It’s late October and the hills west of Nashville are starting to color up in a hundred shades of red and yellow. A bluebird sky is revealing itself overhead as the sun peaks over the horizon, painting the lightly frosted fields of broomstraw and briars a golden hue. There’s a slight sting to the chilly air, a pleasant reminder that the southern summer is at last losing its grasp. The serenity of this bucolic scene is broken only by the excited yapping, barking, whimpering and howling of dogs in the box. As we fiddle with guns and shells and orange vests, the racket is joyful noise to our ears. It’s a fine morning to be quail hunting.
Tyler Wilson is the manager of Tumbling Creek Lodge, post office: Bucksnort, Tennessee. The town is just as bustling and metropolitan as the name suggests, with a little diner and a truckstop off I-40 the closest signs of civilization. This particular weekend Tyler is taking two gentlemen from North Carolina on a full-day quail hunt. He has supplied both guns and dogs. After a couple minutes of safety talk and a sincere assurance that he hates it when people pepper his dogs, he releases Amy and Buddy. Buddy, an English Setter, is madly running in circles, peeing, pooping and in total bliss. Amy the pointer is more reserved, prancing, sniffing and taking care of her bodily functions in relative seclusion. After a minute or so, Tyler blows his whistle and shouts “hunt ‘em up.”
We begin to follow as the dogs dash away, noses to the ground, tails wagging frantically. It’s always amazing to watch tightly wound setters and pointers explode through the fields, never bumping a single bird. Moving into the wind, their noses see farther and sharper then their eyes in the dense undergrowth, giving them fair warning when birds are ahead.
Suddenly, Amy jerks to a stop, creeps a few steps then locks up in classic pointer fashion. “There’s a point,” Tyler says over his shoulder. “Wo now,” he calmly tells her. Buddy, fifty yards past Amy, has gone into backup point, honoring his partner.
Tyler waves his hands, placing the hunters to either side. He knows they’re not very experienced and he reminds them of low birds and which direction to swing and not swing the shotguns. They nod, and move slowly into the brush on his flanks. Tyler steps past Amy and slaps the grass with a short leather whip. That’s all the birds need to inspire them to flight, and a half dozen burst in every direction. Over-and-unders boom and four shot strings disappear harmlessly into the atmosphere. A couple of the escapees settle in the field a few hundred yards away, while others glide into the thick tangle that lines Tumbling Creek.
Tyler offers words of encouragement and the hunters share a frustrated laugh. Meantime, both dogs have taken up separate points on new birds. “We’ll follow up those two later,” he says, pointing toward the closest point. Amy is starting to sneak and is ‘Wo’d’ back by Tyler. He gestures to the hunters and they once again flank him and approach the pointer. As soon as Tyler’s boots crunch the dry brush in front of the dog, the birds flush. Three launch away in a spread formation, offering each hunter a clear crossing shot. A puff of feathers indicates that Pat has placed a good shot. Buddy rushes toward the crash site as Brad’s second shot rocks the bird but fails to bring it down.
Tyler’s in a tizzy, ordering Amy to ‘hunt dead!’ while telling Pat to mark his bird. Meanwhile Buddy has vanished in the tall stuff sniffing the trail of another covey. Tyler congratulates both hunters on their improved shooting hoping to further raise their level of confidence. Amy proudly emerges from the brush and passes a cock quail to Tyler’s waiting hand. After a few “atta girls” and a rub on the head, and Amy’s off again.
By late morning, the shooting is hotter, the temperature warmer, and the bottled water tasting better. Tyler has put Amy and Buddy back in the box and collared up a German shorthair and pointer named Gert and Champ respectively. Champ is a pup and bumps a bird or two, but otherwise shows off the good training he’s received from Tyler.
Lunch means a ride back to the Tumbling Creek Lodge for a home-cooked meal. A staff member cleans the birds, while Tyler goes to the kennel to swap out for the afternoon. From the dining room a quarter mile away, the dogs can be heard shouting in their canine language, ‘Take me! Pick me! It’s my turn!’
The afternoon consists of hunting a completely different terrain of rolling hills and interspersed copses of thorn and honeysuckle. By end of day, the North Carolinians have taken 27 birds and are ready for dinner and an adult beverage or two.
Tumbling Creek Lodge is an Orvis-endorsed wing shooting destination that offers trout fishing, turkey hunting as well as quail hunting. The accommodations are first-rate and the food is ‘slap-yo-mama’ good. The quail, though pen-raised, are smart, fast flyers, and despite the ever-watchful eyes of redtail hawks, they have a good survival rate and quickly acclimate to the conditions. Thus a hunter may come across newly pen-raised birds, pen-gone-wild birds, and occasionally, a covey of truly wild native bobwhites.
To find out more about Tumbling Creek Lodge, “Tennessee’s finest wing shooting and fly fishing experience,” visit www.thetumblingcreeklodge.com or call Tyler Wilson at 866-908-4868.
Larry Chesney is a freelance writer, contributing to such magazines as Sporting Classics, North American Hunter, and South Carolina Sportsman. He resides in Taylors, South Carolina.