The Hatt's Ranch, just 16 miles southwest of Green River, is the spot for upland game bird hunting at its finest. Rey Lloyd and LuJuan Hatt take care of the ranch and their son Royd and his wife Toni are involved with the hatchery end of the operation.
Rey Lloyd said, "The ranch has been in the family since the early 1930s. It was originally a cattle ranch. We have been raising birds since 1975. Our hatchery is the largest supplier west of the Mississippi. We originally started with the birds to supplement the cows, but the birds grew so fast that we sold off the cattle. Cows and pheasants can't run together because the cows graze the field down and the pheasants need the cover to hide in. Although some people do it.
"We raise all of our own birds. We set 500,000 eggs each year at the hatchery in Green River. We ship all over the western United States. We keep between 35-45,000 birds for our ranch. We sell day old chicks and a lot of people will come and pick them up. Sometimes we meet people halfway and deliver them that way. We do ship them by overnight delivery as well. You can deliver a healthy chick up to about four days. Royd has to turn orders away because we can't produce enough birds to fill them.
"We start gathering eggs March 20 and gather through July 24th. All of our family gets involved in gathering the eggs. The kids get tired of coming out and gathering eggs. The eggs are handled nine times before they hatch, it's quite an undertaking.
"The chicks stay in the brooder house for a week to 10 days and then they are taken to the little fly pens. When they are fully feathered, usually around 16 weeks of age, they are moved to the big fly pen. Around 20 weeks of age they are ready to hunt when they have all of their wing feathers. We harvest about 85 percent of the birds and leave 15 percent all of the time. After the birds are released to be hunted, if they aren't harvested they will stick around the ranch and feed outside of the pens. Sometimes they will fly out to the desert for a bit but they always come back because there isn't much feed out there.
"We are pretty isolated out here. We have 1,000 acres and the San Rafael River runs through the ranch it is one of the only rivers that originate and end in the same county. We have a good relationship with the Fish and Game and we supply them with chukars. We have installed a guzzler in the chukar pen so the chukars will get used to it because that is what the Fish and Game uses to get the water to them out in the wild. It's worked out really good.
"We encourage people to bring their own dogs but we do have some to rent as well. We are a membership club and members pay a joining fee and then a yearly fee. After they become members they can bring as many guests as they want if they accompany them. I start hunters out on a ditch and keep them going on different ditches. I direct traffic on my four-wheeler. People generally hunt about four hours and walk a long ways," said Rey Lloyd.
LuJuan said, "We have people from all over who come here to hunt. We can accomodate all sizes of hunting groups. There is a two-bird minimum. You only pay for harvested birds."
Rey Lloyd said, "We have people that just come for the day and those who come for a few days. Some people out of Denver come and pull their trailers down and camp and come over to hunt. Others stay in the motels in town and eat in the restaurants. We help out the Green River economy in the winter.
"Hunting season runs from mid-September through mid-March. We see about 3,000 hunters in five months. We have members in 15 states. We have five varieties of pheasants, the Ring Neck, Buff-Cinnamon, Whites, Blacks-Melanistic Mutation and the Manchurian Ring Neck. We also have cross breeds. There are 176 different varieties of pheasants in the world. Royd doctors the birds and develops the formula for their feed. He has talked to a lot of experts on what's best for the birds. He takes a lot of preventative measures and our survival rate is really high. We have first generation pheasants out of China. The eggs were brought from China. We are always trying to increase the quality of our stock.
"We offer a quality hunt as close to a wild hunt as possible," said Rey Lloyd.
A hunter from Utah County who was hunting the ranch said, "There are no birds or hunting opportunities up north. I've been a member for 13 or 14 years and come down here a few times a year. You could look for hours up north and maybe only see one or two birds, but down here you can get as many as you can hit or you can pay for. It's great fun."
Hunters can clean their own birds or for a small fee the Hatts will clean them for you. Other hunters at the ranch were from Grand Junction and they said, "It's only about an hour and a half drive over here and we come over every three weeks. I was out playing golf one day and somebody mentioned the pheasant ranch to me and we've been coming over ever since. They take good care of you here. You just walk and shoot and the dogs flush out the birds.
Barry Sovern comes to the ranch and stays in his trailer and trains his dogs. He also trains dogs for the Hatts to use on their ranch. Sovern believes the pheasants are very smart. Once they've been hunted, the dogs will have a tough time flushing them out. It's the dog's job to put the pheasant in a position where he has to fly. The dog smells out the birds. This is pretty tough for a dog when there are pens nearby with 10,000 birds in them and they are expected to find one in the bush. Pheasants can hide in almost no cover at all, according to Sovern who told the story of when they were out training dogs and a pheasant flew up from under the cover about two feet away and neither he or his friend knew it was there. He said, "I try to come over here every week it's the best bargain around."
Rey Lloyd said, "I really enjoy the people that we've met on the ranch. The repeat customers who keep coming back have become good friends. The business has been growing a bit every year and we sure enjoy being out here at the ranch."