leisurely experience. Of the 10 birds that were planted in the field by Siegmann, they managed to take five of them for dinner at home. The kids – and dad – were all smiles.
“I like hunting there because it is convenient,” John Van Hoff said. “We can hunt mornings or afternoons and Siegmann is always looking out for the hunter. If you schedule a hunt and the weather does not look good, he will call you to try and reschedule. He wants you to have a successful hunt all the way around.”
Adding to the field fun was Werth with his two pointers, Angel and Aurora. Watching the dogs work the birds was a memorable experience. Along for the ride was Elise Jancef of Cambria. She was there for a training lesson of sorts because she has her own Drahthaar and Werth has been her mentor. She also has a passion for working hunting dogs in the field and helped keep an eye on the dogs.
Chris Schotz of Sanborn was included in the hunt, too, even though he mainly wanted to watch the dogs work. He spends time afield with his Munsterlander (also a pointer), and he was hoping to pick up tips along the way. Every time in the field is a learning experience.
Van Hoff does not have a dog, so quite often he will plan with Siegmann to use one associated with the shooting preserve.
Yes, shooting preserves offer sportsmen and women an opportunity to enjoy upland bird hunting for more than seven months, but Siegmann will start to close his pheasant operation by the end of February. “The quality of the hunt will start to diminish,” said Siegmann, “and hunters will gravitate to chukars.”
Cambria Game Farm is located at 4460 Upper Mountain Road in Cambria. You also can email Siegmann at CambriaGameFarm@gmail.com.
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