Whatever mental images the resort’s name may convey, there’s very little that’s actually “rough” about Rough Creek. Although several factors set this resort apart from other wingshooting destinations I’ve visited, including the fact that it’s much more than just a place to shoot birds, it’s easy to identify one category where the resort strives to outshine the rest.
At Rough Creek, it’s all about the service.
From the time I arrived, I found it difficult to turn around without bumping into someone who greeted me cheerfully, by name, and inquired after my well-being. I briefly wondered if I had worn mismatched socks, donned my shirt inside out or otherwise resembled some babbling idiot who couldn’t look after himself, but I quickly discovered such treatment is standard at the resort.
If the devil is in the details of running an operation like Rough Creek, general manager Paul Boccafogli clearly has the devil on the run. He’s an old hand at this game, having opened high-end properties in locations that know a thing or two about top-shelf service, such as in London. He’s been with Rough Creek since it opened in 1998.
Paul also knows his way around a shotgun, as I would discover soon enough. He was scheduled to join me on a mixed-bag hunt for released pheasant, chukar and bobwhite quail.
Upon arrival, I checked in at the resort’s Beretta Room, a combination command center for hunting programs and a nicely appointed pro shop for visiting hunters. There I met wildlife sales manager Teka Paul and got the rundown on the resort’s hunting programs.
All upland bird hunts are a half-day, mixed-bag affair. They include transportation atop a Southwest style hunt truck, guide and dogs, and a three-course gourmet lunch. There are no bag limits and no per-bird charges. At the end of your hunt, the staff will process your birds and even pack them on ice in an airline-approved cooler. Groups are easily accommodated, as the resort has six full-time guides, six part-time guides and about 45 dogs. Most are well-trained English pointers, along with a few English setters, Brittanies and labs. As a premium Beretta retailer, there are enough loaner Beretta over-and-under shotguns, in 12- and 20-gauge to outfit a small army.
If you like, you can get in plenty of practice on five-stand, wobble trap and a 10-station sporting clays course. Shooting instruction is available, as are memberships in the private rod and gun club.
You can also hunt ducks, dove, whitetail deer and Rio Grande turkey (in season) at Rough Creek, as well as hogs, predators and exotics on nearby properties. If you wish, you can fish for Florida-strain largemouth bass, crappie and bluegill in a scenic 80-acre lake, which is overlooked by the main lodge, or enjoy a hike on the five-mile nature trail that winds along the shoreline.
After signing the customary waivers and watching a mandatory safety video, I joined guide Jeff Graham and Paul Boccafogli for a short drive to the hunting grounds, which are spread out across the resort’s 11,000 acres. We stopped to practice a bit at the wobble trap stand, and I did better than expected, considering I hadn’t picked up a shotgun in a while due to a recent relocation to Texas and other obligations involving a considerable amount of hunting with rifles.
Moving to the hunting fields, which were half-hidden in a blanket of low clouds, Jeff Graham turned out a pair of English pointers and a black lab, which was used to flush the birds once the pointers locked up. They immediately started combing the ground cover, which consisted mainly of native grasses and low cedars. Handled expertly by Graham, the dogs went about their business-like seasoned pros. The pointers started pinning birds almost immediately, locking on point like statues and backing admirably.
While the dogs held up their end of the bargain, I promptly missed the first several quail that flushed. My brain simply wasn’t adjusting for their speed, despite the fact that I was clutching one of the fastest guns I own, a light, Beretta Silver Pigeon II with 26-inch barrels.
Finally, a chukar flushed from beneath a low cedar, climbing right to left and accelerating. He wasn’t quite fast enough. I had seen that flight path countless times, for more years than I cared to remember, and I knew that bird would drop before I slapped the trigger.
Confidence restored, I started connecting on the quail, adding a few chukar and pheasant along the way. The chukar and pheasant flew about as well as any preserve birds I’ve hunted, but the bobwhites were the main attraction as far as I was concerned. They were unpredictable once launched (I nearly caught one barehanded out of a reflex reaction when it flew directly at my head) and they wasted no time opening the distance between themselves and a scattergun.
Facilities and Activities
Rough Creek started out purely as a bird-hunting preserve, but it has grown and expanded over the years into full-blown resort that caters to both corporate clientele and families. It also does a brisk business in weddings. Along the way, the resort has garnered a host of awards.
Rough Creek is listed on the Conde’ Nast Travelers’ Readers Choice Awards Gold List of the world’s best places to stay. Conde’ Nast Johansens named it most outstanding lodge in North America. Peter Greenberg, of CBS, dubbed it one of the top five places to get married (presumably with or without a shotgun).
Lest you make the mistake of thinking that the lodge is just for hunters, think again. Hunting serves as a backdrop to your own special getaway that you can tailor precisely to suit your tastes. The resort’s website (www.roughcreek.com) lists “78 things to do” and they’re not kidding. For those so inclined, you can practice your rock climbing skills on a 40-foot climbing wall, bounce around on a bungee trampoline or take a ride on a 650-foot zipline. If this isn’t active enough for you, you can stay in shape at the fitness center or play volleyball, basketball, tennis and softball; practice your archery skills; or stay on top of your golf game at the 300-yard driving range.
If you’re the sort who likes to make getting from point A to point B an adventure, you have many choices. You can navigate the lake via pontoon boat, bass boat or kayak, or explore the ranch atop a Kawasaki mule. If you prefer non-motorized equestrian activities, you can go horseback riding, take part in a cattle roundup or simply enjoy a hay ride.
In addition to shooting and fishing instruction, you can take advantage of instruction in everything from cooking, horseback riding and wine tasting to massage techniques, GPS navigation and rocket building.
A list of activities for kids would take up far more room than allotted here; suffice to say they won’t be bored.
Should you find the day’s activities leave you in need of a little liquid refreshment, the great room bar features signature margaritas, single-malt Scotches, choice wines and hand-packed cigars.
Assuming you have reached a state of utter relaxation (or exhaustion) and are ready to turn in, the resort has private cabins and guesthouses for families or groups. In the main lodge, there are 57 guest rooms, including a number of luxuriously appointed suites. Each offers five-star comforts and a private balcony overlooking Mallard Lake. The décor is a mix of classic Western styling with some distinctly contemporary touches. For example, the shower in my suite had – count ‘em – five separate shower nozzles that can work wonders on aching bones and sore muscles at the end of long day of chasing birds.
If that doesn’t do the trick, you can always take a dip in an outdoor hot tub or swimming pool. If you absolutely, positively need to be pampered – or simply want to make your better half happy – you can take advantage of the spa at Rough Creek, where certified technicians offer a wide array of exotic facials, specialty massages and a list of body treatments that reads like a restaurant menu. While the spa is certain to be a hit with the ladies, there’s even a “hunter’s massage” that focuses on the neck, shoulders and upper back for those who’ve toted around a gun all day. That’s combined with a gel mask and massage to soothe feet that may be tired from walking after birds.
I take a certain smug satisfaction in reporting that I avoided ruining my hunter-tough reputation by resisting the temptation of visiting the spa. In other words, I ran out of time.
And that, I must confess, had everything to do with my visit to the resort’s famed restaurant.
The restaurant at Rough Creek is, simply stated, superb.
As a critic for a well-known foodie magazine observed, the restaurant alone is worth the stay. DiRoNA has named the restaurant one of the “Distinguished Restaurants in North America” every year since 2003. It has also received the Wine Spectator Restaurant Award of Excellence each year since 2008.
With accolades like that, it’s easy to understand why I looked forward to sampling the cuisine served up by chef Gerard Thompson, who has been with the resort since it opened in 1998.
As I quickly discovered, he likes to do things a bit differently. All ingredients are either locally produced or brought in fresh (there’s even a chef’s greenhouse for growing herbs). The word “frozen” isn’t in the vocabulary. The menu changes daily, with more extensive selections available on weekends.
I visited on a Thursday night and found no shortage of tasty temptations on the menu. For starters, there was a choice of seafood gumbo or the restaurant’s famed grilled Texas quail, served over stone-ground grits with a sherry-maple glaze. I chose the quail, naturally -- and refused to leave the resort without laying my hands on the recipe. It’s that good. Some knowledgeable guests have been known to simply order large platters filled with quail.
Before the quail appetizer even arrived, I was served one of the most delicious deviled eggs I’ve ever tasted -- and I have a weakness for good deviled eggs. This one was topped with paddlefish caviar. The quail was followed by a tomato and baby arugula salad with feta cheese crumbles and a homemade dressing, all accompanied by three different types of homemade bread.
At this point, it’s fair to say that my appetite was duly jump-started, but any discussion of the restaurant would be remiss without noting that the establishment serves a fine selection of wines from France, Italy and California. I had a chance to discuss the offerings with the wine steward and sample a fine Italian pinot grigio.
Entrée choices included several types of wood-grilled steaks from the black Angus cattle raised on the ranch. The Premium Gold Angus beef is, according to the restaurant, the only beef in the world that is genetically verified by the USDA. Other choices included herb-roasted chicken breast with roasted garlic-Mascarpone cheese polenta, braised Swiss chard and cracked black pepper sauce, as well as lemon-herb roasted coral trout, served with mushroom-herb risotto, Parmesan cheese and a fire-roasted tomato broth.
I opted for molasses-bourbon soaked pork tenderloin, served with chipotle chile-whipped sweet potatoes, grilled zucchini and pear chutney. My only regret was that I didn’t save room for dessert. The staff brought me some vanilla bean banana pudding, anyway. I, of course, felt duty bound to consume it.
That performance was followed up the next morning with a return visit to sample the restaurant’s marvelous breakfast buffet. These gastronomic adventures left me firmly convinced of one thing: It’s a good thing you can get plenty of exercise chasing birds or engaging in other sporting activities at Rough Creek.
If you spend enough time at the restaurant, you’re going to need it.