An Upland Life Shooting Preserve Review:
Hyd-A-Del Shooting Preserve
Our crew of intrepid DC-area bird hunters traveled to rural Pennsylvania for
a late-season, April chukar
hunt at Hyd-A-Del Shooting Preserve near the tiny hamlet called Blain. The
pups were rusty and we were looking for an opportunity to test drive their noses
and see what the buzz was about at the preserve, which came highly recommended
by hunt-crazy friends who live nearby. We made reservations for a half-day chukar
hunt, calling Hyd-A-Del two weeks prior to our intended hunting date. Even on such
(relatively) short notice, the proprietors - Mike and Carol Book - found space for
our party, which was a big plus in our book, given that the season was winding
down and, from the sounds of things, the Book family was pretty booked up with
other hunters looking to fire off those last shells.
Our arrival at Hyd-A-Del in late morning was met with scads of blaze orange wandering
the roadside near the Spartan but otherwise comfortable clubhouse. The clubhouse is
stocked with soda and hunters can lounge on comfortable sofas or play a game of
pool before or after the hunt. Bag lunches are available upon request for a very
reasonable price, but our party stocked up on snacks before we arrived at the
preserve. The rear of the clubhouse has an attached dog kennel where the Book
family keeps guide dogs for parties interested in having polished gun dogs work
the preserve. A quick look outside the clubhouse reveals a pheasant pen immediately
adjacent and, judging by the traffic we saw at the preserve, pretty much emptied out
the season's roosters and hens.
A glance at the activity board in the clubhouse indicated that four other parties
would be out in the fields while we were hunting. It appeared that Hyd-A-Del would guide
hunts on four or possibly five fields simultaneously, but most of the hunters had
birds and many of them were trading stories about the birds that (apparently) didnít
get away. You always greet news like that with skepticism, as it's as likely that
the birds were tame and easy targets as it is the hunters were solid shots. We
later found that it probably was a mix of both.
The owners, Mike and Carol Book, checked us in and very reasonably offered an early
start time for our half-day hunt. The fields had cleared from the morning bird harvest
and they were more than willing to let us traipse out whenever we were adequately
geared up for the hunt. This sort of accommodation - particularly at the end of the
season - was welcome and appreciated. Mike Book took some time to talk to our
party about the land (his family's), the cover (it's developing, and they're working
hard on it) and the suggested path for our hunt, which would take us through a thick
wooded area and up to a hillside where a majority of our birds would be planted.
We elected for a 24-chukar hunt and decided to run through the fields twice, hunting
twelve birds per pass. This decision allowed us a little more flexibility and gave
us an opportunity to plant birds different ways. During our first pass through the
field, we elected to plant the twelve birds individually, rather than in multiples.
While we geared up, the bird planters used ATVs to cruise a hillside that would
be our eventual hunting field. We began our walk through the aforementioned thick
wooded area, hoping to trip over a pheasant or two that our hosts indicated might
be lurking. We could hear roosters cackling, but the woods were filled with brambles,
water hazards, and difficult terrain. Our pups had a challenging time getting through
the woods, and we were more focused on staying upright during the trek,
complicating our hopes at encountering one of those shifty pheasant roosters.
A moment on birds: Hyd-A-Del uses ATVs to plant birds in their fields, and
periodically - even when hunting - an ATV will cruise within gun range during bird
runs between the adjacent fields. This can be a bit of a distraction even though
hunters are given a warning, before they head out to the fields, to watch for the ATVs.
The preserve offers three birds for its hunts - chukar, pheasant, and quail - all of
which appeared to be healthy-looking and were, when prompted, strong flyers. The birds
are dizzied and planted in cover and can be planted in doubles by request.
Our overall impression of the chukar we encountered was positive - the birds were
strong flyers when disturbed, and when cleaned, appeared to be well-fed and healthy.
Our one concern about the birds was that the chukar were often up and running well
before we got into the bird field, possibly owing to the time it took us to get
to them, a sparse cover set that allowed the birds to pop up and run, or that the
birds were not quite dizzy enough before planting.
But, back to our hunt: we ambled out of the woods and noticed a road bisecting
the property. We crossed the road and then started up toward the bird field. The
road is a bit of distraction for anyone hunting where we did - in fields laid out on
a broad hillside - as birds sometimes cross the road after being flushed and local
rural traffic periodically cruises up and down the narrow paved path. We would
suggest having great control of your pup before letting them work the field we
worked, though more experienced dogs should be able to navigate things without
a problem. We also saw a number of flashes of blaze orange owing to hunters working
in adjacent fields. Though they were well out of gun range, they were close enough
to catch our eye and the activity level at the preserve was bustling while we walked.
After making our way to the bird field, we noticed that the cover generally was
relatively short, sparse native grass. The height was sufficient to plant a bird
and in places was excellent, but the cover did not manage to hold birds as well as
we might have hoped. We flushed nine of the twelve planted chukar, finding moderate
shooting success. We were all a little rusty during that first pass, but it gave
the pups an opportunity to work a bundle of chukar, some of which stayed under
cover and some that were running free. We cleared the field and headed back while
the bird planters suggested that we consider working doubles, probably to speed up
our snail's pace during the first pass. We agreed, and decided to forego the
woods in favor of a direct shot up to the hill in hopes that we might hit more of
the birds while they were still planted.
Unfortunately, the sunny day and a little wind may have encouraged the birds to wake
up from their dizziness and traipse around. The chukar broke cover and appeared
to favor running uphill, some flushing only after a hat was tossed in their direction.
Even so, we were fortunate to put up all twelve birds, harvesting nine. We bagged
our game and headed back to the clubhouse to clean the birds.
The bird cleaning facility is well organized, with a long, stainless steel sink and
water hose rigged up to accommodate a number of hunters and even more birds. Hyd-A-Del
will clean your birds for a nominal fee, but we chose to sit around reflecting on the
day's hunt while filling the provided tubs with partridge feathers, feet, and so on.
We felt like the day was a success - everyone in our party indicated an interest in
returning to Hyd-A-Del to try our hand at pheasants and quail. The Book family was
helpful, accommodating, and sincere, and they seem committed to building more cover
in their bird fields, something that happens with time and patience. With another year
or two establishing hiding spots for those birds, the hunts at Hyd-A-Del will be more
challenging and more natural, probably one of the most significant obstacles a
preserve faces when trying to simulate natural game.
For those of us in the Mid-Atlantic area, especially the DC-Baltimore-Philadelphia
corridor, this young preserve just a short drive west of Harrisburg, PA is a promising,
and very reasonably priced facility well within day-trip range.
A visit to the Hyd-A-Del web site (www.hydadel.com)
will provide you with more information on pricing, policies, directions, schedules, and more.
A Chukar Hunt
For Price Level:
3 Shells Out Of 5
Chukar, though Hyd-a-Del also had homegrown pheasants available.
Quail were not available for our hunt, though the preserve
typically stocks them.
Beautiful land, proud proprietors, and ample chukar
for the hunt.
Could Be Better:
Sparse cover leaves some birds up and running rather than staying
put. Multiple parties hunting near one another can be disconcerting,
and a road bisecting the property can be risky for pups chasing down
You Should Know:
Scenic Blain is in the middle of Pennsylvania Amish country - be sure
you leave plenty of time to get there lest you end up driving
behind a horse-drawn carriage.
R.R. 1 Box 3001
Blain, Pennsylvania 17006
[See Google Map]