Every year in November, people in Greensburg see a lot of trucks with out-of-state license plates parked near a couple of modular ranch houses in the 400 block of South Walnut street.
“Most of them don’t know what we’re doing,” said Jason Johnson, owner of Upland Hills Inn hunting lodge.
The lodge is open through quail and pheasant season, lasting from the second Saturday of November through January. Hunters usually stay there for two or three days in which they have access to 12,000 acres of land Johnson owns within 10 miles northeast of Greensburg.
Johnson’s goals are to increase the upland bird population and provide habitat for a “great old fashioned bird hunt.”
Within the first week of the lodge being open this year, it hosted visitors from Texas, Wyoming, Illinois, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Kentucky among other states, Johnson said.
Johnson has had the lodge for around five years and only started doing advertising this year. Most of its business has been word of mouth.
The top five qualities that bring people to this hunting lodge and hunting grounds are the habitat, bird population, accommodations, bird dogs and meals, which are prepared by Sherri Wilder, of Bucklin.
“She does a great job,” Johnson said.
The origins of the lodge and hunting ground go back to 2007.
“I was out here the day the tornado hit, looking for a house (to buy) that afternoon,” Johnson said. “Obviously there was nothing after that.”
In 2008, he bought the 12,000 acres of what used to be farmland and through the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), started converting it into a wildlife habitat. He also bought a house.
Originally, the house was going to be a get-away for Johnson, a place where he would house graduate students working with technologies and techniques to convert the land into a habitat for upland birds. Then he started taking friends and business associates hunting on his land.
“They’d all gush about how it was the best bird hunting they’d ever seen,” Johnson said.
Johnson started his business in which people would pay to stay at his lodging house and hunt on his land. He has also worked with grad students in his mission to increase the declining bird population.
The upland bird population has declined 80 percent in the past 40 years. Johnson, working with researching grad students, is on a mission to reverse that trend and “turn back time,” he said.
Mark Baron, a retired biologist who recently stayed in the lodge with other retirees from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said, “Almost all of us have hunted back to the ’60s in a lot of different states so we’ve seen the decline.”
Bill Ackerman, one of Baron’s hunting buddies, said of Johnson’s land, “The amount of CRP is fantastic and the bird population is phenomenal.”
Along with quail and pheasant, other wildlife, such as deer, turkey and dove can be found on the land.
“A lot of what we do with upland game birds makes other species thrive as well,” Johnson said.
As he has helped increase bird numbers on his land, Johnson’s business has grown. He added a second lodging house and is considering adding a third, but he has reservations about growing too big.
“You don’t want to lose that personal touch,” Johnson said. “As you get bigger, my concern is you don’t want to lose what you have. It’s a fine balance.”
Around 95 percent of the hunters who use the lodge are return visitors and virtually all of them express appreciation for the bird habitat, Johnson said.
“About everybody who leaves this place tells me we have more birds than they’ve ever seen in their life.”