2007 marks the 100th Anniversary of the Orvis Sandanona Shooting Grounds in Millbrook, New York. During its 100 years, the shooting grounds have changed in many ways, but have always adhered to the traditions of the sporting lifestyle and camaraderie that surround wingshooting. In its 100 years, Sandanona has grown to become perhaps the most prestigious shooting grounds in the United States.
Sandanona was started in 1907 by Morgan Wing who hailed from a family of Quaker farmers turned Manhattan financiers. On his family’s 300-acre property, Morgan, who loved the field, working dogs, flushing birds, and good company, began to raise quail, pheasant, and mallard ducks. He also had a local one-room school house rebuilt on the property. It was here he invited friends, many from New York City, to come enjoy a day, weekend, or week of wingshooting and companionship. He named his preserve Sandanona Pheasantry, Sandanona being a native American term for “brilliant sunshine.”
For the first thirty years, Sandanona was simply a place for Morgan and his friends to enjoy the pastime they loved. But the times they enjoyed there— the great shoots, the fine working dogs, hearty, strong birds, memorable days spent in the rough fields—began to be known to others, and Sandanona gained a reputation. Sandanona became the first licensed gamebird preserve in the United States, and Morgan went on to found the New York State Breeders Association. In 1937, for the first time, Morgan offered Sandanona to the paying sporting gentlemen, at $7 a bird. Soon, names like Roosevelt and Buckley became associated with Sandanona.
Morgan ran the preserve for another twenty years. When he passed in 1957, his son Henry took over, adding another room and a fireplace to the original schoolhouse, which brought about an even greater sense of the sporting and gentlemanly atmosphere. As devoted as his father Morgan was, Henry kept Sandanona running for both friends and paying shooters alike, though it was always the love of the sport itself that drove him to do so. Henry ran Sandanona for nearly twenty years. Along the way came many friends, old and new, writers and editors from the most famed outdoor magazines, and folks such as Adlai Stevens. Henry continued to run the place until the poor health of his wife and other challenges made it too difficult for him to operate and manage it. For a brief time, it looked as though Sandanona might close for good and the property be sold for use as a horse farm or a gravel mining operation.
Bednar had been coming up to shoot at Sandanona since 1967. In 1979, he learned that Henry was not going to open Sandanona. Bednar had grown up hunting and the loss of open public lands to hunters pained him. For two years, Henry resisted selling Sandanona to Mr. Bednar, but he did lease it. Finally, Mr. Bednar bought Sandanona to do his part to save a tradition. For ten years, he maintained the preserve, raising tens of thousands of birds and offering some of the finest, most-challenging shooting for pheasant, quail, and ducks. Bednar improved many aspects, making the mallard release and Continental release among the very finest anywhere in the world. Mr. Bednar also began to show interest in sporting clays. When he decided to sell the property it made perfect sense to sell it to the Orvis Company, which would maintain all the aspects of the property that made it so prestigious, but would also look toward the future to offer even more for the wingshooter.
In 1981, Orvis opened one of the first true sporting clays courses in the United States. Sandanona had already brought over some of the UK’s finest and most heralded wingshooting instructors to start shooting schools that would help the novice shooter learn the basics of safety, etiquette, and consistent shooting.
Today, Orvis Sandanona is a step back in time, to a place where the traditions of the field and the hunt are held in the highest regard, and where wingshooting is a passion that links the past with the present. The original main lodge remains on the property and in use to this day.
With its richly textured past as a foundation, Orvis Sandanona has built upon that history a thriving, modern shooting ground; one that welcomes and accommodates corporate outings and large groups with the same vivacity as it does with individual guests. With a sporting clays course that is consistently ranked among the very best in the nation, Orvis Fly-Fishing and Wingshooting Schools, and a fully-catered facility that includes ample meeting space, Orvis Sandanona is the benchmark for both corporate recreation and individual sporting pursuits; all while maintaining the sporting lifestyle and gentlemanly ambience for which it has been heralded for 100 years.