Sunday, December 28, 2014


We turned right off Route 56 to bounce and splash down a pitted gravel road that dead-ended at a gravel lot and a small shed anchored on the periphery of a large, brushy field, dominated by the august vista of The Priest—the highest peak of the Religious Range, spanning Nelson and Amherst Counties.  A party of six men donning blaze orange field vests, carrying shotguns and the glow of pre-hunt enthusiasm, piled into a pair of Ford pickups and bounced along the field edge to a distant arena.

The Priest view.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
    “You must be Matt,” a voice questioned as the background audio returned to the scene and the rumbling of vehicles faded.  My dad, along for the ride, slid out of the driver’s side of the Suburban behind me.

    “You must be Tim!” I returned, extending a hand to Tim Castillo, owner, operator, and guide at PriestView Hunting Preserve.

Tim Castillo with a wing-shot chukar.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
    Since 1994, PriestView has been offering guided and unguided upland hunts for pheasant, quail, and chukar in the Blue Ridge Mountains during the Virginia preserve season, which runs from Labor Day through the end of April.  A guide staff of five and four fields totaling 460 acres allows the property and staff to safely accommodate up to four parties of hunters at a time.

    PriestView books hunts Friday through Sunday only, but Castillo, an area manager for Aqua Virginia, isn’t looking to make a living from the operation.  “PriestView is my hobby,” he said.  “We raise dogs, and we used to raise birds.  We don’t need a huge lodge to work out of.  That helps us keep our costs down, and we cover our costs with our pricing.”  This business model allows the PriestView family to offer modest rates, which in no way reflects the quality of the experience.

Photo by Matt Reilly.
    After getting to know one another, I took up position in a shooting cage overlooking the front field as Tim pumped juice into the automatic skeet trap via jumper cables linked to an old FARM USE truck.

Photo by Matt Reilly.

Dad warming up.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
    Having not pulled the trigger on a moving target apart from a gun-inspired squirrel in two years, a warm-up on the clay birds was a welcome refresher, something the Priestview team has incorporated into the hunting package.  I yielded to Da after hitting the last few targets and regaining faith in my swing.  After he had done the same, it was game time.

Ginger, the brittany.  Photo by Matt Reilly
    The frantic huntress that had remained in the background was quite literally reaching the end of her leash, and had, after the first shotgun blast, begun elevating to a state of excitement bordering on a mental condition that only a passionate bird dog can demonstrate correctly.

Ginger, ready to go!  Photo by Matt Reilly.
    With boom sticks and shells in tote, we followed Castillo’s sprightly 11-year-old Brittany, Ginger, and the zipping microfiber check cord that trailed her, into the shadow of The Priest.  The landscape was rolling, stippled by large dirt mounts left from clear cutting the fields we hunted.

Working cover.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
    PriestView leases the fields from the local Silver Creek Orchard.  Full-time operations might find this arrangement a hindrance to habitat management, but the deal works out perfectly for Castillo and the crew.  Silver Creek bush hogs the fields in halves on alternating years, allowing a portion of the property to offer two years of successional field growth for bird habitat every year.

Ginger on point.  Photo by Matt Reilly
    After just moments of watching Ginger and her ears bounce across the landscape, intermittently pressing her nose against the ground in search of a bird, she locked up on point—motionless.  Da took his turn first, and moved in, flushing a blue-gray blur of chukar into the air.

Wingshooting.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
    Seven more birds, including two quail, lit and faced the firing squad, with the help of Ginger and her adept nose.      

Photo by Matt Reilly
Man and dog.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
A batch of wing-shot chukar and quail.  Photo by Matt Reilly
    With all the birds we could find bagged and ready for dressing, we began the stroll back across the field to operation headquarters with The Priest at our backs, covered in shadows by the setting sun.

See the full batch of photos from this adventure on the Adventures Afield Photography page.

Originally published in the Rural Virginian□ 

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