Few of us can claim to have 3,000 acres of private land on which to hunt five species of upland birds. Even fewer can boast having a kennel full of quality pointing and flushing dogs with which to hunt those birds. And it’s truly the rare individual who has a 10,000-square-foot log lodge to return to after spending a day afield wingshooting. So why is it that guests returning to Oregon’s Highland Hills Ranch—which has all of these things and more—often say it feels like “coming home”?
It's no mystery to Mindi Macnab, who together with her husband, Dennis, owns Highland Hills. “It’s kind of like that three-legged stool,” Mindi said. “The first leg of the stool is the variety of upland birds. When hunting the bottomlands, one never knows what the dogs are pointing and flushing until the bird gets up. There are very few properties in the country that have the topography and native habitat for pheasant, chukar, Hungarian partridge and quail. The second part of the stool is the world-class dogwork you will find at HHR. To walk behind the pointing breeds that point, honor and stay steady while waiting for the cocker to put up the birds is like a show in and of itself. The third leg of that stool is the hospitality. Dennis and I are on-site owners, there to greet and interact with our guests. There’s a different feeling you get when owners are present. When guests arrive at the lodge and see Dennis and me along with the staff there to welcome them back, they say ‘it’s like coming home.’ Guests often come back the following year with their ‘new’ friends they met at the lodge.”
Indeed, Highland Hills offers lights-out hunting for pheasants, chukars, Hungarian partridge, valley quail and bobwhite quail in a spectacular valley setting, but a trip to the ranch is about so much more than filling game bags.
The experience begins as you travel up the long, sinuous drive along Upper Rock Creek, making frequent stops to avoid strutting roosters and coveys of chukars and Huns. Eventually the regal log lodge comes into view—perched halfway up the valley, flanked by a cherry orchard and domed bluffs.
In the driveway you are met and greeted by the HHR team along with Mindi and Dennis, who transfer your bags to your room, give you a tour of the facilities and welcome you with warm cookies. You might imagine that a palatial structure of hand-peeled logs would be anything but “homey,” but as soon as you step inside you get that warm, familiar lived-in feeling. Perhaps it is the welcoming great room with overstuffed chairs and couches—one of which is likely to have an English cocker spaniel sprawled on it waiting to be petted. Or the oversize rock fireplaces, or the beautifully appointed bedrooms—each with a view of the valley below.
“The lodge was designed as a home for entertaining large groups,” according to Mindi. “Having the open-floor concept and the ease of moving from space to space and feeling included in that space was important. And also just wanting the space to be used. A lot of times space is not designed right. So the furniture was placed taking in mind putting groups together and creating that sense of being in somebody’s home. Sitting down and picking up a nice conversation—that coziness, that warm feeling.”
The custom-designed and -decorated lodge is the heartbeat of the property. “It’s beautifully decorated with Native American art and artifacts in an ode to the area we live,” Mindi said. “Our seasonal creek, Upper Rock Creek, that flows through the property has a spring native-steelhead run that the Confederated Tribes manage.”
Once you are settled in on check-in day, you may unwind with a game of billiards, but don’t get too comfortable: You might decide to shoot a round of clays to knock off a little rust or get a few shooting tips before taking to the fields.
As the afternoon winds down, a popular spot is the downstairs bar and lounge area, where guests gather for adult beverages and to chat or watch a ballgame. Appetizers like coconut chukar bites or sausage-stuffed jalapenos will sate your hunger, but you don’t want to fill up, as it’s almost time for dinner.
Certainly a highlight at HHR is the food, with gourmet meals prepared by Chef Doug Becker. “We use local ingredients when available,” Mindi said. “We have a lot of fruit stands around us. A lot of the produce is sourced from farms in the area. The menu varies from fall to winter based on the ingredients available. And then, of course, we’re eating what we harvest as well.” Dinner entrees include chukar piccata and filet mignon, with the pheasant enchiladas served at lunch especially popular. And evening meals are paired with fine Northwest wines from the ranch’s well-stocked cellar.
Another aspect that stands out is where guests eat. Meals are enjoyed at a large yet intimate communal dining room table. According to Mindi: “The size of the table is unique and creates and fosters memorable group and side conversations, allowing bonding to happen over the shared love of breaking bread together. No one is a stranger at the table; after introductions we understand the commonalities that brought us together: the love of nature, being outdoors, watching the dogs perform and seeking the thrill of hearing 'Rooster' being shouted in the field. We’re from different backgrounds, parts of the country and even how we got into the sport of shooting, but it’s the above that threads us together and people enjoy that feeling of connection with others.”
And that is the key to the Highland Hills experience. It’s the focus on not only world-class hunting and accommodations but also hospitality and promoting the camaraderie shared by those who appreciate the finer things in life.
After dessert, you push yourself away from the table. Perhaps you’ll head downstairs for a nightcap. Or maybe you’ll step outside to enjoy a cognac by the fire pit as you gaze up at the endless vault of stars. Whatever you decide to do, the point is to relax. You’re home now. Tomorrow there will be plenty of time to chase birds . . . .
Highland Hills Ranch is a full-service, Shooting Sportsman Endorsed Lodge. To learn more or to make a reservation, call 541-296-2447 or email [email protected].
Photographs courtesy of Highland Hills Ranch.