But there was a softer side to Primland that my traveling companion savored. She described it, “the best day of my life” by shooting her highest sporting-clays score to date followed by a skillful hot-stone massage that induced a feeling close to levitation.
The weekend presented variations on sublime. The lodge echos the aesthetics of Frank Lloyd Wright with a veneer of modern Japan. The design is mind-blowing, but for an even greater appreciation of the building you really need to examine the workmanship up close. It seemed that every joint of the recycled timber was perfectly fitted. The furnishings and accessories are rustic modern, again with a nod to Mr. Wright who was famous for designing site-specific chairs, cabinetry, tables and sofas.
The stainless-steel silo appended to the building actually serves a purpose. It houses an observatory with a Celestron 14-inch telescope for a stargazing tour of the solar system.
Since our last visit, Primland built the Golden Eagle Tree House. It opened in the summer of 2011. The one-bedroom suite was designed and prefabricated in France by renowned tree house architectural firm La Cabane Perchée. Accessible by a wooden bridge walkway, a deck provides expansive vistas from the limbs of a resident, elder oak tree.
Primland also added geocaching and opened a stretch of the Appalachian Trail through the 12,000-acre resort. These new activities accompany the resort’s mainstays of golf, ATV tours, fishing, horseback riding, hunting, swimming and tennis.
On our first visit, we declared the Primland sporting clays course the most beautiful in the country. Then throw into the mix both driven and walk-up pheasant hunts, and Nirvana awaits at 1,500 feet – the pinnacle of a winding log road.
The only way it could have made it better was to visit during peak autumn foliage, when the mountains turn brilliant. Instead, our trip took place some 10 days before Christmas.
On day one, we arrived during lunch, but skipped the meal and headed straight for the club house to claim our reservations for a sporting-clays cart, trapper and 100 rounds. Since the Holland & Holland’s driven shoot coincided with my walk-up hunt, David Cruz, the company’s operations manager, had generously arranged to have a 20-bore Sporting Deluxe over/under available for both clays and wing shooting during the two-day stopover.
With a detachable single trigger and 28-inch barrels, the 20-bore Sporting Deluxe sidelock would prove to be one of those perfect shotguns for lovers of an over/under uplander. Deluxe walnut and an arresting black ribbon scroll evocative of the Celtic Knot gradually revealed themselves as I slid the gun from the sleeve. Made in 1997, the pre-owned Holland & Holland wore a price tag of $82,000. It had been a bit short for me, but add a winter shooting jacket and it actually shouldered quite nicely. I cased the gun and we made our way to the cart.
As it turned out, on the sporting-clays course we ran into our friend Elizabeth Lanier, contributor to the Shotgun Life Women shooting tips e-letter, NSCA Level II instructor (she also teaches wingshooting at Primland) and occasional loader there for driven hunts. She was there to serve as a loader for the Holland & Holland contingent starting the next day. Ms. Lanier offered a few tips along the way (hold the gun close to the break point on rabbits), accelerating my get-acquainted period with the Holland & Holland.
At five pounds, 15 ounces, the 20-bore Sporting Deluxe felt perfectly suited to the instinctive wingshooting approach articulated by Robert Churchill. His 1955 book “Robert Churchill’s Game Shooting” defined the so-called Churchill Method, which basically posits that the hunter should “dismiss all ideas of calculated allowances” and instead focus entirely on the prey. The rest will take care of itself. Also called “Instinctive Shooting,” the Churchill Method advocates a fluid and integrated move-mount-shoot when swinging for the bird.
I may be committing heresy to a great number of upland enthusiasts by saying the Holland & Holland over/under, compared with a side by side, felt amazingly graceful in a mindful approach to the Churchill Method. The key attribute of the gun was its intuitive handling. Essentially, an instinctive shooter wants a gun that blends seamlessly with our natural pointing instincts. The balance, trigger feel and overall dynamics of the Holland & Holland 20-bore Sporting Deluxe made it an effortless shotgun to shoulder and shoot initially on clays and then later on pheasants.
Just as a brief aside, I’m often asked whether or not there’s really a noticeable difference between, let’s say, an $82,000 shotgun and one costing significantly less. My answer is yes. If you’re ever presented with the opportunity to try any best gun that hovers in the rarified atmosphere of six figures, I suggest you jump at the chance to discover the distinction for yourself. Craftsmanship and exclusivity aside, these guns simply shoot far better. And if you’re striving to hunt in the footsteps of Mr. Churchill, the superiority of a shotgun like the Holland & Holland 20-bore Sporting Deluxe leaves an impression that’s indelible and profound – inducing a fleeting bout of self-pity when the time rolls around to shoot the old Beretta Silverhawk that I truly enjoy on walk-ups.
Primland’s sporting clays course was great preparation for the walk-up pheasant hunt the next morning.
The in-house designed sporting-clays course is integrated into the surrounding woods for a natural experience akin to wingshooting. The individual stations, linked by a rutted trail, frequently uses surprisingly simple props such as the front wheels of a wagon, hay bales, stacks of wood, ponds, creeks, slate and old log fencing perhaps dating back to the Civil War.
The 14 stations tend to be more difficult than the typical resort. Deceptive teals, fast crossers and droppers in dappled light make you work for a good score.
After a day of driving to Primland, capped by 100 rounds of sporting clays with the ever-entertaining Ms. Lanier, we opted out of Primland’s flagship restaurant, Elements, and instead headed for a casual dinner at the 19th Pub restaurant in the Lodge overlooking the golf course.
Primland’s Highland 18-hole regulation course was designed by Martin Elbert and Donald Steel in the traditional Scottish links style. It offers 7,034 yards of golf for a par of 72, with some spectacular views of the Dan River Gorge. The course opened in 2006. By 2007, it had been recognized by Golf Digest as the Best New Public Course $75 and over, sending its popularity skyward.
In addition to the golf-course view, 19th Pub has an impressive collection of moonshine, in recognition of the backwoods cash crop of yore. In our last trip to Primland, our trapper explained that the deep woods hid old stills.
The bartender was eager to try some new moonshine concoctions, and at my suggestion mixed up a Lemon Drop cocktail using the premium hooch. He grabbed a bottle of “Midnight Moon Lightning Lemonade” from the distillery of stock-car racing legend, Junior Johnson. He shook it a long time, until ice crystals formed on the surface, then poured the yellow elixir into a martini glass. In a word, the drink was heavenly.
Sitting at the bar, we started dinner with a Southern snack called “pig candy.” The basic ingredients of pig candy are bacon coated with sugar and often maple syrup. It gets brittle and crunchy with an intoxicating dynamic between salty and sweet. Primland served it in a cone that many upscale restaurants use for French fries. I would like to go on the record as saying that three Lemon Drops made with Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon Lightning Lemonade and two orders of pig candy might just be the most perfect darn dinner on the planet.
However, after the pig candy appetizers we forged ahead with the fish and chips. The fish came in somewhat soggy and the fries were pedestrian. Next time at the 19th Pub, I’d go for the Kobe beef pimento cheeseburger.
The following morning, after a healthy breakfast in front of the fireplace at Elements, two different styles of pheasant shoots got underway. The Holland & Holland contingent took off in vans to wend their way through mountain tracks that led to the driven shooting grounds. Pegs were chosen and the shooters took their places. The Holland & Holland driven shoot was one of some 14 such European driven shoots that take place at Primland each year.
Holland & Holland organized the event in order to “give owners the experience of owning a Holland & Holland – why they bought it in the first place,” said Guy Davies, Executive Sales Manager based in the company’s New York gun room.
The pheasants, which were driven from the milo and sorghum fields by some 25 beaters, consisted of released and wild varieties. If necessary, the fields are stocked the morning before a shoot to supplement the 8,000-10,000 birds released annually, explained Steve Helms, Primland’s Vice President and General Manager.
Shooters don their breeks, tweeds, Barbour jackets and Dubarry boots accompanied by stuffers and dog handlers. It was spectacular and traditional. The downed birds would be marked for the gun who shot them, cleaned, and then frozen and packaged for the trip home.
Meanwhile, guide Mike Leftwich and his two dogs were leading me through harvested corn fields in the walk-up hunt. The weather was perfect: low 50s, high overcast and a gentle breeze. The mountain-top panorama presented thick trees throughout the Blue Ridge range out to the great state of North Carolina. Between flushes, in the prevailing quiet, a tranquil mood rose from the rustling pines.
The Holland & Holland 20-bore Sporting Deluxe cast a hunter’s spell over me. I bagged 13 for 15 pheasants – basically claiming every bird I shot with the exception of the two that simply raced away before I could shoulder the gun. The Holland & Holland delivered instinctive shooting at its finest as we made several passes through two fields.
It was back to the club house for a casual lunch of pulled pork sandwiches and cheeseburgers. Little did I know at the time that my traveling companion had shot her best sporting clays score ever that morning and was now enjoying a blissful afternoon at the Primland Spa.
In actuality, her sporting-clays high came as a complete shocker. She had asked the trapper not to keep score, but he did anyway just in case she did well. One-hundred rounds later she ended up being mighty glad he did keep score. It was a terrific surprise.
Her sporting clays was followed by a quick workout in the Fitness Center where she used an elliptical machine that provided an expansive view of the golf course. Afterwards, she enjoyed lunch.
The Primland Spa is noted for its organic products and alternative healing therapies inspired by Native American rituals. The spa area is constructed of recycled woods along with Italian tiles, mosaics and stones. The soft lighting is intoxicating. Even if you elect not to participate, it’s a must-see space.
She reported to The Spa for her massage appointment. The entire area had a wonderful sage-spice aroma from burning incense. The therapist applied hot stones during the massage in ways unlike any she had ever experienced before. The chimes and the music contributed to an atmosphere of total peace.
The experience left her in a state of suspension somehow. She couldn’t feel an iota of tension in any part of her body and she had never been so thoroughly calm. Following an exceptional sauna experience, bundled in a plush robe, she padded out to the chaise lounge in the relaxation room. Through the floor-to-ceiling windows, she watched the mist in the distant mountains and sipped herbal tea and considered herself the most fortunate of women.
For my afternoon driven shoot, I had invited Mr. Helms. He works tirelessly at ensuring a quality experience at Primland, and I thought that perhaps he might be a bit too exhausted to top my shooting. He was packing a rental over-and-under and this Son of the South was hitting those pheasants hard – making some impressively long shots. Meanwhile, I ended the full day of walk-ups with 18 bagged of the 21 birds flushed – fully capitalizing on the lightning reflexes of the Holland & Holland to down most pheasants before they darted out of the zone.
That night we ate dinner at Elements. My traveling companion was thoroughly mellow while the exhilaration of the day remained in my bones. She remarked that her steelhead trout entrée was delicious. I started with the mushroom pappardelle appetizer. Its creamy texture and savory flavor was most satisfying after a full day of hunting. That was followed by a ribeye with mushroom risotto. Our dinner was accompanied by a bottle of Decoy Pinot Noir made by Duckhorn – one of our favorite wineries in Napa Valley.
The next morning, after breakfast at Elements, we packed up and headed home – with a cooler full of pheasant breasts awaiting the stew pot.
The Primland web site
The Lanier Shooting Sports web site