January 4, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“We went through 250,000 birds and 30,000 hunters in the last 30 years,” Bruhn says. “We had every celebrity you could think of out here.”

As urban sprawl takes over rural America, yesterday’s pasture transforms into tomorrow’s super store. Earl Henry Bruhn Jr. foresaw this trend long ago. He knew hunters would need a place to go where they could get inspired, stay in touch, and most importantly—hunt some birds.

Scott Bruhn is the son of Earl Henry Bruhn Jr. His family’s farm along the Elkhorn River Valley underwent decades of preparation before opening for commercial hunting.

“My dad bought the property in 1962,” Bruhn says. “He was a big hunter. He said, ‘We’ll buy our own property; we’ll have our own private hunting preserve and get a head start.’”

Pheasant Haven officially opened as a hunting preserve in 1987 after Scott and his brother, Earl Bruhn III, graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The two wanted to realize their father’s vision for Pheasant Haven—opening hundreds of acres to hunters from all over the nation.

“We went through 250,000 birds and 30,000 hunters in the last 30 years,” Bruhn says. “We had every celebrity you could think of out here.”

Unfortunately, his brother Earl did not live to see the full realization of their Pheasant Haven dream. After his untimely death in 1991, just four years after opening, Bruhn was left to carry on the dream—alone.

In recent years, urban development has finally reached the gates of Pheasant Haven. Trophy homes now dot the beautiful Elkhorn River Valley. At this point in time, Bruhn says the preserve is no longer viable as a hunting retreat. The property shrank from a vast acreage to a mere 75 acres, and Bruhn has come up with a new focus for the business.
pheasantheaven2“Now I have a staff created, and all the buildings, and everything I need to do dog boarding and training,” Bruhn says. “I love dogs.”

According to Bruhn, there is a large and underserved community of hunters in Omaha who want to have their dog trained for hunting. He says a lot of people want their dog to be ready for sporting, but simply don’t have the space to do it.

“They can drop their dog off, and we can exercise the dog and keep it in good condition,” Bruhn says. “When they go up to South Dakota, or wherever they go, they will already have their dog trained, ready to roll, and in great shape.”

Tom Kazmierczak of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, says he would pay the more than $1,000 it costs to train a dog at Pheasant Haven. Kazmierczak himself trained his dog, Sam, with mixed results. In his opinion, having a well-trained dog is very impressive and makes the hunt go more smoothly.

“I have also hunted with old-school guys who got mad at me when Sam took off running and I couldn’t stop her,” Kazmierczak says. But he acknowledges that having a perfectly trained dog that can hunt is not what it’s all about. He finds joy in the quality time spent with Sam.

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“I read a book called Travels with Charlie by Steinbeck when I was in about eighth grade, which is all about a guy and his dog discovering America—that’s Sam and I,” Kazmierczak says. “I take her anywhere they allow, and I start every morning in the backyard with Sam and a cup of coffee.”

Talking to someone like Kazmierczak, it is obvious that a hunting dog is more than a utilitarian tool. It can be the family pet—the dog that flushes pheasants and drinks from the proverbial toilet bowl.

There is another sporting aspect of Pheasant Haven’s new business model that plays into the light-hearted side of dog ownership. Bruhn calls it dock jumping, but it is known nationally as “dock diving.” The premise of the sport is simple: dogs are trained to jump as far as they can off a dock over water.

Training dogs to dock dive goes beyond the fences of Pheasant Haven. Bruhn plans to partner with local animal shelters to give adoptee animals a second chance. He calls it “Wet Dog Jumps.” Pheasant Haven has already done fundraising dock jump events to benefit the Nebraska Humane Society, and this is another layer to that on-going effort.

“Those poor dogs that aren’t going to get a home—we are going to turn some of them into champions, sell them at the venues, and then give the money back to the shelters to feed more dogs,” Bruhn says.

Margaret Allen is Bruhn’s fiancée. When Bruhn retires, she says that will likely be the end of Pheasant Haven.

It is a little gloomy, seeing the beginning, middle, and end of a family business. But, as a game reserve, the destination was transient anyway. Encroaching urban sprawl has been a known threat for decades. Taking in dogs without a home, however, and giving them a new life—that creates a timeless legacy.

Visit pheasanthaven.org for more information.

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