Addieville East Farm in Burrillville, Rhode Island is a haven for sport hunting, and has gained an international reputation. And as part of our Series One Square Mile: Burrillville, Rhode Island Public Radio’s John Bender reports, running this massive operation is labor of love.
Shots echo across the nearly one-thousand rural acres that encompass Addieville East farm. Despite its size the place remains a mystery for those not in the know. Paula Gaebe grew up near the hunting farm.
“I lived five miles from here and had no idea that this place ever existed, little piece of heaven and I had no idea it was here,” said Gaebe.
Gaebe now runs the farm with a small dedicated staff of about 15. She discovered the farm and its founder, Geoff Gaebe, after a cousin got a job at the farm. It started in 1979; just a fraction of the size it is today, said Gaebe standing on the deck of the hunting lodge.
“Little by little pieces of land became available, and he didn’t want it developed, so little by little it became what it is today.”
Today, Addieville - which was named for the town in Illinois where Geoff’s grandfather lived - is some 900 acres. Gaebe eventually married Geoff, and took over operations after he passed away following a battle with cancer.
“You know people, after he passed away, said you could be so rich, you could just sell that out, and you could never work another day in your life,” said Gaebe. “And I said absolutely not. His blood sweat and tears are everywhere on this farm.”
The word farm is a bit of a misnomer, because while it is a farm – they raise pheasants by the thousands – Addieville specializes in traditional New England hunts. These are gentleman’s hunts of yesteryear, fowl hunting complete with bird-dogs, said Jack O’Brien, who helps Gaebe run the business.
“We’d be walking, the dog would be running around, and all of a sudden, the dog will catch wind of the bird, and he’ll slam on point,” said O’Brien.
That’s the position a gundog takes to help hunters locate a bird in the brush. The hunter waits for the bird to fly out, aims, and takes their best shot.
“And hopefully if we’re good enough, we’ll knock the bird down, dog’ll go pick it up and retrieve it to hand,” said O’Brien.
And they’ve gained an international reputation for their hunts, says Jack O’Brien.
“We have people from all over the country and the world shooting tournaments here. And it’s the most eclectic group of people.”
On this day, groups from Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Austria are roaming around nearly the vast landscape. There are picturesque ponds, stocked with trout and bass. Green meadows give way to forested areas, turning vibrant shades of orange and red.
O’Brien makes rounds in his vehicle, kind of an all-terrain blue golf cart. Three or four hunters stand taking aim at sporting clays being shot into the sky. In addition to New England style hunts, Addieville does a brisk business in sporting clay shooting. Groups move from target to target and shoot small orange clay discs. O’Brien refers to it as “golf with guns.”
As O’Brien drives upwards through the forested trails of Addieville, he said despite the popularity of the hunts and the sporting clays, like any farm, the bottom line is subject to the whims of Mother Nature.
“Last winter we had a deal where for ten week we couldn’t hunt,” said O’Brien. “You know, we’re a farm, when a crop goes bad you don’t do well, and when it’s good you do well, you know. And last year was a not so good year.”
O’Brien said last year’s record-breaking snowfall made for poor shooting conditions. As the forest clears, he emerges onto a vast expanse of fields. Gray and brown grasses, several feet high, sway in the wind.
“It looks like Montana or North Dakota doesn’t it? And its great bird cover, it’s great for all kinds of all kinds of wildlife, that’s here; you know we had a black bear running around a little while ago,” said O’Brien.
Despite the fact that the land is dedicated to hunting, Addieville has become a de-facto nature preserve. Pheasants that escape hunters’ bullets just fly into the brush. In a town that’s seen some forested areas plowed over for development, Addieville tries to preserve Burrillville’s rural landscape.
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