Chukar and Pheasant, West of the Blues
By Gary Lewis
In The Ghost of Mayville, Rita Gardner wrote, "One should go observe the lay of the land, smell the wind that blows there, listen for how the local fauna lays claim to their little piece of it. One should poke into corners, look under rocks, and listen for the ghosts…"
East of the John Day River and west of the Blue Mountains, the road runs up out of the Columbia Basin to the small agricultural communities of Condon and Fossil. Halfway between the two towns lies Mayville where ghosts outnumber the living.
Mayville still occupies a place on the map and a few residents call it home. To the traveler it is little more than a collection of mailboxes and a few scattered homes, testament to a once vital community.
Today, the nearby towns of Condon and Fossil are the centers of commerce. In September, when the leaves on the cottonwoods begin to turn, men and women and pointing dogs find their way through Mayville on the way into the John Day River watershed to hunt Hungarian partridge and pheasant in rolling wheatfields and chukar in the rimrocks.
We hunted in the wheat growing country south of the Columbia River in February with outfitter Skip Geer, who, with his wife Michelle, runs Mayville Flat Hunting Preserve.
Geer started the operation in 1999 and built the guest lodge in 2003. The two-story clubhouse sits on a bluff over a dry creek. The clubhouse can accommodate up to eight guests with four bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms. An 18-foot granite-topped bar surrounds the completely furnished kitchen. The great room is equipped with a flat screen TV, VCR and DVD player and ample seating. Outside, there is a barbeque on the 400-square foot deck. Next to the clubhouse there is a bird cleaning station and a heated indoor/outdoor kennel that will accommodate four dogs.
We arrived at the same time a bank of fog settled in on Mayville. Fog is rare here, but it when it comes it stays all day. After an hour, the fog lifted enough for us to see a hundred yards and that was enough to make a hunt.
On this trip we opted to use the guide's dogs, Miles, a German shorthair, and Charlie, a black lab.
We started away from the house on foot and dropped into a canyon studded with tall sagebrush.
Miles quartered ahead while Skip kept Charlie at his side. When the hunters were in position, Skip would release Charlie to flush the birds. Often, the lab pointed the birds first before he flushed them. Although this started out to be a chukar hunt, we jumped five rooster pheasants left over from previous hunts. We finished with a mixed bag of chukar and pheasant.
Our hunt was conducted in two canyons on the edge of wheat fields where we walked a dry creek bed beneath cottonwood trees. The dogs bounced in and out of the blowdown and driftwood left from the last flash flood. A nice trail allowed easy walking for part of the group and the others skirted the sides and the rim.
The ranch is comprised of two pieces, one 3,000 acres and the other 3,500 acres. The principal crop is wheat, which is farmed on a combined 3,200 acres. The wheat provides good habitat for wild valley quail, Hungarian partridge, pheasant and chukar. Hunts can be conducted on six different pieces of ground throughout the regular season and on 1,280 acres under the preserve license throughout the preserve season.
For a 15 rooster release (3 gun maximum), the cost is $500. For a 20 rooster release, the cost is $600 (4 guns max). For 20 chukar, the cost is $500; for 40 chukar, $750. Another option is a European-style flight release of 50 roosters and hens for $1,100 and a maximum of six guns.
For a guided hunt with a pointing dog (and sometimes a flushing dog), the cost is $40 per person. For lunch, guide, dog and bird cleaning, the cost is $60 per person.
For those who want a pre-hunt tune-up, there is a 13-station sporting clays course. The clays course is available year-round. The cost is $15 per round of 50 targets.
Many hunters opt to stay the night before or after the hunt. Rental is $50 per room per night and $200 for exclusive use.
Condon is a small town with a population of 682. Hunters can fly into Portland (3 hours drive) and rent a car for the drive east to Condon. Private aircraft can fly into the Condon State Airport (Pauling Field, FAA LID: 3S9), 12 miles away. There is a well-stocked grocery and a few establishments that offer sandwiches. The restaurants may or may not be open. The fuel station closes early, so plan accordingly.
Ten miles to the south of Mayville lies the town of Fossil, which has a motel and restaurants, a fuel station, and some services.
Upland bird hunting at Mayville Flat starts in early September, but most hunts are booked after the temperature drops in October. The season closes March 31.
An Oregon 3-day nonresident hunting license ($26.50) allows the hunter to pursue upland birds and is available at sporting goods stores and on the ODFW web site. A one-day preserve license is available for $6 (residents) and $12 (nonresidents) and may be purchased at the ranch. For information, or to request regulations, call 800-720-6339 or visit www.dfw.state.or.us.