An Upland Life Preserve Hunt/Guide Review:

Braveheart Kennels and Game Birds
     Point of Rocks, and Poolesville, Maryland

June, 2006

Upland bird hunters, in pursuit of a day's surprises in the field, actually go to a lot of trouble to cut down on surprises. Endless hours dog training, the better to influence what Rover can and will do in the field. An obsession with all things meteorological, to better leverage the wind on a perfect entry into Bob White's covert or that big rooster's favorite slough. Round after round of trap and skeet, making a miss an aberration. There are only so many precious hours that will actually be spent in the field over dogs, leaving the balance of the year to plan, research, practice, network, fret, buddy-up, and make sure that the coming autumn won't see any missed opportunities.

So with all that off-season down time spent chatting up your breeder's friends or the folks you met at the hunt test, you'd expect to have a solid mental inventory of every viable hunting spot or preserve operation within an hour's drive of home. We did, too, but then nonetheless experienced one of those good surprises... a breath of local fresh air that, for us, undid a bit of the cancerous erosion of hunting opportunities that Joel Spring so perfectly describes in his wistful, but entertaining, Thursday's Bird.

A wide-open field - near DC?
How close to Washington, DC? Closer than you'd think possible.
For those of us in the Washington DC area, a single generation has seen the quickening conversion of once-rural nearby counties into sprawling tracts of expensive housing. Such farms and orchards as still operate in the area are more ditch-to-ditch than ever, with every quarter acre a make-or-break proposition for farmers using (and paying astronomical taxes on) land right next door to multi-billion-dollar biotech and defense contractor office parks. Infested with whitetail insurgents running their nocturnal feeding missions out of often un-huntable neighborhoods, the area's cover and food has transformed, along with the native quail population and the pheasants that thrived there only thirty years earlier. And, with squeamish sensibilities ruling the day, the public willingness to control foxes and feral cats (and now coyotes!) has ebbed, along with the success of the upland prey that we share with those species. So it's all too easy, if the droning sound of the capital beltway or the sodium-vapor glow of the endless parking lots are fixtures in your life, to resign yourself to at least a three hour round trip for a well-run game bird operation that can set you and Rover up for an exciting, bird-rich adventure. A drive over to Maryland's eastern shore, up to central Pennsylvania, or west into the Shenandoah foothills of the Virginias is just a fact of upland life for the DC crowd. Except when it's not.

Braveheart Kennel's Daniel Rice
Daniel Rice (on the right).
Through happy chance, our eastern editorial team bumped into Daniel Rice, of Maryland's Braveheart Kennels and Game Birds. Like any venture that has built an actual business around a passion for bird dogs, Braveheart has a lot going on. For canine customers, it's training, boarding, breeding, and handling in hunt tests and trials. For thousands of plump, flighty upland game birds, it's a temporary stay in the facility's substantial pheasant flight pens and chukar/quail houses before release into private fields. For human customers, it's the education that comes along with the training the dogs are getting, and (for DC-area wingshooters) a truly unique set of hunting opportunities.

Daniel Rice in the field with two GSPs
Daniel works a pair of German Shorthairs.
While Braveheart headquarters - in Point Of Rocks, Maryland, right along the Potomac and just upstream from the confluence with the Monocacy River over the Frederick County line - does have pastures and a nice plot of sorghum for the routine training that's done on site, the real treasures are the relationships Braveheart has with other regional landowners. In particular - and the real revelation for those of us closer to the DC metro area - is the arrangement Rice has cultivated with the proprietor of one of the largest remaining contiguous spans of farmland in the area.

Along The River, Near Poolesville
Along the Potomac, near White's Ferry
When you arrange an upland outing with Braveheart, you may meet up with their team at that venerable Potomac institution, White's Ferry [Google Map]. The ferry, an anachronistic conveyance near Dickerson and Poolesville that crosses the river into Northern Virginia, is a local landmark. The barge-like ferry carries a couple-dozen cars at a time back and forth and, quaint as it is, is the only crossing between bridges much farther up and downstream. Much has been made about the need for a true bridge and roadway in a similar spot, but the agricultural preserve zoning in the area not only confounds those urges, but also protects such spots as the glorious 2500-acre farm, a ways down the road, to which you'll follow the Braveheart truck as you leave the ferry's parking lot. Now, 2500 acres may not sound like much if you're from the Midwest or any other still-mostly-agricultural area, but if you live close-in to a large metropolitan area like the nation's capital, it's an almost incomprehensibly large stretch of private land.
A Braveheart Lab Surveys Mixed Cover
A multi-talented Braveheart Lab surveys complex cover on the grounds.
That it happens to also be beautiful, sprinkled with five attractive ponds, and is operated by someone that is also delighted by pointing and retrieving dogs... it's just one of those singular cosmic alignments that makes a suburban bird dog owner swoon. The folks at Braveheart are your only local passport to such grounds, and the source for the pheasants, chukar, and quail you'll be working there. They're completely intimate with the property, as they train dogs on the spot almost every day.

A Braveheart customer takes on a fast-moving chukar.
Daniel watches one of his dogs help out as a customer swings overhead on a jumpy chukar. This session was on Braveheart's local property in Point Of Rocks, MD.
It's tempting - and inappropriate - to compare a Braveheart hunt with a more traditional lodge-on-the-preserve style operation. By some standards, these hunts would be considered more like those of a guide service. It's a little of both, but what's important (and not) about the situation will depend somewhat on the hunting party's origination. For folks headed to the middle-Montgomery County area from elsewhere in the northwest DC suburbs, the operation is so close by that you can practically wait until you get home that day to make a sandwich and clean birds. Someone making a longer haul to the area might find the absence of a traditional lodge and facilities a downside. The scenario, here, is much more akin to grabbing your buddy and a pair of shotguns, throwing the dogs in the back of the SUV, and heading over to a blissfully nearby farm where you have hunting rights (and where, in this case, you know there will be some nice fat birds lurking). For some, that more casual environment - drive perhaps half an hour, let the dog out, hunt - is far more intimate and harder to find than a more formal check-in-at-the-lodge arrangement.

Some nice healthy Braveheart pheasants.
Upland birds are kept at hand in large flight pens. We saw powerful, flighty roosters and hens that were not stressed out from having just been shipped in.
If you're in the DC area, there are well-known "destination" hunts a tolerable drive away, but the cost, and the feeling that perhaps you'll look out of place without a nice new Barbour jacket and $5000 shotgun, make Braveheart's hybrid guide/private grounds arrangement really stand out. For folks that would rather concentrate on their dogs, the birds, and their shooting, Braveheart is charging a rational price to provide that scenario in a metro area otherwise completely lacking such prospects. A somewhat miserly first glance at their per-bird prices might raise an eyebrow, but when you take into account the grounds' proximity to the dense local, bird- hunting-starved population, and subtract the time and fuel required to get anywhere else, the math is hard to beat. Compared to all of the other entertainment conveniences that DC-areas residents are willing to pay (much more) for, Braveheart's services, as represented by a very modest field fee and per-bird prices are a true bargain. For a modest additional fee, a professional handler and a dog can work the field with you, and you can buy bird cleaning a la carte, as well.

If it were as simple as land, birds, and metropolitan proximity, that would be good enough. But there's something else to consider. The Braveheart team didn't go from running a farm to also allowing a little bit of paid bird hunting. They come from the opposite direction: they train, handle, board and breed hunting dogs for a living, and bring that into the mix as they've connected with places to work the dogs. That's not just a subtle distinction: they get dogs, and more importantly, they get that their clientele are going to appear with a wide range of experience. Since it's the DC area, clients will range from novice, dogless, ride-along people who are exploring wingshooting just like they would golf, to displaced Dakotans working on Capital Hill that sense something wrong in the universe if autumn doesn't include a fine dog delivering a dinner's worth of challenging bird to hand. These are people you can talk to, and they'll work out an experience that suits your experience. It's possible that spending half an hour breaking clay pigeons while they help you tune up your gun handling will do more to improve your hunt than any other factor. Don't be shy - help them to help you enjoy the time you're taking and the money you're spending.

6-Man Waterfowling Boat
Two gunners (out of the six that could use the boat) assume the incoming-geese position from within the onboard pop-up blind.
Pit Blind
The huge grounds, along the Potomac, attract resident and migrating Canada geese - and this pit blind makes an ideal ambush.
Being the enthusiasts that they are, the Braveheart crew doesn't just stop at released upland birds. They are well-equipped (top of the line gear, boats, decoys and talented retrievers) for waterfowl hunts. They'll take parties out on the Potomac, into pond-side and underground blinds on the big farm, or over to the lush Eastern Shore for first rate guided goose and duck hunting. The team's equal passion for waterfowling produces an interesting intersection with their more upland-ish activities: Labrador Retrievers that are just as good with pheasants and partridges as they are with the waterfowl. If you're feeling like a jaded upland hunter that's seen it all, you might really enjoy watching a well-trained lab galumph around the sorghum patch and mildly sit-pointing pheasants (and handily retrieving the shot birds) at a pace that feels positively relaxing compared to some of their pointer and setter counterparts.

If upper Montgomery County, Maryland is comfortably within your world, we think you'll find that reaching out to Braveheart for a hunt will be a welcome change of scenery that also buys you back a lot of your time. You'll be in touch with a team that's been in front of untold thousands of birds with every sort of bird dog. Be honest with yourself about the real costs (in time and fuel) for those farther-away hunts, and you'll get the same growing smile that we did. That you may have also just discovered your new trainer, trial/hunt handler, and boarding facility - a great bonus, as most upland breed owners in the DC area will surely recognize.


An UplandLife Shooting Preserve Review
We spend some
time with
Braveheart Kennels
and Gamebirds

Price Bracket:

Overall Rating
For Price Range:

 5 Shells Out Of 5
  5 Shells Out Of 5

Hunts in the on-location training style, with exclusive access to spacious private grounds. Additional options at operation's home base, on property near their substantial kennels and flight pens. Upland hunters can have flighty pheasant, quail, and chukar put out. Arrangements can be made for guided or self-guided hunts, with visiting or local dogs. Blind- and boat-based goose and duck hunts are also available.

To keep in mind:
This fairly unique situation and range of services makes a good advance phone call with Braveheart a must. They're willing to adapt their offerings around many human and canine variables, but you'll want to talk it over, first.

  Braveheart Kennels
  and Game Birds
  att: Daniel Rice
  PO Box 21
  Point Of Rocks, Maryland 21777

On the web:

Via e-mail:
Additional Services

Braveheart has extensive experience in training, handling, and boarding boisterous bird dogs.

Braveheart Kennels - Boarding Kennel - Indoor View 1
Braveheart Kennels - Boarding Kennel - Indoor View 2
Braveheart Kennels - Boarding Kennel - Outdoor View Braveheart's newest building includes office space and their substantial boarding kennel. The carefully climate-controlled kennel's pens each include indoor and outdoor space with access control.

Braveheart Kennels - Field Training
Braveheart Kennels - Water Training
Braveheart Kennels - Retrieve Training Table Since Braveheart works with both upland and water/retrieving dogs, they've developed programs and put in place the very facilities that it's so hard for typical suburbab bird dog owners to handle themselves.

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