posted on November 14, 2004 00:00
Upland pheasant operation taking flight
Sycamore Hollow already drawing strong interest
By P.j. Reilly
Published: Nov 11, 2004 9:33 AM EST
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LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - The heyday of hunting wild pheasants in Pennsylvania was in the 1960s and 1970s.
That was long before my own hunting career began.
Although I never pursued these colorful, raucous gamebirds with a shotgun, I encountered them often in my youth as I explored the overgrown farmland around my Chester County home.
Based on those encounters, I can understand how people got hooked on pheasant hunting in southeast Pennsylvania and why they miss it so.
Lancaster County native Andrew Slaugh, 29, also missed the glory days of pheasant hunting in the Keystone State. But he remembers tagging along as a kid with his dad on hunts in Martic Township for both wild and stocked birds, and the pursuit of upland game worked into his bloodstream.
"It's just a great way to hunt," said Slaugh, who now lives in Pequea Township. "And I really love watching the dogs work a field."
A little over five years ago, Slaugh, who owns his own carpentry business, set his mind on opening a commercial, upland hunting operation.
"It's something I like to do, so I thought I'd like to make some money and have some fun," he said.
Slaugh and his wife, Taylor, first came close to setting up a hunting and sporting clays operation in southern Lancaster County along the Maryland line, but the deal for the property fell through.
Four years ago, the Slaughs bought the 23-acre Sycamore Hollow farm on Millersville Road where they now live.
Slaugh said he liked the farm because the previous owner raised pheasants and already had on the property much of the needed infrastructure - including outdoor flight pens and indoor incubation cages - for such an operation.
The Slaughs have a thriving business on the farm raising Black Angus beef naturally without the aid of steroids, antibiotics or hormones.
Three years ago, Slaugh began raising and selling pheasants, and last year Slaugh leased some neighboring farmland and finally began his hunting operation on a limited basis. This is his first year in full operation.
Sycamore Hollow offers half-day hunts in both the morning and afternoon on 200 acres from Sept. 15 through March 15.
The property that's used for hunting is part of Lancaster County's growing list of farmland enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).
Under CREP, farmers are paid to take marginal farmland out of crop production and instead plant native grasses which are then allowed to grow wild.
The new cover created provides habitat for a wide variety of birds and other wildlife. If pheasants are to return to Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Game Commission officials say, CREP is the key to their survival.
The fields Slaugh's clients hunt are thick and nasty to walk through - exactly the kind of cover pheasants love.
"This place is different from other commercial bird-hunting farms," Slaugh said. "This stuff is so thick, you never really know where the birds are going to come out or what they're going to do when they do. It's very unpredictable."
For his hunts, Slaugh plants both pheasants and chukars - a medium-sized, gray partridge.
He buys 1,500 pheasants in June, one day after they are hatched, and he keeps them under heat lamps for five weeks in his rearing house. When they are old enough, the birds are moved to a one-acre, outdoor pen that's completely enclosed in netting to keep the pheasants in and the predators out.
Slaugh rears two strains of ringnecks - bluebacks and Mongolians.
"The bluebacks are small and fast," he said. "They're really sporting. The Mongolians are big and they're great for eating."
The birds the Game Commission stocks on public lands are Mongolians, according to Slaugh.
Slaugh experimented with rearing chukars, but he discovered it's cheaper for him to buy them when they're ready to put into the field. He keeps them in the pens attached to the rearing house after the young pheasants are moved to their flight pen.
Sycamore Hollow offers three basic hunting packages - $240 for five hen pheasants, five cockbirds and two chukars per hunter; $150 for three hens, three cocks and one chukar; and $110 for two hens and two cocks.
Slaugh releases the birds, plus a few extras, in the hunting fields prior to the start of a hunt. Then, it's up to the hunters and their dogs to do the rest.
Sycamore Hollow will provide dogs, mostly Labs, or hunters can bring their own.
Slaugh provides snacks before and after the hunt, and will clean birds and wrap them in bacon and smoke them for extra fees.
Overnight lodging can be arranged at the nearby Pheasant Run Bed & Breakfast, if necessary.
The clients who have hunted at Sycamore Hollow so far the past two years, Slaugh said, have had nothing but nice things to say about the operation.
"I'm real happy with the response," he said.
One of the reasons for his early success, Slaugh said, is the fact that, except for Water's Game Farm & Skeet Range in New Providence, there's no real competition in the immediate area.
There are commercial bird-hunting operations in York County and north of Harrisburg, but Water's and Sycamore Hollow are the only ones in Lancaster County, and are the first ones Philadelphia-area hunters hit as they head west from the city.
The alternative to commercial operations is to head out to public land to pursue pheasants stocked by the Game Commission.
"We're in a great area," he said. "There's no doubt about that. Now, we just have to get the word out to people to let them know we're here."
To hunt at Sycamore Hollow or for more information on the operation, call Slaugh at 871-6735 or visit his Web site at
P.J. Reilly's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org