On a recent January day I found myself the historian for a special shooting event held at one of Virginia’s most prestigious hunting reserves. I was fortunate enough to have been invited to cover a British style pheasant ring shoot held by the Barrett family of The Preserve at Dundee not far from Hanover, Virginia. Twenty fortunate souls would be looking to sieze the day as guests.
I was early, as I prefer to be, so I could take account of the surroundings for photo angles, meet my host and the guests. The grounds were tidy and included a gardener’s shed, guest house and carriage house. A restored Land Rover and wagon sat in the pull through drive with gun stands waiting use in the yard.
I tagged along with two other arrivals up the brick steps to the front door of the federal style home that once housed General Jeb Stuart’s family and entered into what would prove to be just the first example of a lavish day afield.
My host awaited in a parlor-like room that featured a breakfast spread, fresh cut flowers and a cracking wood fire. His hearty welcome and handshake made me feel like one of the VIPs that would participate in the shoot. As the guests arrived, each were greeted similarly until all were assembled.
Built in 1810, Dundee was completed in 1820. Nestled along River Road in the Hanover Courthouse district. The estate boasts 200 acres of rolling hillsides, plantation pine groves and magnificent hardwood forests.
Purchased in 1992 by the Barrett family, Dundee would undergo an extensive renovation and upgrade. Richard E. Barrett, Sr., owner of BC Wood Products, Inc, a specialty pallet and lumber company, had a vision for Dundee. Mr. Barrett was a Virginia native, born and raised farming in the Northern Neck.
With a deep love for the outdoors, gardening and sharing with friends and family, Mr. Barrett embarked on a monumental renovation of Dundee which had been dormant for 20 years. Realizing his dream of owning and restoring a historic plantation, he spent a full three years on the project. Utilizing 1900’s techniques to preserve the historical properties of the home, Dundee was returned to its original splendor but now with the amenities and comforts of modernization.
Driving up the long, river pebble drive and through the columns, you can easily envision fine carriages arriving at the front doorsteps of this handsomely appointed estate.
Richard Barrett, Sr. loved walking the footpaths, hunting deer, turkey and upland birds. As an active hunter and conservationist, it was truly a pleasure for him to share the fruits of Dundee.
After his passing in October 2020, his son, Richard E. Barrett, Jr. “Ted”, wanted to ensure that his father’s legacy and love of rural Hanover lived on at Dundee. Ted’s fondest memory of his father was that of learning how to manage and run the hunting grounds. Knowing the richness of its history and the beauty of its grounds and accommodations, Ted quickly went to work with a dedicated crew crafting the ultimate upland hunting experience and event venue, all less than 30 minutes north of Richmond.
As a fully licensed hunting preserve, Dundee offers phenomenal hunting even for the most discriminating shot. Ted strives to fill every hunter’s bag and stocks thousands of birds throughout the year including quail, chukkar and pheasant. With no bag limits, that is certainly no easy task, but Ted’s father instilled in him true southern hospitality. Keep the birds flying and the bourbon glasses full!
On the day of my visit, after the quick breakfast greeting, Ted then mustered the guns outside the main house for the peg draw (with a clever touch he employed numbered pheasant feathers), read a brief hunter’s prayer and then it was time to load up the guests in that vintage Rover and wagon and head to the pegs.
The shoot would take place on a nicely manicured stand of pines. The 30-year-old forest had been thinned so there was ample space between trees. Multiple release blinds were strategically located close to the center of the ring in low spots. 10 pegs were arranged around the perimeter of the pines with a path used by the guns as they rotated. 500 pheasants would be released.
The hunt was held on a day straight out of tales of English upland hunting lore, complete with gray skies, 38-degree temperatures and snow flurries.
There were guests in shooting coats, breeks (3/4 length trousers), wool sweaters, wellies and hats of all sorts that had brought a number types of shooting pieces, dominated by doubles – over-and-unders and side-by-sides. There were fathers and sons, husbands and wives, church brothers, business associates, and of course, hunting buddies.
As the guns made their way to their appropriate stands, we waited for the horn to signal the live on peg status of the shoot.
We didn’t have to wait long as the horn sounded. The pheasants began to fly and the field began to crackle with the sound of gunfire and the occasional, “Good shot!”
Shooters spend roughly four minutes per peg and rotated fully through all the stands twice. There’s about a two-minute break between live peg sessions. There are dog handlers every few pegs. I’m not sure who was more excited about the day; the guest, the handlers or the dogs.
I saw liver Boykin spaniels, brown, black and yellow Labrador retrievers, tan colored Novia Scotia duck tollers, even some type of boxer that had been trained to retrieve birds.
I was happy to walk along the outer ring path and chat with the shooters between live sessions.
During one such interlude I spoke with a father and son team, Jim and James, who were making quite a name for themselves based on the amount of birds that fell to their guns. The son, James was shooting a Beretta 600 series over-and-under and rarely missed. The father shot a Caesar Guerini.
When my camera batteries began to ebb during the second cycle, I walked back to the main house to see about charging them. I was met with the most amazing aroma and followed by nose to the source – the fully renovated carriage house where a caterer was cooking pot roast and BBQ for dinner later. This venue featured a rather comfortable looking leather couch and chairs with flat screen, darts and woodstove.
Once my batts were green again, it was time for the post hunt luncheon and I made my way back to the main house where Ted and his wife, Grace, along with Dundee staff had prepared a meal suitable for an English lord.
There was an outdoor firepit on the patio set within warming reach of the bar stocked with all the necessary accoutrements for a proper watering, a side table with hot oyster stew, oysters on the half shell and cheeses, pickles and fruit and then there was the main table. At approximately 40’ long it was large enough to accommodate all 20 guests and set using the most beautiful pheasant feather napkin rings and greenery.
The shooters arrived rosy-cheeked and full of tales. All were appreciative of the warming fires for their hands and stomachs. Bourbon, Scotch and craft beers were shared, and many toasts made.
When all had enjoyed the pre-game, the preserve’s personal chef called the guests to the table and detailed the meal that included a classic Caesar salad, artisan roll with whipped sweet butter, roasted quail served over jeweled stuffing, venison roast with winter vegetables, deep fried pheasant served over buttermilk mashed potatoes and assorted mini cheesecake, cookies and brownie bites for dessert.
I left the merry party around 2:45 before they could move to the carriage house to enjoy another round and dinner. I did stop by the gardener’s shed to ask for several pheasants to take home and congratulate the gamekeeper and “drivers” for a job well done.
Traditional British drive shoots involve large land holdings, beaters that drive birds to the guns. Double gunning is not uncommon where a loader hands the shooter a second gun and loads the empty one. The American versions are similar, but without the beaters and loaders. The birds, usually pheasants, are released and hunters take them as they fly.
The Preserve at Dundee holds three to four ring shoots each season. They all fill. Prices range from $1,700 to $,1950 per peg and two shooters can share one peg.
When the preserve is not running ring shoots, Ted and his guides offer daily upland hunts for groups of up to three hunters. The unique experience includes a round of clay shooting on the Dundee 5-Stand, unlimited birds, game cleaning and prep, hunting vehicles, lunch and/or post hunt hors d’oeuvres and drinks with an optional private dinner in the carriage house.
What I learned from covering this event is that Dundee has been making memories for guests over the past 200 years and now, in the care of the Barrett family, it is doing so in a whole new and amazing way.
As I bid my host farewell for the day, I was checking my calendar to see if I could attend the next ring shoot.