DENTON -- Not only is a bird in hand worth two in the bush, a bird in the woods is worth two in the field. Especially if the bird is a ringneck pheasant, chukar, or Hungarian partridge.
With regulated shooting preserves, the foremost drawback is that birds are usually released in cornfields. One can eye the terrain and quickly predict where much of the shooting will occur.
You might say pay-as-you-shoot areas are predictable; I might add that not infrequently they are too predictable. Much of the element of surprise is missing, and to this writer that is an important part of a shoot.
It wasn't like that when Ray Nichols, Bob McIntire, Angus Phillips and I turned to upland birds the other day after doing little with Canada geese in a warm and bright sunny morning near Tilghman Island. We enjoyed some of the fastest shooting I have yet to see on a preserve --and all of it in the woods.
Welcome to Caroline County Shooting Preserve, four miles west of Denton on Route 328, an operation established by dog trainer Tommy Swann in 1963.
It wasn't that the birds released by Swann needed trees to enhance their flight. They were plump, healthy and fast. In a full afternoon's hunt we didn't encounter one that chose to run when the dogs approached. All flew, and flew well.
But put a bird amidst trees, and the challenge is doubled -- or tripled. It's instinct shooting at its best. You've got to be fast, or the game will get to the other side of a tree before you pull the trigger.
While pheasants were the main fare, our guide -- Swann's son Donnie -- forewarned us to watch for the Hungarian partridge. They're mighty fast, he warned.
And these imported birds about the size of a chukar and ruffed grouse lived up to their billing. They held well for points until their cover was kicked, then took off straight up and high like rockets before leveling off. They add a new dimension to wing shooting.
Chukars, among the swiftest of fliers, have a reputation for running at exceptional speeds, but all of the six we bagged held tight until flushed then darted through the trees. We missed several on their first flights, and had to get them later when we returned to re-flush them.
The pheasants also held well, but were the most elusive. Once they got into the sky and made their turn they were long gone if we missed on the first go 'round. No need to mark their descent for another try -- they were on the other side of the Tuckahoe.
Six ringnecks were released for us, and only three ended up in the bag. Otherwise we were quite efficient.
The old days of paying only for birds bagged are gone from preserve shooting. Now one pays for releases; birds lost are the hunter's loss. We compensated for this a bit by taking a quail that apparently eluded hunters who paid for it in a previous hunt.
Bird releases are $14 each for pheasants or mallards; $5 for quail; $10 for chukars, and $12 for huns. Sporting clays also are available. Call 479-0640.