When the 2011-12 bird hunting season started last October, I somehow expected our six-months of upland bird hunting to seem longer than prior seasons, like from 8 o’clock to 4 o’clock on my mental circular calendar. The drought ravaged the wildlife habitat of Texas, including JCR, which was sparsely covered and stressed to the max. The challenges we faced in meeting the exceptionally high standards we’d upheld for over 20 years as a wingshooting destination seemed unattainable. Over the years we’d taught our clients to expect an extraordinary experience and we’d made it our mission to deliver just that. But this season, we were wondering exactly how to achieve those results.
Now with five months of the six-month season behind us, I’m happy to report that my fears were unfounded, not because the challenges proved to be any less than expected, but because our fantastic team of dedicated employees rose to the occasion every day to manage guest expectations and deliver the best possible experience in conditions that many other Texas ranches declared “unhuntable.” (I know “unhuntable” isn’t really a word, but it’s the only one that seems appropriate.)
So how did we manage guest expectations? We simply told our hunters the truth about the habitat conditions they could expect to experience in the field this season. We did this IN ADVANCE of their reservations. At the same time we told them this additional truth: that they would get our very best effort to make their experience at Joshua Creek Ranch the best it could possibly be under these drought conditions that were absolutely beyond our control. Then we delivered on that promise. Our hunting guides demonstrated exceptional dog handling skills, reining in their pointers’ instinctive tendency to run rampantly through the sparse cover. The birds performed superbly, presenting challenging targets to the best of shooters. As it turns out, only the cover conditions were a compromising factor in the walk-up hunts. And to take some of the pressure off the hunting fields, we made driven pheasant shooting available for the price of a walk-up hunt, something we’d never offered before because of the higher costs associated with delivering driven shoots. But we knew it was worth temporarily sacrificing some profit for the assurance of guest satisfaction. Then, of course, the dining and lodging experience added a superlatively positive aspect to the overall guests’experience.
I do believe that our repeat guests appreciated our honesty BEFORE they booked/arrived about what they could expect in the field this season relative to their prior experiences at JCR. And new, first-time clients were given the same heads-up about habitat conditions. After all, our hunting pastures certainly didn’t resemble the lush cover featured in the photos on our website. I also think our guests could easily see all the extraordinary efforts being made by guides and others to assure guests’ enjoyment of the Ranch, even in less than ideal circumstances.
I’m an incurable optimist. I can’t help looking for the silver lining in a dark cloud, not always recognizing it as the cloud approaches, but at least seeing it as the cloud passes over. In this case, the dark cloud was the record breaking drought of 2011 that, combined with sizzling summer temperatures, left a near “scorched earth” for hunting habitat. What at first seemed like an insurmountable challenge turned into an opportunity for us to demonstrate our commitment to upland bird hunting. We gave our best effort for our returning clients, and when we were contacted about availability of hunting by folks who’s traditional outfitters could not deliver, we did everything we could to accommodate those hunters at Joshua Creek Ranch. The responses we received from our guests were like those from prior more ideal seasons….they had a great overall experience. More than just the hunting factors into that experience. It’s also about the quality of the dining and lodging, the friendliness of the atmosphere, and the dedication of the staff to the guests’ enjoyment. When we were preparing to open the Ranch for bird hunting back in 1990, I got some great advice from a wildlife biologist. He said, “If you ever have a less than satisfactory hunt, you better to be ready to make it up with the biscuits.”
I’m reminded, too, of a sort of motto we’ve lived and worked by our entire lives: “If we fail, it won’t be for lack of trying.”
Ann Kercheville is President of Joshua Creek Ranch. Located in the renowned Texas Hill Country just 45 minutes northwest of San Antonio and 90 minutes southwest of Austin, Joshua Creek Ranch occupies a uniquely diverse terrain including miles of Joshua Creek and Guadalupe River bottomland planted in fields of grain crops for prime upland and deer hunting habitats. You can visit their web site at http://www.joshuacreek.com.