An Upland Life Preserve Hunt/Guide Review:
Braveheart Kennels and Game Birds
Point of Rocks, and Poolesville, Maryland
Upland bird hunters, in pursuit of a day's surprises in the field, actually go to a
lot of trouble to cut down on surprises. Endless hours dog training, the better to influence
what Rover can and will do in the field. An obsession with all things meteorological,
to better leverage the wind on a perfect entry into Bob White's covert or that big rooster's favorite
slough. Round after round of trap and skeet, making a miss an aberration. There are
only so many precious hours that will actually be spent in the field over dogs, leaving
the balance of the year to plan, research, practice, network, fret, buddy-up, and make
sure that the coming autumn won't see any missed opportunities.
So with all that off-season down time spent chatting up your breeder's friends or the
folks you met at the hunt test, you'd expect to have a solid mental inventory of every
viable hunting spot or preserve operation within an hour's drive of home. We did, too,
but then nonetheless experienced one of those good surprises... a breath of local fresh
air that, for us, undid a bit of the cancerous erosion of hunting opportunities that
Joel Spring so perfectly describes in his wistful, but entertaining,
For those of us in the Washington DC area, a single generation has seen the quickening
conversion of once-rural nearby counties into sprawling tracts of expensive housing.
Such farms and orchards as still operate in the area are more ditch-to-ditch than ever,
with every quarter acre a make-or-break proposition for farmers using (and paying
astronomical taxes on) land right next door to multi-billion-dollar biotech and defense
contractor office parks. Infested with whitetail insurgents running their nocturnal
feeding missions out of often un-huntable neighborhoods, the area's cover and food
has transformed, along with the native quail population and the pheasants that thrived
there only thirty years earlier. And, with squeamish sensibilities ruling the day,
the public willingness to control foxes and feral cats (and now coyotes!) has ebbed,
along with the success of the upland prey that we share with those species. So it's
all too easy, if the droning sound of the capital beltway or the sodium-vapor glow
of the endless parking lots are fixtures in your life, to resign yourself to at
least a three hour round trip for a well-run game bird operation that can set you and
Rover up for an exciting, bird-rich adventure. A drive over to Maryland's eastern
shore, up to central Pennsylvania, or west into the Shenandoah foothills of the
Virginias is just a fact of upland life for the DC crowd. Except when it's not.
How close to Washington, DC? Closer than you'd think possible.
Through happy chance, our eastern editorial team bumped into Daniel Rice, of
Maryland's Braveheart Kennels and Game Birds. Like any venture that has built an
actual business around a passion for bird dogs, Braveheart has a lot going on. For
canine customers, it's training, boarding, breeding, and handling in hunt tests and
trials. For thousands of plump, flighty upland game birds, it's a temporary stay in
the facility's substantial pheasant flight pens and chukar/quail houses before
release into private fields. For human customers, it's the education that comes
along with the training the dogs are getting, and (for DC-area wingshooters) a truly
unique set of hunting opportunities.
Daniel Rice (on the right).
While Braveheart headquarters - in Point Of Rocks, Maryland, right along the Potomac
and just upstream from the confluence with the Monocacy River over the Frederick County
line - does have pastures and a nice plot of sorghum for the routine training that's
done on site, the real treasures are the relationships Braveheart has with other regional
landowners. In particular - and the real revelation for those of us closer to the
DC metro area - is the arrangement Rice has cultivated with the proprietor of one of
the largest remaining contiguous spans of farmland in the area.
Daniel works a pair of German Shorthairs.
When you arrange an upland outing with Braveheart, you may meet up with their team at
that venerable Potomac institution, White's Ferry [Google Map].
The ferry, an anachronistic conveyance near Dickerson and Poolesville that crosses the river into Northern Virginia, is a
local landmark. The barge-like ferry carries a couple-dozen cars at a time back and
forth and, quaint as it is, is the only crossing between bridges much farther up
and downstream. Much has been made about the need for a true bridge and roadway in
a similar spot, but the agricultural preserve zoning in the area not only confounds
those urges, but also protects such spots as the glorious 2500-acre farm, a ways
down the road, to which you'll follow the Braveheart truck as you leave the ferry's
parking lot. Now, 2500 acres may not sound like much if you're from the Midwest or
any other still-mostly-agricultural area, but if you live close-in to a large
metropolitan area like the nation's capital, it's an almost incomprehensibly large
stretch of private land.
That it happens to also be beautiful, sprinkled with five
attractive ponds, and is operated by someone that is also delighted by pointing and
retrieving dogs... it's just one of those singular cosmic alignments that makes a
suburban bird dog owner swoon. The folks at Braveheart are your only local passport
to such grounds, and the source for the pheasants, chukar, and quail you'll be
working there. They're completely intimate with the property, as they train dogs on
the spot almost every day.
A multi-talented Braveheart Lab surveys complex cover on the grounds.
It's tempting - and inappropriate - to compare a Braveheart hunt with a more
traditional lodge-on-the-preserve style operation. By some standards, these hunts
would be considered more like those of a guide service. It's a little of both, but
what's important (and not) about the situation will depend somewhat on the hunting
party's origination. For folks headed to the middle-Montgomery County area from
elsewhere in the northwest DC suburbs, the operation is so close by that you can
practically wait until you get home that day to make a sandwich and clean birds. Someone making a longer haul to the area might find
the absence of a traditional lodge and facilities a downside. The scenario, here,
is much more akin to grabbing your buddy and a pair of shotguns, throwing the dogs
in the back of the SUV, and heading over to a blissfully nearby farm where you have
hunting rights (and where, in this case, you know there will be some nice fat birds
lurking). For some, that more casual environment - drive perhaps half an hour, let
the dog out, hunt - is far more intimate and harder to find than a more formal
Daniel watches one of his dogs help out as a customer swings overhead on a jumpy chukar. This session was on Braveheart's local property in Point Of Rocks, MD.
If you're in the DC area, there are well-known "destination" hunts a tolerable drive
away, but the cost, and the feeling that perhaps you'll look out of place without
a nice new Barbour jacket and $5000 shotgun, make Braveheart's hybrid guide/private
grounds arrangement really stand out. For folks that would rather concentrate on their
dogs, the birds, and their shooting, Braveheart is charging a rational price to
provide that scenario in a metro area otherwise completely lacking such prospects.
A somewhat miserly first glance at their per-bird prices might raise an eyebrow,
but when you take into account the grounds' proximity to the dense local, bird-
hunting-starved population, and subtract the time and fuel required to get anywhere
else, the math is hard to beat. Compared to all of the other entertainment
conveniences that DC-areas residents are willing to pay (much more) for, Braveheart's
services, as represented by a very modest field fee and per-bird prices are a true
bargain. For a modest additional fee, a professional handler and a dog can work the
field with you, and you can buy bird cleaning a la carte, as well.
Upland birds are kept at hand in large flight pens. We saw powerful,
flighty roosters and hens that were not stressed out from having just been shipped in.
If it were as simple as land, birds, and metropolitan proximity, that would be good
enough. But there's something else to consider. The Braveheart team didn't go from
running a farm to also allowing a little bit of paid bird hunting. They come from
the opposite direction: they train, handle, board and breed hunting dogs for a living,
and bring that into the mix as they've connected with places to work the dogs. That's
not just a subtle distinction: they get dogs, and more importantly, they get that
their clientele are going to appear with a wide range of experience. Since it's the
DC area, clients will range from novice, dogless, ride-along people who are exploring
wingshooting just like they would golf, to displaced Dakotans working on Capital Hill
that sense something wrong in the universe if autumn doesn't include a fine dog
delivering a dinner's worth of challenging bird to hand. These are people you can talk
to, and they'll work out an experience that suits your experience. It's possible that
spending half an hour breaking clay pigeons while they help you tune up your gun
handling will do more to improve your hunt than any other factor. Don't be shy - help
them to help you enjoy the time you're taking and the money you're spending.
Being the enthusiasts that they are, the Braveheart crew doesn't just stop at released
upland birds. They are well-equipped (top of the line gear, boats, decoys and talented
retrievers) for waterfowl hunts. They'll take parties out on the Potomac, into pond-side
and underground blinds on the big farm, or over to the lush Eastern Shore for first
rate guided goose and duck hunting. The team's equal passion for waterfowling produces
an interesting intersection with their more upland-ish activities: Labrador Retrievers
that are just as good with pheasants and partridges as they are with the waterfowl.
If you're feeling like a jaded upland hunter that's seen it all, you might really enjoy
watching a well-trained lab galumph around the sorghum patch and mildly sit-pointing
pheasants (and handily retrieving the shot birds) at a pace that feels positively
relaxing compared to some of their pointer and setter counterparts.
Two gunners (out of the six that could use the boat)
assume the incoming-geese position from within the onboard pop-up blind.
The huge grounds, along the Potomac, attract resident and migrating Canada geese - and this pit blind makes an ideal ambush.
If upper Montgomery County, Maryland is comfortably within your world, we think you'll find
that reaching out to Braveheart for a hunt will be a welcome change of scenery that also
buys you back a lot of your time. You'll be in touch with a team that's been in front
of untold thousands of birds with every sort of bird dog. Be honest with yourself about
the real costs (in time and fuel) for those farther-away hunts, and you'll get the same
growing smile that we did. That you may have also just discovered your new trainer, trial/hunt handler,
and boarding facility - a great bonus, as most upland breed owners in the DC area will surely
We spend some
For Price Range:
5 Shells Out Of 5
Hunts in the on-location training style, with
exclusive access to spacious private grounds. Additional
options at operation's home base, on property near their
substantial kennels and flight pens. Upland hunters can
have flighty pheasant, quail, and chukar put out. Arrangements
can be made for guided or self-guided hunts, with visiting
or local dogs. Blind- and boat-based goose and duck hunts
are also available.
To keep in mind:
This fairly unique situation and range of services makes
a good advance phone call with Braveheart a must. They're willing
to adapt their offerings around many human and canine variables,
but you'll want to talk it over, first.
and Game Birds
att: Daniel Rice
PO Box 21
Point Of Rocks, Maryland 21777
On the web:
Braveheart has extensive experience in training,
handling, and boarding boisterous bird dogs.
Braveheart's newest building includes office space and their substantial
boarding kennel. The carefully climate-controlled kennel's pens each include
indoor and outdoor space with access control.
Since Braveheart works with both upland and water/retrieving dogs, they've
developed programs and put in place the very facilities that it's so hard
for typical suburbab bird dog owners to handle themselves.