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A Pheasant Afternoon: Local brothers convert family property into pheasant hunting preserve

POLK COUNTY -- Your best bet at finding the childhood incarnations of Chuck and Kendall Cates when a day's work on the farm was done would have been looking for tracks on their family's bucolic property near Pedee.

Luckiamute Valley Pheasants client Justin Boucher of Portland takes aim.

Photo by Pete Strong

Luckiamute Valley Pheasants client Justin Boucher of Portland takes aim.

November 02, 2010

POLK COUNTY -- Your best bet at finding the childhood incarnations of Chuck and Kendall Cates when a day's work on the farm was done would have been looking for tracks on their family's bucolic property near Pedee.

To the southwest of the Cates homestead sat more than 300 acres of foothills flocked in ash, maple and cottonwood trees. The Luckiamute River, meanwhile, cut through lush bottom land.

Client Justin Boucher, left, and guide Chuck Cates walk the range during their hunt at Luckiamute Valley Pheasants on Oct. 21.

Photo by Pete Strong

Client Justin Boucher, left, and guide Chuck Cates walk the range during their hunt at Luckiamute Valley Pheasants on Oct. 21.

Chuck said he doubts any nook or cranny still exists that the brothers haven't hiked in their years of hunting for grouse, pheasants and quail, which were common throughout back then.

"We would just wander out there, us and some dogs, and chase some birds," Kendall said.

The brothers went separate directions later in life, with Chuck holding careers in the Air Force and in the business sector. Kendall stuck around to take care of the farm. But they still enjoyed hunting.

When grass farming became more prevalent in the region, pheasant habitat -- brush and hedge cover -- dwindled, as did the Willamette Valley's wild bird population.

"It was something you miss, hearing the pheasants crow in the spring," Chuck said.

In 2006, Kendall said the two began kicking around an idea to turn their land into a hunting preserve

Paddy, an English Springer Spaniel, returns a downed ringneck pheasant after it was shot by Luckamute Valley Pheasants client Justin Boucher.

Photo by Pete Strong

Paddy, an English Springer Spaniel, returns a downed ringneck pheasant after it was shot by Luckamute Valley Pheasants client Justin Boucher.

"It was pretty here, and we thought somebody else ought to be able to enjoy this, too," he said.

So began Luckiamute Valley Pheasants. The brothers have turned a large 315-acre parcel in southern Polk County into an upland hunting preserve that they manage and stock with ringneck pheasants and the wilder Manchurian ringnecks.

After an initial year spent experimenting with friends and family as customers, the business has taken off. In 2009, about 405 clients from all walks of life from Oregon and Southwestern Washington descended upon Luckiamute Valley Pheasants for a hunt.

Client Justin Boucher, left, and guide Chuck Cates follow the lead of hunting dog Spider during their hunt.

Photo by Pete Strong

Client Justin Boucher, left, and guide Chuck Cates follow the lead of hunting dog Spider during their hunt.

"Our biggest advantage is we're within an hour of the major metropolitan areas," Chuck said. "Most hunting preserves are in Eastern Oregon and any wild (pheasants) left are in Eastern Oregon."

That's where John Bartizal, an audio-book publisher from Portland and a recent client of Cates, had headed until discovering Luckiamute Valley Pheasants on the Web.

"This is one of the first times I've come (to the mid-Willamette Valley) to hunt," Bartizal said, noting his drive to the usual spots east of the Cascades takes three hours. "This is much closer to Portland, so it's much nicer."

The Cates brothers primarily operate the preserve themselves, though Chuck's wife, Brenda, trains and handles the English Springer Spaniels that are integral to the hunts.

Chuck Cates changes out a hunting collar on Paddy during a break from the hunt. The collars Cates uses allows the hunter to send different messages to the dog depending on what the desired behavior is.

Photo by Pete Strong

Chuck Cates changes out a hunting collar on Paddy during a break from the hunt. The collars Cates uses allows the hunter to send different messages to the dog depending on what the desired behavior is.

In 2005, the Cates had their land rezoned to allow for hunting -- made possible through Measure 37, Chuck said. They also formed a limited liability corporation and received preserve licensing through the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The Cates get their pheasant chicks -- 3,800 this year -- through a commercial dealer in Wisconsin. They then rear the birds in seven batches and release them every few weeks for planned hunts.

The birds are raised from a day-old through maturity -- 18 to 20 weeks -- in a constantly sterilized brooding facility that separates young birds from older ones.

Contact with the pheasants is minimal to preserve wild characteristics and avoid disease, Chuck said.

Their last stop before they end up on their own is a 15,000-square-foot flight pen that stands 15 feet high in some places, which lends to a bird's instincts and gives them an opportunity for sustained flights over cover.

"We train them as athletes first," Kendall said with a laugh.

The hunting operation wouldn't be what it is without flushing dogs. Brenda trains the springers that traverse the range, hone in on and force out the birds from heavy cover and steep terrain.

"I call those fighter-pilot dogs," said Chuck, who flew jets in the Air Force. "You push up the throttle and let `em rip."

Chuck said the preserve's clientbase is growing, with more women and children. Despite being in the "disposable income" sector, the recession hasn't really impacted business much.

"People are coming to us instead of heading east because we're competitive in price and it doesn't cost $250 in diesel to get here," he said.

While the response from people has been strong, Kendall said what he's enjoying most is revisiting the way things were.

"Chuck and I have gone to the other ends of the world in our adult lives, but to come back and work together like we did as kids, that's special to me."

The Hunt Is On

What: Luckiamute Valley Pheasants, a day-use hunting preserve.

Where: 17115 Maple Grove Road, Monmouth (Pedee).

What you need: An Oregon Hunter's License or a Private Preserve Hunting License, gear and an orange vest and hat. LVP has hunting dogs that assist in the hunt.

Price: The basic price per hunter is $185. One dog and one handler for two people is $100 and two dogs and two handlers is $200. A guide will assist with your first hunt free of charge.

Of Note: There are no provided meals or accommodations.

For more information: 503-838-4221; www.lvpheasants.com.