Mickey Cockerham grew up hunting birds in the fields near his home in Fairfield, Idaho. Now, several decades later, he’s dedicated to keeping that tradition alive for the next generations of hunters.
Cockerham is the owner of Western Spirit Inc., which encompasses two vast Idaho Fish & Game licensed shooting preserves in Southern Idaho – 12 miles southeast of Fairfield and a few miles west of Shoshone.
It all started in 1999 when Cockerham had become frustrated with the diminishing quality of bird hunting in the area. He created the preserves and has attracted a loyal clientele.
“I love to see young kids get the opportunity to go with their parents and have the same hunting experiences we enjoyed growing up,” Cockerham said. “I love to see the smile on their faces when they see a pheasant fly, see and hear chukars for the first time, or watch dogs point and retrieve game birds. The satisfaction there is remarkable. And I thoroughly appreciate the people who come out and are excited about what we’ve created.”
As home to the Southern Idaho Sportsman Club, Western Spirit Ranches caters to all types of hunters – from the local moderate hunter to the upper-end enthusiast who travels in from across the globe, usually with ties to Sun Valley. The preserve offers three levels of annual membership, plus an “Introduction Day Hunt” package and Party and Corporate hunts. They are open from August 15 to April 15.
What keeps hunters coming back year after year is what Cockerham prizes as a “first class operation” with excellent habitat, hard-flying birds, professional guides and well-trained dogs.
First of all, the properties are unique, with plenty of water, sagebrush, row crops, brush, willows and trees. Walk 200 yards and you’ll get a whole different scene.
Second, they release only mature and healthy birds. The preserve raises most of its own chukar and quail, and purchases premium pheasants.
Plus, since Cockerham obtained an outfitters license in 2000, Western Spirit has provided professional guides who are top-notch dog handlers. They are experienced – with roughly 2,700 hunts over the years – and first aid certified, so safety is a top priority (Cockerham proudly claims they have never had a serious accident). The guides also clean and package birds for clients.
“That’s an attraction for a lot of hunters. They come on the preserve and can rest assured that their mindful guides know the property and how to avoid any areas that may put them or their dogs in peril,” Cockerham said.
In 12 years, Western Spirit has also allowed several sheltered or abandoned hunting dogs the incredible opportunity to do what they love. Western Spirit is currently home to a dozen dogs. Cockerham says German shorthairs have proven to be the best all-around breed for bird hunting on his shooting preserves. The business also offers dog training, which is led by Mickey’s brother, Dennis Cockerham, who has been involved with Western Spirit since the beginning.
“I’ve learned a lot about hunting from my dogs,” said Mickey Cockerham, who believes the best place to train a dog is on a shooting preserve. “My dogs are my preserve’s lifeline.”
Since opening, Cockerham said he’s invested any profits back into the business to enhance the hunters’ experience. This year they are building a lodge on the Shoshone property, which will be finished by the end of September. The lodge includes dressing rooms, showers, a dining area, and deck for catering events.
One of the residual assets of Western Spirit, Cockerham said, is the thousands of birds they’ve released to help bring back the population of pheasant, chukar and quail in the area. Only 28 percent of the birds they release are harvested by clients, leaving about two-thirds wild and free.
“It’s not just for upper end hunting,” Cockerham said. “It’s for everybody. We’re striving to make an opportunity for all ages and all types of hunters to take advantage of this tradition.”
For more info, visit http://huntsouthernidaho.com