Story and photos by Jerry Sinkovec
Castle Valley Outdoors is an Orvis endorsed hunting and fishing lodge that opened in 2005 in south central Utah. It’s about three hours by car from the Salt Lake City airport, and the drive takes you through some interesting country. The ranch has over 15,000 acres in the valley with ten hunting fields where most of it is dedicated to upland bird hunting with quail, chukars, and some partridge and of course two species of pheasant, the ring neck and the black melanistic available. Other game available on a limited basis are elk, deer, turkey and cougar. When I arrived there was snow on the ground in March, which is unusual for the area as they really never get snow and if they do it’s always gone by February.
The lodge has three floors with the gun room, exercise area, two guest rooms, a large lounge area with 52-inch screen TV, guest office area with a computer and printer on the lower level and all levels in every building is on Wi-Fi. The main floor has several guestrooms along with another lounge area with a large two-sided fireplace and the dining area. This lounge area is where the hunters tend to gather after a long day of hunting while enjoying their favorite beverage and some snacks always set out for their return. The top floor has more guestrooms and an area with a pool table and a card playing table. All the guestrooms have a private bath and a 32-inch TV. The décor is western and the rooms are very comfortable, especially the beds and pillows after a long day of bird hunting. The lodge can handle up to thirty people.
The majestic landscape and exhilarating wingshooting at Castle Valley Outdoors.
There is a small gift and pro shop in case you forgot to bring something or are looking for a new shooting or hunting shirt or other shooting accessories. They handle the Orvis brand and other fine equipment along with ammo.
The first day of hunting I really focused on getting some good hunting photographs and I went out with a small group that was comprised of a father, Bill; sons-in-law, Mark and Doug; and son, Drew. They were good shots and after a morning and an afternoon hunt they had over eighty birds. It was mixed bag shooting, and I didn’t realize how much fun it was until the next day, with the two species of pheasants, and partridge, chukar and quail.
The following morning, my guide Katlin and I went out and had a great time together. In the first half of the morning I had seven birds for nine tries. The second half of the morning was the amazing part. I made a couple of great shots on chukar and pheasant and dropped one of each at over sixty yards, the guide thought it was farther.
Hunting quail in Mexico a few years ago I made a shot and dropped a bird at well over sixty yards but was never able to pace it off. Then another chukar at Castle Valley Outdoors flew up that I over lead on the first shot and with the second shot dropped him hard. It seemed like it took forever for the shot string to get there. He was flying about three to two feet off the ground and never moved after being hit. And what I hit him with amazed the guide and myself. We paced it off from where I was standing to where the bird was on the ground and it was seventy eight yards or a little more. The shells I was using were some of the shells left over from a shotshell review on RST shells. They were the Lite 20 gauge, 2½ inch paper hulls at 1150 fps with 7/8’s of seven shot that came out of an improved cylinder choke. I had used these shells and had killed everything out to about forty yards and never had a chance to shoot at anything farther than that. Those shells have continued to impress me with the high quality and killing power even though they only have about 5000 psi and are leaving the barrel at 1150 fps. If I had any doubts about them having the killing power needed to put down a hard to kill chukar at that distance, it was totally removed after that shot. My nickname for those 2 ½” shells is the Dragon Slayer. The morning ended up with sixteen birds in the bag.
One of the many birds taken at Castle Valley Outdoors.
When I look back on a lot of the other hunts I’ve done and some of them did have a mixed bag of birds to hunt, but the variety of birds at Castle Valley Outdoors is greater. It really makes for some fun hunting and adds to the excitement. You never know what the next bird will be. All the different birds take off differently and get up to speed at different rates and fly at different speeds. You have to be on your toes and make sure your gun speed is right for the bird your shooting at the moment.
After another fantastic lunch by Bonnie the chef we went out for more birds. That afternoon I went bird hunting again but with the 28 gauge and got another eighteen birds and considered it a grand day of bird hunting.
The next day it started off with another grand breakfast with Belgian waffles, scrambled eggs, and ham steaks. All the meals at Castle Valley Outdoors were served family style with always more than you could eat. Every meal was a pleasant surprise with delightful new flavors and aromas that would float through the lodge. I decided to take it easy in the morning and just shoot some clays at an improvised five stand close to the main lodge. The presentations offered were close to what you would see afield and offered a good warm up for the shooting clients that hadn’t handled a shotgun in a while. Jim Fauver, the general manager of CVO is thinking about putting in a twelve to fifteen station sporting clays course sometime in the future. I sure hope he does as he has several places with excellent terrain.
That afternoon I decided to make a pass through one of the ten fields we hadn’t hunted as yet. Katlin and I started out after a long lunch and a little nap for more fun and exciting hunting. With the unusual snow for this time of year some of the fields were like greased lighting with the moisture from the melting snow turning the fields into slippery skating rinks. That ended up playing into one of the shots Imade.
Surprised by the flush.
After knocking down several birds, Katlin and I ended up getting into some shoulder high brush. The dogs were a little ahead and off to our right when one of them spooked a chukar right in front of us. It all happened so fast. The bird was climbing at a 45-degree angle to fly about three or four feet over my right shoulder. Katlin was to my immediate right so I couldn’t turn in that direction and not hit him with the gun. The time we saw the bird in front of us was like a second or so and I couldn’t move the gun fast enough to catch the bird or get the barrel in front of him to make a vertical shot. As I pivoted on my left foot and swung my right foot out in front of me my left foot slipped in the greasy mud and I was falling forward because of my fast movement. As my upper body turned before the lower half, I caught sight of the bird not that high in front of me and like right in front of the barrel. Even though the gun was not fully mounted it looked like it was in the right place to shoot the bird so I pulled the trigger. There was an explosion of feathers that rained down on us. I was still off balance and trying to get both my feet under me when Katlin started laughing, and when I was able to stand erect without falling down I started laughing as well. He couldn’t believe I made that shot and for that matter I couldn’t believe it either. We had a real good laugh for some time over that one.
That hunt ended up with another fourteen birds. Now I understood why Bill has been here eleven times in the last six years. This mixed bag bird hunting offers much more fun and excitement than just pheasant hunting. This is one place I will surely visit again. You’ll never regret going there.
Castle Valley Outdoors can be reached via the phone by calling 800-586-6503. Their mailing address is P. O. Box 588, 1600 N. State Road 10, Emery, UT 84522. For additional information, you can visit their web site at http://www.castlevalleyoutdoors.com.
Jerry Sinkovec is a freelance outdoor and travel photojournalist who writes for over 55 different publications nationally and internationally. Jerry is also designing shooting clothing and accessories for Wild Hare Intl. He is the shooting and travel editor for Outdoors Now. He is also the director of the Instinctive Target Interception Shotgun Shooting School headquartered in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He has been teaching for the last 20 years, and has been endorsed by Browning in Utah. He conducts classes in all the western states. His address is: I. T. I. Shotgun Shooting School, 5045 Brennan Bend, Idaho Falls, ID 83401. He can be reached at: 208-523-1545, or online at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.itishooting.com.