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In its most common usage (for upland hunters, anyway), a "preserve" refers to a parcel of land that has been set aside specifically to attract and accommodate game birds. These are usually pheasant, quail, chukar, doves, and the like.

In some areas, a preserve is a space set up specifically to protect a species that is otherwise losing ground to development or over-hunting. In other areas, a preserve is established specifically for hunting, and is regulated so that the hunters (who typically are filling the population-control role of the birds' declining natural predators) are bagging just the right amount of game to keep an appropriate equilbrium.

There are generally two classes of preserves: public and private. Different state game agencies (see our directory listing of agencies in all 50 states) have very different rules about how public preserves are to be used, and under what circumstances private propertly owners can designate (and hunt, or charge others to hunt) their land as a preserve. Private preserves are sometimes referred to as such not because they're really preserves, per se, but because that term sounds somehow more fetching than "that scrappy 300 acres where we can never grow anything, but for which I can charge city-slickers $500 a day to chase around after their dogs looking for my pen-raised quail."

Not to hit a cynical note, but the term "preserve" is used with the same wild abandon that real estate agents use the term "estate." In the case of operations that refer to themselves as private preserves, it's perhaps better to understand that the phrase is now better translated to "private property on which you can pay to hunt." Now, some of the best hunting you'll ever do will be on managed, private ground. People who run such facilities are determined to have you back again another day, and they'll do everything they can to match up your expectations and budget with the right fields, birds, guides, and dogs.

Of course, dedicating sometimes thousands of acres to this purpose, and keeping it maintained, patrolled, populated with birds, advertised, booked, and adjacent to some running water, parking, a clubhouse or lodge... all of that takes real cash, and means that use of a private preserve will usually cost you some real cash, too. If, though, you compare that cost to finding public land (if you even can, in your area) that happens to support a game bird population, getting there, bringing along all of your creature comforts and gear, making sure you're in every way legal doing so, etc., well - sometimes you're better off having a long term relationship with your nearby private preserve owners. They earn their money the old-fashioned way, and are doing so in a tough regulatory environment, always fending off legal attacks on their business, steep insurance and property taxes, and a thousand other distractions. For the cost of a good dinner out and a movie with your family, you could spend a quality day at a preserve, enjoy the company, work with talented gun dogs, and bring home some well-fed, healthy game birds for your freezer. In the weeks that follow such an outing, you'll look back at the day, and decide for yourself if preserve hunting is the right thing for you and your hunting buddies.

For a listing of some private preserves, sorted by state, see our directory of private preserves.

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