Steve Knight, Outdoor Writer
YANTIS -The wind was howling out of the northwest when the first pheasant were launched from the 50-foot tower.
It immediately climbed toward the jet stream and sailed harmless out of range.
Sitting at one of the 10 stations scattered around the tower hidden by trees, the 20 hunters quickly learned this was not going to be an easy shoot.
Tower shoots are a European import, but they have found a following in East Texas at Hidden Lakes Shooting Resort. Last year hunters from around the state traveled to Hidden Lakes for 15 of the shoots. Hidden Lakes owner Cord Burnett said he expects to hold about the same number this year.
“They originated in England where they would drive the pheasants over hills and have hunters at bottom that would shoot at them as passover shots. We have simulated that in East Texas with hunters 100 yards from the tower. We release the birds and they scatter every direction,” Burnett explained.
The field is set up with 10 stations located about 65 yards apart. Participants will rotate around the field during the shoot with an equal number of pheasants being released each time.
Although the shoot would seem like a slam dunk, it is far from it. First there is the weather. Under normal conditions a flushed pheasant can fly at speeds up to 30 miles per hour. Chased it can do 60. With a backing wind the birds can be in and out of range in a hurry.
Also, with a clear sky the birds sometimes will climb higher than on overcast days.
“Today with the high winds they were up high and the shooters were having to lead them 10 or 12 feet so it was difficult,” Burnett said of the results of a shoot last Saturday.
During that shoot the hunters took 166 of the 300 birds released. That is below the 60 to 70 percent normal success rate at the shoots.
Another issue is hunter skill. Overhead pass shooting can be difficult for those who haven’t learned to take a proper lead. Last Saturday’s leads were abnormally long, but under calmer conditions hunters still need to get out in front of the birds to be successful.
“I highly recommend if conditions are tough that you shoot a 12 gauge with a full choke,” Burnett said.
However, it is good to come prepared with more open chokes for different conditions.
Experienced shooters also take time to pull the plug from their shotgun magazine. In a tower shoot the key is constantly having shells in a gun.
While one station may be slower than another, hunters at a hot station may be shooting in rapid order without time to fully reload a three-shot gun. Some Benelli shooters have been known to use extended magazines that fit their guns, however, they require discipline not to overshoot and waste ammo.
Burnett recommends using 2 ﾾ-inch shells with 1 ﾼ ounce No. 5 or 6 shot.
Some hunters also use 20-gauge shotguns, which is plenty under the right conditions. Under conditions like last Saturday they will not be as effective. The big drawback to a 20-gauge is that to shoot 1 ﾼ-ounce shot the hunter would have to use 3-inch shells which can be both expensive and painful when shooting 100 or more rounds a day.
“We figure about a box of shells for each 100 birds in the shoot, so for a 300-bird shoot you need about three or four boxes of shells. We do up to a 1,000-bird shoot. They shoot between 10 and 12 boxes per person for that,” Burnett said.
As an option to Hidden Lakes field hunts, the tower shoots are less strenuous and easier to participate in for those who have trouble walking a half day. At the end of each shoot the birds are cleaned, packaged and divided evenly among the participants.
Most of the shoots at Hidden Lakes are open events in which individuals or a group can sign up to participate. In some cases a company or group will buy an entire shoot as a promotion or fundraiser. Hidden Lakes has also hosted an annual shoot for wounded warriors the last several years.
For more information on participating in a tower shoot, go online to http://www.hiddenlakeshr.com/ or call 903-335-2200 or 903-383-7100.
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