Pheasant Hunting Business Growing

The following article originally appeared in it’s entirety on Corridor Business online February 7, 2013.

RIVERSIDE—Highland Hideaway Hunting’s business concept is right on target. The 13-year old Riverside business has continued to grow and expand since opening. The pheasant preserve offers a getaway for hunters and retreats interested in pheasant hunting and sport clay shooting.

Highland Hideaway Hunting, 3127-160th St., Riverside, is located about 6 miles south of Riverside Casino & Golf Resort. It was started in 2000 by Ron Rath, who operated a livestock farm and had ground available. He had people asking him if they could hunt pheasants on his property, which triggered the idea.

During its first year, the company released 3,000 pheasants. Now, in its 13th hunting season, it raises and releases about 20,000, said Ryan Giannini, co-owner and operations manager.

“We really started seeing a lot of growth in 2006-2007 in the hunting part of the business. We started to really develop the shell of what we offer,” he said. “We started building a really good clientele and forming as a destination place for upland hunting.”

There are no plans to expand the business geographically, though they are continuing to promote the clay sporting season, which starts in April and goes to September.

Highland Pheasant Hunting Corridor Business“We’re focused on making what habitat we have better so that when someone hunts here year after year they see something different every time,” he said.

“We’ve done a lot just to expose ourselves,” he said, noting charity events and social media promotions like a Living Social deal. “We’re always trying to give back to the community and I think people see that. We do advertise but word of mouth in the hunting industry is always the best form of advertising for us,” he said.

Mr. Rath and Mr. Giannini co-own the business and Mr. Rath owns the land. The business has one full-time employee, Jason Vanderlinden, the shooting sports manager, as well as three part-time employees.

Mr. Giannini started working for Mr. Rath on his farm while he was in high school, then on and off through college. When he graduated from the Kirkwood Community College industrial maintenance program in 2004, he went back to manage the preserve. In 2007, he became co-owner of the company.

Highland Hideaway has about 1,500 acres of land for hunting and a clay sporting course.

The lodge offers sleeping accommodations for about 15 people, wireless Internet access, multiple large eating/entertainment areas, patios on both levels and bed linens and towels. Highland Hideaway has a full kitchen and can offer groups breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The lodge is in a barn that Mr. Rath’s father built in 1973. Several of the buildings that were used for hogs on Mr. Rath’s farm were converted into a pheasant hatchery.

“In 2008, we took the next step and we now produce from egg to mature bird, so we’ve been able to get a better bird,” he said. Previously the company received hatched chicks and raised them to mature birds.

Many of customers are corporate groups entertaining clients or going on company retreats. Highland Hideaway offers custom packages. The hunting season runs September through March.

“The big thing is the diversity of being able to accommodate corporate businesses here. There’s areas in the lodge they can have a meeting and then can go out and do a pheasant hunt after that,” Mr. Giannini said.

The business also caters to individuals. “It’s an entertainment business, everybody is looking for something different, so having the ability to be flexible is nice,” Mr. Giannini said.

For hunting clients, they have to abide by all of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources regulations and must have an up-to-date hunting license. For those looking for clay shooting, they do not have to have a license or gun; Highland Hideaway provides the equipment, safety and shooting lessons.

“With the current customers we have, I would say we have a 90 percent customer return rate. What we aren’t getting back is because of a change of job or change in location,” he said.

Most clients come from the Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and Quad Cities areas, about a 60 mile radius around Riverside. Though, during the hunting season the company entertains customers from states like Florida, Maine and Pennsylvania.

There are alternatives to preserves like Highland Hideaway, such as the Iowa Department of Natural Resources designated public areas, though the wildlife can be scarce, Mr. Giannini said.

“What really was different between (starting in 2000) and now and in the early days, it was nothing, especially in Iowa, to knock on someone’s door and get permission to hunt on their property,” he said. “When we started, there was a huge natural pheasant population. Now, that’s changed, it’s difficult to knock on someone’s door because there’s less habitat out there and fewer birds out there naturally.”

There are other hunting preserves in the state. What sets Highland Hideaway apart is the company performs a free release of the pheasants into a natural environment, where other preserves may plant the birds into specific areas, Mr. Giannini said.

Highland Hideaway most recently focused on growing its clay sporting season to encourage more people to get involved in the sport, he said.

“That’s one big thing we’re looking to improve and grow is the number of shooters. But that’s tough anymore, with all of the things going on with all of the shootings and anti-gun discussions, it makes it tough in our business,” he said.

Mr. Giannini said they haven’t noticed a change in business because of that, but gun issues are a frequent topic of discussion at the hunting preserve.

“It’s talked about daily here among the hunters and active sportsmen, it’s brought up every day. Everybody is just curious about what’s going to happen,” he said.

Last year, Mr. Giannini helped start the Highland High School Trap team. The team had seven members in its first year. This year, he expects participation to at least double.


by Pat Shaver, Corridor Business

Pheasant Hunt with Cory Luebke

The following article, “One Last Scratch” originally appeared in it’s entirety on Press Pros Magazine online December 27, 2012.

Riverside, Iowa – An early Christmas gift from my wife came with a cynical remark. “Why you need to scratch your hunting itch with another trip this late in the year I’ll never understand,” she said, handing me a gift certificate for three days at Highland’s Lodge, in Riverside, Iowa.  “How much pheasant hunting can one person do?”

Rhetorical questions deserve rhetorical answers, of course, and one of these days I may actually have that answer for her, and myself.  But for now I’m perfectly content to just scratch the itch.

In fact, I had planned on it as early as last spring when I mentioned it to Maria Stein native, and San Diego Padres pitcher Cory Luebke, my intent to go pheasant hunting between Christmas and New Year’s, with an invitation for him to join me.

Cory Luebke Pheasant Hunt Riverside IowaBesides being able to spot the fastball to major league hitters, Luebke’s also a pretty good hand with a shotgun and eagerly accepted.  “I’d love to go,” he said.  “Mind if I bring my brother Troy?”

Well, the more the merrier as we rolled into Iowa City Monday night and checked into the welcome site of the Highland’s lodge in nearby Riverside.

Now if you haven’t previously read here, Highland’s is an annual destination for me for the week between Christmas and New Year’s.  While others are doing whatever it is they do to make the new year memorable, I go pheasant hunting…in sub-zero temperatures, in blowing snow and ice, whatever.  While others are roasting by the fire at home, I’m “scratching” that itch.

I have to admit.  The fun of this particular hunt proved to be sharing “good” pheasant hunting to a pair of friends who had never had “good” pheasant hunting before.

Plus, sitting by the fire at the lodge and talking baseball had its charm, as well.  Cory Luebke and I both pitched for Ohio State University, four decades apart, and had plenty to stories to swap.

In his first full season with the Padres last summer, Cory amassed a 6-10 record in 140 innings with a 3.29 earned run average and figures prominently enough in the club’s plans for 2012 for them to have recently traded #1 starter Mat Latos to the Cincinnati Reds for four highly-prized prospects.

But we weren’t talking about baseball Tuesday morning.  It was strictly “roosters” as we joined long-time friend and guide Blake Boyer in a field of native Iowa switch grass dissected with sorghum cane food plots planted at quarter-mile intervals.

Like west-central Ohio, Iowa has thus far had an open winter…no snow, warm temperatures, and there’s always plenty of wind.  Gusts up to 25 miles per hours made walking a challenge, but moments after stepping into the field one of Blake’s shorthair pointers pinned a raucous rooster and Cory and made a quick, accurate shot to record the first kill of the day.

Trust it, Highland Hideaway is a shooting preserve, but hunting at Highland is anything but preserve shooting.  It’s classic Midwest Iowa hunting in the tradition of the state’s reputation for pheasants earned during the 50s and the 60s.  You earn Iowa roosters, whether you’re hunting on private property or on the 2,000 managed acres that we were walking.

It took us an hour to get three birds.  Two hours later we had three more.  The longer we walked the harder the wind blew, presenting miserable scenting conditions for the dogs.  Most of the flushes we got were wild and unpredictable.

“I think we might do better if we can get out of this wind,” said Blake.  “Why don’t get the dogs down along the creek.”

His suggestion was dead-on.  Out of the wind the dogs immediately began to pick up scent and were “birdy” within a matter of minutes.  Cory and Troy kept the pair of shorthairs between them and then came a solid point…on a rabbit that bolted in the opposite direction with a pointer escort.

We all had a good laugh. But just as the dogs followed the bunny into a thicket on the opposite side of a winding stream, five cackling rooster rocketed airborne, flying in five different directions.  Troy killed a straightaway, I picked out one that crossed in between Blake and Cory and killed it just at the edge of good shooting range as it tried to escape.  Only Cory failed to collect one of the five, unable to shoot because of people standing in his way.

A quarter mile farther up the creek line he got his chance…on one of the remaining three that had settled in chest-high switch grass at the edge of a sorghum food plot.  He dumped it easily with the top barrel of his Browning Citori.

“You know my dad would really enjoy this,” he said as we walked back to the truck, each with our daily limit of birds.  “We need to make this a yearly tradition, starting next year.”

“Only if you invite me next time,” I laughed.  “You know…I have this itch.”

He nodded in agreement, and I could tell.  The itch…was highly contagious.


Sonny Fulks, Managing Editor, Press Pros Magazine