YANTIS — Of all the different types of hunting there is something special about quail hunting. It starts with the dogs seemingly running wild ahead of the hunters until suddenly they aren’t.
That full-bore run becomes a slow trot or maybe a complete stop, and then like a marble statue the dog is frozen where it stands. Out of the thousands, maybe millions, of scents that waft across the fields, most of which we will never smell, the dog picks up that one scent of a quail or pheasant that transforms them from just another four-legged creature to a high-powered athlete and hunting machine.
This trip it was Hidden Lakes Hunting Resort’s trio of Patch, a German shorthair; Star, an English pointer; Annie, a Brittany spaniel; and guide’s Daniel Cerrentani Boykin spaniel, Della; that did the bulk of the field work for my sons Tristan, Thomas and myself. The hunt has become an annual tradition that in the last two years has also included grandson, Connor, as a wide-eyed observer.
I remember the first time I hunted Hidden Lakes. The Burnett family has just opened the business and was operating out of a small house. It was truly a mom-and-pop operation with family members handling everything from the bookkeeping to cooking, field preparation, guiding and bird cleaning.
That was 13 years ago, and since then Hidden Lakes remains a family-owned business, but a major one in Wood County.
Cord Burnett, who along with his wife Danielle, now runs the day-to-day operations, recently put a pencil to it. In its first 12 years Hidden Lakes has attracted close to 12,000 hunters for walking hunts or its popular tower shoots during a season that runs from October through March. With a shortage of wild quail hunting opportunities the guests come from throughout Texas and around the country, often during stops in Dallas-Fort Worth for business meetings. The farthest anyone has come was a group from Japan, who were best described as enthusiastic about being hunters in Texas, if maybe not the best shots.
To make those hunts a success they have used approximately 300,000 quail, most of which have been raised onsite, 145,000 pheasant and 18,000 chukar.
As a hunter the thing I have always liked about Hidden Lakes is the quality of their birds. They have never advertised them as being equal in speed or aerobatics to wild quail, but they are still fast enough and sporting enough that on several occasions during a hunt you are going to be left shaking your head after misses.
And in a time when it feels like wild quail will never make an extended comeback it is one way to keep the sport alive. That is important to make sure breeds like shorthairs, pointers and spaniels continue as hunting dogs and not just house pets.
This trip did not disappoint. I have hunted behind Star before and knew what to expect from her. Patch was a new dog in the Hidden Lakes kennel and turned out as slick in the field as it looked. A unique black-and-white dog, Patch took the lead in the field as soon as the dogs were out of the trailer.
The best hunting dog I have ever owned was a German shorthair so I have always had a soft spot for them. While English pointers are big runners I have always described shorthairs as plodders. They may not run as fast or as wide as a pointer, but they can run all day and never slow down.
Seventy years ago quail were prevalent throughout East Texas. It was an era of small farms, using fire to control underbrush in forests was common and coastal Bermuda grass did not exist.
On about 600 acres Hidden Lakes has recreated the farms with spring plantings of sorghum, creating six fields of cover for the birds and what feels like hunting habitat for the hunters during the season.
Armed with 28- and 20-gauge shotguns, this trip we hunted a new field to us. Patch immediately went to work, and it did not take long before there was a point, followed by gunshots and a bird flying off to a safe landing. The dogs were doing their job. Initially the hunters were not. It was really obvious on a small covey rise when more birds escaped than hit the ground. Eventually we started to catch up, and even doubled back after the remnants of the earlier covey taking all but one.
We finished the day’s walk with 39 quail and pair of unexpected pheasant that made the mistake of coming up in front of us.
Hidden Lakes will be holding hunts through March. For more information go online to https://www.hiddenlakeshr.com or call 903-383-7100.