Hunting in Hunt Country
by Julie Reardon
They don’t call our area of the Blue Ridge “the hunt country” just because of the foxhunting. Horses and hounds begin their informal training hunts, called cubbing, in September, after spending the past few weeks getting ready. And local hunters have been honing their skills for other game for opening season, which starts Sept. 1 for resident Canadian geese and Sept. 3 for doves. All around the Commonwealth shooting sports enthusiasts have been putting in time at local ranges and sporting clays stands sighting in their rifles, patterning their shotguns and shooting skeet. Local shotgun and sporting clays instructor Isobel Ziluca of Upperville has seen a big increase in women participating in the shooting sports, and learning to shoot well so they can hunt. Ziluca is a certified instructor with the National Sporting Clays Association and specializes in helping beginners and women learn to shoot skeet.
Despite being so close to a major metropolitan area, Northern Virginia offers plenty of places to learn to shoot and/or go hunting within an hour’s drive of Alexandria. If you’re an experienced hunter without access to private land, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries maintains over 40 Wildlife Management Areas statewide; four are nearby and allow public hunting. These lands are purchased and maintained with hunting, fishing, and trapping license fees and with Federal Assistance in Wildlife Restoration funds, derived from the sale of hunting-related equipment. These areas were created for all to be able to enjoy wildlife, habitats, and the bountiful natural resources found there. And there’s the George Washington National Forest, part of which is an easy drive out I-66 near Front Royal. Hunting public lands can be rewarding but does have its pitfalls—it can be crowded and requires advance planning. For information on hunting seasons, licenses and regulations for hunting at the WMAs, visit http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/hunting/.
Preserve hunting can be an excellent introduction to wing shooting and a chance to hunt upland game birds now scarce in the Mid Atlantic. Nearby, Shady Grove Hunting Preserve & Kennels is the place to go. Owned by Neil Selby and Leslie Carter, it’s located near Remington in central Fauquier County on several hundred acres of managed lands. Hunters can go solo or Shady Grove can provide a guide and dog to hunt chukar, Hungarian partridge, pheasant or mallards. You can even have your birds cleaned and dressed on site after your hunt. There is also a newly rebuilt sporting clays range slated to open September 10th. “The new sporting clays range will be open every week, Thursday through Sunday and holiday Mondays, and on Wednesdays by appointment for lessons or groups,” said Carter. Shady Grove is a member of the National Sporting Clays Association, and Carter added that instruction is available for beginners or those that want to improve their shooting from John Alexander, a top rated NSCA instructor. For more information, check out their Facebook pages for Shady Grove Kennels and Shady Grove Sporting clays or visit their website Shady-Grove.com.
If you don’t have access to land or time to scout, a good option is to use a local outfitter where you can book hunts with a guide. If you’re new to the area or to hunting, a guide is well worth the fee, and for waterfowl hunting, will probably save you money. Outfitters typically have large tracts of land they lease and permission to hunt on private property where they manage the habitat for optimum hunting success. The hunter doesn’t need to worry about finding good spots and obtaining permission to hunt on private property nor worry about scouting and equipment. “We supply the boats, blinds, decoys and duck calling,” explained Sarah Pemberton who, along with her husband, runs Total Sportsmen’s Outfitters in Middleburg. “And our guides know how to call in ducks.” TSO also has trained retrievers to find and return downed birds. And, of course, unlike hunting public lands, the hunter doesn’t need to worry about competition and crowds. The public lands, especially the WMAs, can get crowded on weekends.
Total Sportsman’s Outfitters offers nearby waterfowl, dove, deer, bear and turkey hunting mostly in Loudoun and Fauquier counties but also on the rivers and the Eastern Shore. It’s a family business started by the owner, John Pemberton, who is a local and has hunted all his life. He’s aided by his wife, Sarah, and his two children Hardy, age 12 and Sydney, age 7. They strive to make hunting accessible to anyone from combat wounded veterans to women and children. “We love having children out to hunt,” explained Sarah. Hunting is a family affair for the Pembertons. Son Hardy began hunting with his father when he was just six, and daughter Sydney has been accompanying them since she was two and is, according to her mom, an excellent bird spotter “and quieter in the blind than most adults.”
Sarah also added that this looks like it’ll be a really good year for both dove and resident Canadian geese; both have abundant populations on the leases they manage. Sarah is one of a growing number of women who participate in the shooting sports: among hunters, women represent the fastest-growing demographic. “A lot of women call us to book hunts for their husbands, and I’ll talk them into coming along,” she said. “And then they’ll come out themselves or with their friends.” More information about their hunts and how to book one is on their Total Sportsmen’s Outfitters page on Facebook and at totalsportsmans.com.