2018-03-22 / Outdoors

Far from courtroom, attorney to plant quail in Solon Twp.

Finally receives driveway permit
By Alan Campbell
Of The Enterprise staff

CHRIS BUTZ plans to bring quail to his wild bird preserve off Hoxie Road in Solon Township. CHRIS BUTZ plans to bring quail to his wild bird preserve off Hoxie Road in Solon Township. Some lawyers never retire, practicing until their final days.

Chris Butz, who plans to open Leelanau County’s first bird-hunting preserve, calls himself a “recovering lawyer.”

He didn’t stay long in the business.

“I hated getting stuck in an office all day long,” recalled Butz, who just this month received permission from the Leelanau County Road Commission to access Hoxie Road for his latest agritourism venture. “I love being outside and with animals. I liked the counseling part, though, and I still have plenty of friends who ask for advice.”

Butz is something of a Renaissance Man for outdoor pursuits in Leelanau County.

He purchased the former Gills Pier Winery in northern Leland Township. He, moved in with his wife Angie, and their five children moved in and promptly turned vineyards into grazing yards for yak and alpaca.

THE BUTZ family has been vacationing in Leelanau for three generations. Two of his kids, Asher and Phoebe (pictured), attend Leland Public School. THE BUTZ family has been vacationing in Leelanau for three generations. Two of his kids, Asher and Phoebe (pictured), attend Leland Public School. They’ve been a big hit in health-conscious Leelanau County where their meat is served at Bogie’s (Leland) and Figs (Lake Leelanau) and sold at the Merc (Leland) and other locations.

“And we sell a lot of our meat at the farm. Yak meat is low in cholesterol, 95 to 98 percent lean, and easily digestible. I can tell you from talking to people who have a problem digesting pork that they can eat our sausage, which is 70 percent yak meat. I tell people it’s like bison or elk, but sweeter,” Butz said.

He continues to offer gun dog training, and just received his captain’s license for guiding.

“This year we’ll be fly fishing with light tackle in the flats (on Grand Traverse Bay). And we’ll use that license for duck hunting on the bay and the larger river mouths,” he said.

Now Butz plans to carve time out of his schedule to develop Hidden Covert, a 120-acre parcel off E. Hoxie Road in Solon Township, into a wild bird preserve.

But unlike most put-and-take farms in Michigan, Butz won’t be planting pheasants.

Quail, the bird of pointing dog legend in southern states such as Georgia, will be coming en masse to Leelanau County.

“I’d like to release 1,000 quail and try to make them as wild as possible by this fall,” Butz said. He’ll buy the birds as three-year-old chicks, raise them in a surrogator designed for quail, then release them on the property. He’ll provide food and water to keep the birds at Hidden Covert until hunting season, which for preserves opens on Aug. 15.

“We have deep valleys and high ridges,” Butz said. “It’s mostly open, 80 percent open, and we’ll be planting it this spring with more game-bird habitat.”

He also plans to purchase chukars and raise them on the ranch in pens. They’ll be released on the property as ordered by hunters with prices ranging from $10 to $15 per bird depending upon quantity.

Why no pheasants? He wants to attract hunters who are training young pointing dogs such as English setters that large cock pheasants might spur and injure during retrieves.

“They (pheasants) are larger birds and a lot of dogs we’re training are not ready for that. I can’t say we won’t eventually get into pheasants,” Butz said.

He’s no stranger to Leelanau, as his family has been vacationing here for three generations. His family owns a summer place in Leland on Lake Michigan, and his mother resides in Leland Township.

He and Angie have five children, of which four are adopted. Their children are Mcguire, 17; Skylar, 13; Phoebee, 11; Asher, 5; and Valor, 2. All who are old enough attend Leland School.

The Butzes are also active in West Side Community Church, where he is involved in men’s ministry and she attends a Bible study group.

One of the biggest business obstacles he’s faced in Leelanau has been wading through local government red tape. He only recently gained permission from the Road Commission to use a farm road for access to Hidden Covert.

“They were comparing it to a winery,” Butz said. The road will remain gravel, but he’ll widen it to 24 feet.

Butz has other outdoor sports interests in the Midwest but had never heard of a game farm being treated as a commercial property. He’s worried that land regulation roadblocks — often through overzealous zoning — will hasten a demise in the number of agricultural jobs in the county.

“I’ve seen second-generation farmers not continue on because they couldn’t find a way to make a living in farming. If we don’t allow farmers to find a way to make a living on the family farm, we’re going to lose another generation of farmers,” Butz said.

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