Company starts hatchery, preserve on livestock farm
By Pat Shaver
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.
“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.
Mr. Giannini attributes the company’s growth to its increasing exposure, unique entertainment opportunities and customer service.
“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.