It was one of Montana’s best-kept secrets nestled away in the hill country along the Madison River. The ranch opened to the public back in 2007, but it didn’t hold its grand opening until early 2008 when all the finishing touches were completed. The ranch is a 5000 acre deeded property with about an additional 2000 acres in leased land. Some of the land, only about 1,500 acres, is farmed but the majority of it is in a natural state for wildlife.
A year ago I finally returned to some of my old haunts for hunting grouse in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It was a trip long delayed because of the loss of a good friend some years ago, Ed Schierer. Ed and I met in Colorado Springs at the Broadmore Hotel in April of 1995. I was there doing a story on the resort and shooting facility and he and Michael Murphy were conducting a shooting school on the very nice shooting grounds of the Broadmore at that time. We decided to all get together for dinner the next day at a cabin they owned up in the mountains. We grilled some great steaks, drank some good beer and talked about the great bird hunting in different parts of the states.
I mentioned to Ed that what I missed the most in living in New Mexico at the time, was the great grouse hunting in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It turned out that it was Ed’s passion as well. Later that evening he told me that I’ll be his guest for two weeks come that fall for grouse hunting. He mentioned the grouse count has been going up and it should be a peak year for grouse hunting. He said that I should call him in late September or early October to find out how the trees were doing.
When I did call Ed, he mentioned it hadn’t been cold enough to have the trees drop all their leaves as yet, so he was going to Canada to hunt grouse up there. He said I should call back the last week of October or the first week of November when he’ll be back.
Summer never seemed to end, as I was so looking forward to the hunt with Ed. When the time came, I gave Ed a call and Virginia answered. She said, “haven’t you heard, Ed disappeared up in Canada.” “They have been looking for him for over a week and they haven’t found him, even the Royal Air Force was looking for him with Infra-red.” To this day they haven’t found Ed. Needless to say, I didn’t go grouse hunting back in the Midwest that year.
As the years slipped by, I kept telling myself I’ve got to go back and do some grouse hunting as it’s been a dream of mine for some years. A couple of years ago I finally got myself a dog that was a good companion and a bird dog. A Viszla named Jack, who was mister personality plus. Wherever I went with Jack, we made friends, or I should say Jack made friends.
Jack really only had two modes, play with me or pet me. He should have been a bald headed dog he was always petted so much. With Jack at my side, I felt the time was right to head back to the Midwest and do some grouse hunting in remembrance of Ed. I decided to do a trip and hunt both Minnesota and Wisconsin.
In the past, I had hunted northern Minnesota, but I wanted to try something new and contacted the Rochester, MN Convention and Visitors Bureau in the southern part of the state. They sent me a wealth of information on grouse hunting in the southern part of the state along with a listing of places to stay in Rochester, restaurants, points of interest and plenty of maps to find my way along with some Department of Natural Resources information. They were very thorough. They even got me a very good rate at the Kahler Hotel that allowed dogs and hooked me up with an excellent guide by the name of Dan Butterfass
I contacted Dan and arraigned to meet him in the hotel lobby at 8:00 AM the day after I arrived. As I waited for Dan to show up, Jack was busy making friends. When Dan arrived, he advised me we’ll start with the most distant place to hunt for grouse so that he can show me some of the other places where we’ll hunt during the week. Many of the places he pointed out were some of the high bluff areas along the Zumbro River where the state was protecting the native prairie grasses. It was beautiful country and it was a pleasant drive of under an hour.
The first place we went out was just off the highway and up a gentle dirt road that meandered back into some heavy cover. Jack and the other dog got along well and were out looking for grouse that Dan and I could shoot. The first shot taken by Dan was a Woodcock that he got. The dogs flushed a couple of grouse from the sound of it, but I never got a good look at them because of the heavy cover, and Dan didn’t see them either. A little later, a grouse flushed close to me and I had a good view and dropped it on the first shot. Dan also got a grouse a few minutes after mine. About that time it was almost noon and we decided to have a snack and feed the dogs as we relaxed and enjoyed the river scenery.
Dan explained how we would make a loop through the timber and end up down by the car. It wasn’t too long before Dan had another woodcock and I ended up getting another grouse on the way back. By the time we got back to the car we each had another grouse. It was pretty good for the first day out in some grand country to explore. The dogs did their job and had a good time as well.
That evening I was pretty tired being the first day out and I decided to stay close to the hotel and have dinner. Right around the corner from the hotel was Victoria’s Ristorante and Wine Bar. As soon as I opened the door and walked in I knew I picked the right place because of the fantastic aromas floating throughout the restaurant. Whenever I go to a good Italian or German restaurant, and they have veal on the menu that’s what I order. I had veal Piccata and was not disappointed. It was a grand meal served in a grand style with large portions and flavors that make you ask for more. Their wine selection was excellent as was the ambience of the restaurant and great staff. (Victoria’s is at 7 First Ave. SW and they can be reached at 507-280-6232.) The other place you have to eat at in Rochester is Jasper’s Alsatian Bistro and Wine Bar at 14 Historic Third Street, Rochester, MN, (507-280-6446). It’s like stepping back in time and having a unique dinner with flavors from the old world that are outstanding.
The next four days with Dan picking the spots for hunting grouse were fantastic. I don’t know who had more fun the dogs or us. We had good hunting and got plenty of birds every day except for one where the state DNR tore up the ground for a fire break to protect the prairie grass. It had to have been within the last week and we didn’t understand why they did it during grouse season. We were both very upset about that. And it didn’t surprise us when we didn’t flush any birds there. The grouse hunting in the southern part of the state was great and I’d recommend it to anyone. Dan really knew a lot of good spots and we had a great time together and the weather was perfect every day. Dan is not only an excellent hunting guide, but as you roll down the highway he’ll fill you in on all the important history and information on the areas you’re passing through. Rochester is a good place to headquarter and was a good jumping off place for hunting or sightseeing as well.
First, I feed the dogs – then I get a chance to eat.
After Rochester, I headed up to the northwestern corner of Wisconsin around Yellow Lake and the town of Webster where my dad had a place. I had hunted there for many years before and after I got out of the service. There were always plenty of grouse in the woods there.
The next morning I headed out to one of my favorite spots for Grouse with Jack. The weather looked threatening, but I decided to go anyhow. We were in the woods for just about a half an hour when Jack flushed the first grouse. It took two shots because of the heavy cover, but I got it. About twenty minutes later Jack got another two birds up but I was only able to get one. The hunting was as I remembered it years ago and Jack was doing a great job. It was getting close to lunch time when the first drops of rain started to fall. We headed back to the SUV and got there before the heavens split open and it really started to pour. It was only about a twenty minute drive back to the Heartwood Conference Center where I was staying.
It may not sound like I was on a hunting trip when you’re staying at a conference center, but this place had the best location and a variety of lodging, from motel-like rooms, to lodge rooms and cabins like the oneI was staying in. It was also great because they allowed dogs and there was plenty of room for Jack to run around. It also had a complete kitchen so you could stay in and cook or go out to one of the many good restaurants in the area.
It continued to rain and drizzle for the next four days and I had run out of time. It was a shame I couldn’t get any more hunting in because of the bad weather, but that’s the way it is at times. My dream still isn’t complete so I made myself a promise I’ll go back for another week or two within the next two or three years.
For more information you can contact the following:Kahler Grand Hotel
Heartwood Conference Center & Resort
The Rochester Tour Co.
Jerry Sinkovec is a freelance outdoor and travel photojournalist who writes for over 45 different publications nationally and internationally. Jerry is also designing shooting clothing and accessories for Wild Hare Intl. He is the shooting and travel editor for Outdoors Now. He is also the director of the Instinctive Target Interception Shotgun Shooting School headquartered in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He has been teaching for the last 20 years, and has been endorsed by Browning in Utah. He conducts classes in all the western states. His address is: I. T. I. Shotgun Shooting School, 5045 Brennan Bend, Idaho Falls, ID 83401. He can be reached at: 208-523-1545, or online at http://www.itishooting.com.
Montana’s newest sporting clays facility is up and running in less than a year. Jim Bailey, owner and general manager is in the construction business and had planned to use the land for an upscale home development, and had started to do that when the housing market went south. He then gave a lot of thought to how else to utilize the land for a profitable return since he already had done some work in developing roads, etc. After some discussion with some friends he decided to develop a sport shooting complex.
Story and photos by Jerry Sinkovec
Casa de Campo has a distant sounding ring to it, but it can be as close as three hours away or less. It’s located on the south shore of the Dominican Republic outside the town of La Romana which also has an International airport. Atlanta, New York and Miami are three of the major jumping off places.
Casa de Campo features what any Caribbean destination resort has to offer and much, much more on their 7,000 acres. They have three award-winning golf courses like Teeth of the Dog, which is world renown, and it has spectacular views of the sea and surrounding terrain. The management at Casa de Campo is currently finishing a $20-million-dollar renovation to create 78 new Elite rooms and suites, along with a new, contemporary main hotel area.
Over the years I’ve heard about and seen articles on Casa de Campo and I was impressed with what they had to offer. Now, I’ve had a chance to experience the resort. They have the world’s largest sporting clays facilities with over 200 stations and the tallest tower in the world. At 110 feet, it throws targets in all four directions from three different levels. They also have three lower towers on site. In addition, they have three trap fields; one for regular and handicap; one for trap doubles; and one for wobble trap. They also have a single skeet field and two Barnaby pigeon rings.
Since I didn’t have my own gun with me because I flew into Santo Domingo (for the shorter time in the air and the nicer terminals), so I used one of their Berettas. They have a large selection of shotguns you can use and they are primarily 12-gauge Beretta field guns with a manual safety. They also have guns in the four different gauges. I decided to shoot a couple of rounds of skeet to see how their Berettas would handle. The barrels felt a little heavier than my Browning, but the gun seemed to handle about the same. I only dropped a few targets so it wasn’t bad. The distant horizon was great for seeing the targets on the skeet field as well as the trap fields.
If you want to bring your own gun it can be easily done by filling out a gun permit two weeks before you depart and fly directly into the Casa de Campo/La Romana Intl. Airport (code: LRM) where the resort has good working relations with the authorities. You may encounter problems at the other two airports at Santo Domingo and Punta Cana, which are both about 90 minutes away.
The following day I went out with Shaun Snell, the manager of the shooting complex, to shoot the sporting clays field. I let him pick out the stations and I went after the different presentations. There was a nice selection of targets with what I would call normal type presentations All of them were doable, but I still could miss one now and then. It was fun shooting incomers from one of the two grouse butts on the course. I found the presentations off the top of the tower the most difficult, never having seen targets like that. They were so fast that you couldn’t pick them up until they were about 10 to 15 yards out and had slowed a bit. Be prepared for the unexpected and a good amount of fun. The next time I go back I hope to shoot all 200 plus stations.
You could spend 14 days there shooting 14 stations each day and you would not have shot all the sporting clay stations they have to offer. There is a great diversity in the presentations, which will challenge you as hard as you’d like to be challenged. Some stations are on the soft side and are used for instruction.
In years past the shooting focused on sporting clays, trap and live bird shooting with top competitors coming from Europe and South America. Some of the live bird competitions are still held there but not with the same frequency of years past. Over the years things have changed as has the interest in the different disciplines. Seven years ago Shaun, who is from England, took over the management of the shooting complex and started to make some changes. They have a clubhouse where the pro shop and office are located along with the Safari Club restaurant and bar. It’s a great place to relax with a soothing drink after a day of shooting or hunting.
Under Shaun’s management the focus has turned to upland bird hunting and waterfowl hunting. Casa de Campo is the only place on earth where you can do bird hunting 365 days a year. There are no licenses to buy, no bird limits, just great outdoor experiences. They have over 10,000 acres devoted to hunting upland birds and waterfowl. They have developed their own kennels and have an active breeding program which is operated by Shaun’s wife. The dogs that were used during our upland bird hunt were outstanding with pointers locating the birds and other dogs to flush them out.
Our upland hunt started after lunch on an average day. It was warm but pleasant and included about a 40 minute drive to the hunting property. The dogs were excited and anxious to get to their task. The terrain was on the flat side with some low hills and gullies and grass that was a little higher than normal. There were pockets of thick brush throughout the area that provided great cover for the birds. It wasn’t long before one of the dogs was on point. Another dog was released that flushed the birds and three partridge were flushed. With two guns shooting all three partridge were taken. Over the next few hours we were able to get 51 birds that included quail, partridge and pheasant. It was an exciting time with some great hunting and dogs that really knew their stuff.
The following day we went out early in the morning to the area where the duck hunting took place in lush terrain with many ponds and streams and bigger hills. Some small blinds were set up for the three shooters. It wasn’t long before ducks came over the hill to land in the pond behind us. At first it was one, two or three birds, but later the ducks came over in larger groups. The shooting was fast and furious and by the end of the morning each shooter had about 48 birds.
The largest shoot they have at Casa de Compo is the Sugar Invitational. It is a private shoot that takes place in April. Every year there are some changes to the format as it includes a few hundred clay targets and live bird shooting in different events. The shoot is normally conducted over four days. (For more information on events at Casa de Campo you can contact Shaun at the shooting center at 809-523-3333 ext. 5145.)
The accommodations at Casa de Campo vary from large villa homes to a variety of hotel rooms including the new Elite room and suites, with all the amenities of a large resort. My hotel room was larger than most hotel rooms and comfortable and had a covered balcony on the back side with nice views. Although my room wasn’t one of the newly remolded rooms it was more than ample and came with a well-stocked mini bar and great air-conditioning.
The Ivory colored sand beaches and palm trees are just beautiful. Since I was pretty busy on this trip, I only had one afternoon to spend at Minitas Beach to soak up the solar BTU’s and sip on a few margaritas. It was glorious. This resort covers 7,000 acres and so each room is provided with a golf cart to get around in. And it is really handy.
There are many other things to do at Casa de Campo. They have over a dozen tennis courts and several of them are lighted for play in the evening. The courts looked new, but it’s just that they are so meticulous in their maintenance. The La Terraza Tennis Center has been dubbed the “Wimbledon of the Caribbean.” At the equestrian center you can ride out on a large selection of trails on either an English or western saddles, but if you want to ride make sure you bring long pants. I didn’t so I couldn’t ride. Less than 100 yards from the stable is a polo field where a match was taking place the day I was there. I had fun capturing some action shots of the game.
There are other activities at Casa de Campo as well. There is deep-sea fishing, sailing, kayaking along with snorkeling and diving as well. You can also take an excursion or one of the many tours available or just rent an ATV and explore on your own. There are also spas where you can relax or get a massage which I did and felt totally renewed. They also have a fitness center where you can work out like you normally would at home and stay in shape after eating all those grand meals every evening. You can also rent a bike if that is more to your liking for staying in shape.
The nine restaurants in the resort’s inclusive package are simply great, with one of them being in the five- diamond class. At the restaurant at the Marina my dining partner and I ordered a large Man-O-War, about 20 inches in length and eight across, with its decks awash with sushi, sashimi, wasabi, sliced ginger and other delights. I never thought we’d finish it off, but we did such a grand job of clearing the decks, any good admiral would have been proud of our efforts.
My favorite appetizer that was available at two different restaurants and prepared a little different at each restaurant was tuna tartar. I had it just about every night. The restaurant that would easily win a five-diamond award is Le Cirque, which is located by the beach. The food there was really outstanding as was their selection of wines. The ambience of the restaurant was superior to what you would normally expect. And you could look out over the beach and barely hear the surf pounding on the shore.
Whatever your taste in food is you’ll find something there to suit you. And there will soon be the new La Cana Restaurant and Lounge by Il Circo in the main area too. There are art galleries and a museum on the property along with its own large shopping area. You can also visit and explore Altos de Chavon, an area where everything has the look of a few hundred years ago that also has some shops and restaurants on the Casa de Campo property. You’ll feel at home even though you’re away from home at Casa de Campo, because of the great staff.
For more information on Casa de Campo you can contact:Casa de Campo Direct