ST. AUGUSTINE - Located at the Hidden Valley Pheasantry are some 6,000 ring-neck pheasants.
And the ringleader of these ring-neck pheasants is Bernadette Gilliland of Ginter.
Gilliland and her husband, Eric, have owned and operated a 1400-acre hunting preserve and lodge in Ginter, just north of Altoona (near Houtzdale), for the past 11 years.
Bernadette Gilliland of Ginter feeds her passion for birds by raising pheasants.
She is president of the Pennsylvania Game Bird Association.
The Warriors Mark Wing Shooting, Lodge and Kennels is open for hunting from the first Monday in September to the last Saturday in April.
"We have hunters who come from as far away as California," Gilliland said. "We shoot about 16,000 pheasants, chukars and quails in a season."
Many of the pheasants at the Hidden Valley Pheasantry are purchased by area rod and gun clubs or other hunting preserves. The Gillilands also offer fresh dressed and smoked pheasants for the holidays, which Gilliland said are "very tasty."
THE GILILAND FILE
Family: Bernadette and her husband, Eric, have a daughter, Janice.
Residence: Ginter (north of Altoona, near Houtzdale)
Business: Warriors Mark Wing Shooting, Lodge and Kennels. Hunters may reach the preserve and lodge at www.warriorsmark.com.
FYI: Bernadette Gilliland is the president of the Pennsylvania Game Bird Association.
The process begins in the spring with the purchase of day-old baby chicks with two deliveries of about 3,000 in each delivery.
It takes 24 days for the chicks to hatch with 25 chicks packed in each box for enough body heat. The chicks live on the egg yolks for the first 48 hours, which gives them plenty of time to get settled in the new environment. They are then moved into a bird house that holds 1,000 chicks, Gilliland said.
There are gas brooders in each house to keep them warm, and they are fed game bird feed. Gilliland said the birds consume about 18-20 pounds of bird feed while they are in the flight pattern. While the pheasants are in the heated houses, they are prepared for the flight pens outside, where they arrive some six weeks later to stay until they reach maturity.
At their preserve, the Gillilands also raise several breeds of hunting dogs and have cabins on site where families can stay and enjoy their hunting experience.
"I not only get the joy of raising the birds," Gilliland said, "but I also get the enjoyment of witnessing a family's first hunting adventure."
Gilliland was raised in St. Augustine where her parents, Jerry and Janet Davis, still operate their farm. She graduated from Cambria Heights High School in 1988 and went on to the Admiral-Peary Vocational Technical School, where she obtained the American Farmer's degree and then attended Penn State University for two years.
Now self-employed, Gilliland started as a part-time employee while attending Penn State at the Cross Keys Pheasantry in Hollidaysburg.
When that business closed, Gilliland decided to go out on her own in 1997. She first purchased one-day-old chicks and raised them to maturity.
"We are very proud of Bernadette and her accomplishments," Gilliland's mother, Janet, said.
Gilliland considers her work a labor of love.
"When a first-time hunter or an older person comes out to the lodge and gets his first pheasant with or without a hunting dog, it's a sense of reward for all my hard work, which makes me very proud of what I do," she said. "I've watched my grandparents and my parents work so hard at their farm over the years, so it has given me the desire to do as well as they have and make them proud of me."
Her customers admire Gilliland's commitment.
"My husband and I go each year to preserve hunting," Julie Woodring of Ramey said. "Bernadette is very professional with her birds and their care, and she has a great love for animals."
Donna Williams, Gilliland's cousin, has worked at the lodge for six years.
"From the time she was a child," Williams said, "Bernadette had a great love of animals and is very enthusiastic about their care and development."