An Upland Life Shooting Preserve Review:
Sportsman's Hunting Preserve
It used to be that a hunter, his son, and the family's old bird dog could
drive the countryside, stop in at a nearby farmhouse to ask permission, and
be out in the morning mist searching for the night's supper. If you caught
the time of year just right, you could watch the rising sun shimmer off
the drying cornstalks, the sign that the family farm was doing OK and that
harvest was just around the corner. The birds were strong flyers and you
found so many that you could choose one or two from each covey for your
dinner table, leaving the rest for the next trip through the fields. When
you were done, you wandered back home where you sat next to the wood burning
stove, fixed up those birds, and you sat around the hearth talking about
the good times had that day.
The muse for Sportsman's Hunting Preserve — and its owner Mr. Carl Outland —
are those days of yore, when wild game was plentiful, hunters were stewards of
the land, and hunting was a part of family life. Mr. Outland succeeds in his
mission to provide hunters a chance to enjoy the land of a real farm (a rarity
here on the East Coast) and to hunt farm-raised quail, chukars, and pheasants
that behave as though they were raised wild. The most endearing part of
Sportsman's, however, is Mr. Outland's personal approach, making for an experience
that recalls the nostalgic hunt of yesterday. Sportsman's is nearly a three-hour
drive down Interstate 95 from the Washington, DC metropolitan area. The preserve's
www.sportsmanshuntingpreserve.com, provides clear directions to the
farm and allows interested hunters to directly contact Mr. Outland to make
reservations and talk logistics. The Upland Life crew contacted Mr.
Outland last spring — nearing the end of preserve hunting season in Virginia —
to see about a half-day hunt on the preserve. Fortunately for Sportsman's
(and not-so-fortunately for us), business last year was booming and the preserve
was on the last legs of its bird supply. Rather than have us drive down to face
a questionable bird supply, Mr. Outland recommended we hold off for an early
autumn hunt. We reserved a half-day "Mixed Bag" hunt consisting of five
pheasants, five chukars, and ten quail for a cost of $200, or just $50 per person.
The UL team's memory flagging, we sent Mr. Outland a note in late September to
remind us of the hunt date and he dutifully responded that they had us down for an
early October hunt. We admired that the books were in order, a sign of a
We arrived the night before the hunt and had a restless sleep at questionable
chain hotel up the road from Sportsman's. There were other choices, we just didn't
choose as well as we might have. The next morning, through a few twists and turns
around the rural Tidewater countryside, we made our way to the Outland farm.
Arriving at the property, we found an older, well-kept farmhouse and nice set of dog
runs where the Outlands keep the preserve's resident dogs. Mr. Outland later
indicated that the farmhouse - his grandfather's - is being remodeled into a lodge
and may be ready for hunting parties by late autumn 2004.
As we pulled up, we were greeted by Mr. Outland, his son, and a nephew, all of
whom were interested in our previous night's stay in nearby Suffolk, Virginia.
We reported that things could have been better at the particular hotel we chose, and
Mr. Outland promised that the business in question would be removed from his web site's
list of recommended accommodations. We were really beginning to like this guy. Your
UL editors checked up on his promise the following week and found, to our pleasure,
that Mr. Outland was true to his word.
The Sportsman's web site states that this generation of Outlands started the
preserve to harken back to the days when hunting was a family affair and folks
could drop by the old farm house, stay around awhile, and talk about the birds
bagged and the time had during the hunt. Sportsman's today stays true to that
theme and Mr. Outland encouraged us to hunt at our own pace, take breaks, and enjoy
the day. Sportsman's seems to understand: hunting is about the journey and
camaraderie and not about the number of birds bagged.
Something you notice immediately as you drive toward the farm is that the road
leading into the preserve carries the Outland name. It tells you that this family
has had land here for a long time — many generations, according to Mr. Outland —
and that hunters choosing Sportsman's will benefit from plenty of family land to
hunt. We were pleased to find that during the hunt, we would be sequestered away
on nearly a quarter (160 acres) of land just down the road from the main farmhouse.
We geared up and took the SUVs and the pups up the minimum maintenance road leading
to our parcel of land and discovered two distinct fields: the first, an area with
standing native grass; the second, a field with striped corn and tall (and still
succulent) grass. Mature tree strips surrounded both fields and it appeared that
if our party needed more land to hunt, there was plenty of it within a stone's throw.
As an aside, hunting real farm ground makes a tremendous difference when it comes
to preserve hunting. Sportsman's, because it is a farm first and a hunting preserve
second, has cover that evolves with the season rather than relying on plantings
that are specifically set for maintaining game birds. We like this approach — the
land has character and you feel as though you really are participating in a hunt
that is more organic, even if the birds are pen-raised.
Mr. Outland scattered the birds, planting all of the pheasants and half of the
quail. The birds were planted individually (rather than in pairs or more) to give
the dogs a chance to stretch out, be creative, and hunt all of the cover. We ran
two German Shorthairs — both with plenty of training experience but lacking a bit
in hunting in less structured environments — as a prep for a Dakota pheasant hunting
trip to follow later in the month.
After tooting the dogs on to begin the hunt, one of the pups struck a rigid point
on a pheasant in a 10-square-yard stand of corn. Far from docile, the bird felt the
dog's pressure and went up wildly, and with a classic rooster cackle. A quick
shot from one of the gunners in the UL party, and the pup was off to retrieve.
We were all impressed with the quality of the bird, particularly its jumpiness.
The rooster lived up to Mr. Outland's earlier advertising: Sportsman's pheasants
behave like wild birds. Things were looking up for the hunt.
We worked our way through the corn and part of the native grass, and the pheasants
stayed true to form: two hens flew wild when the dogs approached or hunters' feet
rustled a bit too loudly. Both escaped into nearby woods, out of our guns' reach.
The two other planted pheasants — the wily birds they are — also likely awoke
from Mr. Outland's dizzying and took a run into the nearby woods. The pups
foot-scented those pheasants but the UL crew was unable to coax them back to us
and though we were disappointed that we were unable to find a spot in our game
bag for those birds, it was fantastic for us and for the dogs to simulate the
environment we were sure to expect during the October pheasant hunts in the Dakotas.
As we hooked around the grass and made our way back toward the corn, Mother Nature
intervened in the hunt and turned a small sprinkle of rain into a fair squall.
Our initial reaction was to continue hunting. When our weight doubled under the
added burden of the water in our vests, blaze orange shirts, and brush pants,
we hightailed it to the vehicles and set up a small covering with a tarp to keep
all of us a little drier.
During the hiatus, we commented how welcome the rain was: despite all of the great
grounds and strong flying birds at Sportsman's, we were having significant
difficulties with the other "bird" native to the Tidewater Region of Virgina:
mosquitoes. No manner of coating ourselves with Deet could dissuade the Culex Tarsalis
and Aedes Vexans from making frequent trips to the UL editorial smorgasbord.
The rain was a useful solution to our "vexing" problem, though we all concurred
that hunting in southeastern Virginia might be better done later in the season after
the first hard freeze. The ground may be firmer, chances for squalls less, and
mosquitoes only a minimal influence on the pleasure of the hunt.
The rain subsided and shortly after, Mr. Outland came by on the ATV to offer us water
and a second round of bird planting. We were eager to take him up on his largesse —
four of the quail remained from our first turn through and we looked forward to putting
the pups out on the last of the quail and our allotted chukar supply. We knew that it would
be difficult for the pups to scent those wet quail, but the sunlight peeking through
the clouds told us that those birds would be out shortly to sun themselves and dry
their wings. We asked Mr. Outland for some direction as to where the new birds were
planted in hopes that, during our quest to bag those birds, the first batch of quail
would towel off and be flight worthy.
Over the next two hours, we shepherded the dogs through the fields and bagged chukar
that flushed strongly and confidently, and quail that spooked when a boot rustled
nearby. Our rain-soaked quail were, indeed, sunning themselves and with a little
patience and time for the dogs to work the grass and corn, we were able to find many
of the birds initially planted by Mr. Outland over three hours prior. The sun burned
away the remaining clouds and we found ourselves, like the birds, drying out after
our rain-soaked morning.
The bird quality was apparent in how well those fine fellows flushed even after
having dripped with Tidewater rain only an hour earlier. It was clear to us that
Sportsman's puts a premium on great birds and it's difficult to understate just how
important that is, both for hunting realism and for dog safety. The birds we hunted
at Sportsman's were, by-and-large, high flyers that got up — with little effort by
the hunters — and stayed up rather than sitting back down 50 yards beyond the flush.
At the end of the day — which far exceeded our allotted four hours, or half-day — we'd
found 16 of the 20 birds and bagged 12 of them.
The sun and subsequent heat also underscored another of the small details that makes
Sportsman's a fun and generally carefree hunt, particularly when it comes to your
bird dogs. Mr. Outland and his family train and maintain a team of field dogs — primarily
English setters and English pointers — for client use, and keep troughs of water in the
fields for the dogs to drink from and lay in. This makes it easier to keep the dogs
cool and the hunt productive for their owners. It's one of many nice details we found
As we packed up our gear and wandered back to the farmhouse — just a short quarter-mile away —
we started to reflect on the day. Even with the rough weather and the aggressive
insects, the UL crew could not help but beam at the quality of the hunt. The pups
generally did well, the shooting was great, the cover reflected solid land stewardship
and care, and the birds were high quality. By the time we arrived at the house, we were
convinced that our review of Sportsman's would be positive but we had no idea that the
best was yet to come. And that "best" focused less on the quality of the
hunt and more on the qualities of the people running this out-of-the-way preserve.
We settled into the farmyard and took time to clean our birds. Before a feather was
plucked, Mr. Outland eagerly offered to take pictures of the group and later help us
clean the birds. Though Sportsman's lacks a formal "cleaning area," the
preserve has tables that can be set up to clean the birds and running water to rinse
birds, knives, and hands. The Outlands will also clean your birds for a minimal fee
but this hunting party hewed to the credo "You bag it, you clean it."
Sportsman's thankfully was willing to indulge us and carry on a pleasant conversation
with us while we were at it.
After the birds were cleaned and we were considering the ride back to the Washington,
DC metropolitan area, Mr. Outland offered us a tour of the old farmhouse. We were pleased
to find a turn of the century home in the middle stages of remodeling for eventual use
as the preserve's lodge. The house was warm, quaint, and with a little more work,
probably could rival the best functional lodging in the area. Visitors to the preserve
may want to inquire about the costs of bringing an air mattress or sleeping bag and
staying at the lodge even before it's formally opened for guests. Our guess is that
Mr. Outland and his folks might be happy to oblige. The plan, according to the Outlands,
eventually is to provide lodge guests with a continental breakfast and bagged lunches
put together by Mr. Outland's better half.
Before concluding our day, Mr. Outland invited us to sit down to partake in a share of
a salad and some pork chops that were fresh off the grill, on the house. Hungry from
traipsing through Sportsman's cover and slogging through the rain, we were happy to enjoy
the meal. It's not often on the East Coast, and especially in the DC Metropolitan area,
that a business invites you to sit down, enjoy a conversation with the owner, and share
the household's lunch. While we sat enjoying boneless pork chops, we chatted with one
of Sportsman's regular clients while he pulled burrs out of his mud-soaked English
setter's coat. Sportsman's seems to encourage this sort of informality, as Mr. Outland
exudes an attitude that says "easy does it, no rush, and enjoy the hunt and the people."
The UL team appreciates that way and finds it the most endearing part of what proved to
be a great day of hunting.
It was clear that the Outlands are proud of the preserve and even more pleased that their
grandfather's farm house may soon be home to hunters eager to experience the kind of
hunts Mr. Outland, his father, and his grandfather used to share. It reflects back on a set
of values — stewardship, responsibility, conversation, and a people-first approach — sorely
missing these days in the bustling metropolitan hubs to which many preserve hunters,
including this editorial team, have become accustomed. We plan to schedule another hunt
when the weather is chillier so that Upland Life can formally review the accommodations
in grandpa's house and more fully enjoy the company of the Outland family. We are
pretty sure that the conversation will pick right up where it left off, and we like
it that way.
A Mixed Hunt
For Price Level:
4 Shells Out Of 5
Quail, Chukar, and Ringneck Pheasant. Birds are
farm raised, but are strong fliers.
The proprietor, Carl Outland, and his family. An "easy-does-it"
approach that harkens back to days of farms, friends, and
tall tales. Great birds and real, working farmland.
Could Be Better:
On-site lodging for multiple-day hunts. But that's coming!
You Should Know:
Catch this spot during the colder months for firmer
ground and fewer native insects.
att: Carl Outland
9657 Farmland Road
Carrsville, Virginia 23315
[See MapQuest Map]
On the web: