Destination File: Rose Hill Game Preserve

by Chris McCotter

Over the years I’ve visited many Virginia shooting preserves. The ones that make it past 10 years are usually good operations. There’s a collection of these establishments that remain around the state that you can count on for a good day. One of these I’ve visited several times that has always been consistently good is Rose Hill Game Preserve, just outside of Culpeper. 

  On Halloween day I took advantage of a special self-guided hunt offer; 30 quail for $220 and invited Virginia Delegate Buddy Fowler to share the day. Fowler, at the time was running for re-election to his fifth term (he has since been re-elected) and we both decided a day afield would be good for the soul.

  Fowler is a long-time advocate for Virginia sportsmen and women and a hunter and angler himself. He brought his six-year-old German shorthair pointer, Fritz and sprung for an extra 20 birds so we had 50 quail to find that day. I jokingly told him we’d need a wheelbarrow to get them out of the field.

   Rose Hill is located just east of Culpeper, not far off Rt. 29. It encompasses over 200 acres of carefully managed cover on a Civil War era farm used by both sides at different times of the conflict. During the Civil War, Culpeper County was in the middle of much of the action where Union and Confederate marched and fought. Rose Hill Farm was even called home by some Union soldiers during this time. At nearby Brandy Station the largest cavalry battle ever fought in North America occurred on June 9, 1863.
   In 1863-64 Rose Hill and the Ashby Family experienced occupation when it was made the headquarters for Union General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick’s 3rd Division Cavalry. Five Regiments pitched tents and wintered on this property.
  Today you can enjoy prime upland bird shooting at Rose Hill Farm just an hour from Washington D.C. in the shadow of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains. The property boasts an abundance of mature old hedgerows, pine stands and natural grassland, which provides for a unique and varied hunting experience.

   Mike Theis manages the preserve for owner, John Covington. Theis is a tireless property and game manager that has the busiest preserve with 200 acres always ready for your visit.

  During ours, Theis had us hunting a 20-acre field planted with sorghum and switchgrass. Theis and his staff had cut the cover into two-yard-wide strips. The sorghum was dense and even when we did come upon a bird it was rarely seen before the flush. The field edges were bordered by cedars and had great overgrown sections that offered deep cover for holdover birds. More on that later, though!

   Our other hunting companion for the day was my Brittany pup, Birdie. This was only her third hunt, and I was curious to see how she would work with another more seasoned dog. I figured with 50 birds she’d get plenty of opportunity.

  We began the day signing in at the cabin check-in station. Then Theis set our field and we drove our trucks to the nearby parking area. 

   We then cast both dogs to see how they worked together. Fritz was all business, while Birdie, true to puppy form, was happy to frolic and whine around the bigger dog. It took about 15 minutes, but Birdie settled down and began to hunt.

    I love watching bird dogs. Each has its own way of hunting. The GSPs tend to be big running dogs that barrel along. Brittanies stick their noses into everything and work much closer. While my puppy didn’t really know to “back” a point, Fritz was a gentleman and never once corrected her. For the first hour-and-a-half of the hunt, Birdie learned the ropes of hunting with another dog and was more of our flusher than the pointer.

  Preserve quail can be finicky. If it rains, you might as well reschedule because they just don’t flush and fly well. These birds were fresh, as Theis had picked them up the day before from the breeder. Our morning was chilly (upper 40s) and overcast so the first hour or so the birds were somewhat sluggish.

  As the day began to warm into the middle 50s the birds gained altitude with every flush and the shots became quite challenging. Some birds flushed and flew straight up, while others darted off to the side and became dreaded skeet shots, still others flushed straight away; not unlike a trap clay.

   I soon learned that Fowler was not only a good politician, but a good shot and that Fritz had a knack for pointing. Birdie was our retriever. We took our first break around 10:45 with six birds in the bag after an hour hunting. I believe we flushed at least 14. Perhaps more if I am being totally honest… 

   After watering the dogs and downing a couple donuts ourselves, Fowler, Fritz, Birdie and I were back at it.

    In this segment we hunted the middle of the field and Birdie began to show improvement on the backing aspect of her game. We dropped another eight birds and then something interesting happened.

   We had heard a rooster pheasant cackling when we first arrived, so I suspected there were some holdover birds using the field. Sure enough out of the corner of my eye I spied a male pheasant darting across the open space between cover strips. We hustled over to the area with Fritz pointing the bird. It flushed like a Space X rocket, and we emptied our 20-ga. over-and-unders on it only to watch it fly to the other side of the field.

  We looked at each other and laughed sheepishly knowing there’d probably be another chance, but we were both slightly embarrassed by our lack of success.

    That session finished up with eight more birds and twice that many flushes. Our shot to drop rate was getting closer, though. Back at the trucks we watered the dogs, and I fed them some jerky. Buddy and I had more donuts and shared a banana. Bird hunters have to eat!

   Our third session started off with some fast action as a hen and rooster pheasant jumped up in front of us along the right edge of the field out of head high cover. I dropped the female with barrel one (modified choke) and shot at the male. I watched in amazement as my little Brittany ran over and picked up the hen and brought it right to me – a big bird for little dog.

   As Fowler and I walked the back third of the field, between points and shots, I asked him how he got into politics. He told me he read The Law by Frederic Bastiat as a young man and was inspired. He also worked for an established aide to a delegate and learned the ropes early.

His district includes many rural areas of Louisa, Powhatan and Hanover Counties as well as some of suburban Henrico just outside of Richmond.

    As the morning turned into afternoon, Fritz was beginning to tire and one of his legs came up lame. We returned again to the trucks, kenneled him (he was happy to curl up) and headed back out with little Birdie leading the way.

   Incredibly we flushed and dropped another rooster, this one was an impressive specimen with serious spurs. Both Buddy and I put a few #8s in him and he did go down, but he wasn’t out. Birdie ran full speed at the wounded bird, chasing it down and grabbing it. The pheasant looked nearly as big as she was, but it didn’t have a chance. When Buddy leaned down to grab it, he was spurred hard on the back of his hand, bringing blood. I was amazed my dog could subdue this fierce beast that kicked and fought as it went into the game bag after we quieted it.

    Fowler and I didn’t quite need a wheelbarrow for our birds, but we did load out a respectively 24 quail and four pheasants. I have no doubt we could have hunted into the afternoon and kicked up plenty more quail, but it we both had things to do back home so around 1:45 we loaded up, said thank you to Mike before heading down the road.

   Shooting preserves are sometimes the only way today’s hunters can experience upland bird hunting. They are also a good way to train a young dog like mine or bring a mature dog up to speed in the early season. While we used our own dogs and self-guided, you can book a fully guided hunt at Rose Hill and watch the guide’s dogs work the fields.

   Rose Hill’s season runs until April. They will be very busy around Christmas so if you are reading this and curious, give them a call now and tell them Woods & Waters inspired you.

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