Every March in the Red Hills Region around the bobwhite quail hunting capitol of Thomasville, Georgia, an invitation-only field trial has taken place for the past 36 years that celebrates the rich tradition of African-American bird dog trainers who have been thriving on the local plantations for generations.
If you’ve strolled the tents at the Southern Side by Side or the grassy vendor row of Orvis’ Sandanona Game Fair you’ve seen ruddy Gregor McCluskey manning the BraeVal collection of sporting apparel – the Buffalo Plaids, Shepherd’sTweeds and Uplander Gun Checks.
Safari Club International, long-known for big-game hunting and conservation programs, is making a significant push into wingshooting, which we expect to accelerate next year with the appointment of Paul Babaz as the organization’s next President.
Step outside, smell wood smoke and your brain screams FIRE! While most of us would rush to call 9-1-1, Elmore DeMott is more likely to grab her camera and head for the nearest quail plantation.
Ms. DeMott is the most prominent chronicler of “prescribed burns.” These managed fires, a staple of Southern quail plantations, are like man-made lightning that’s used to nurture the habitat and reduce wildfire risk.
Story | Photos by John N. Felsher
“Shoot,” I yelled as birds exploded in all directions from thick reeds just a few feet from us. “There’s another one. Fire! Here comes a straggler. Get him.”
In seconds, my son Steven pumped out three rounds from his Remington Model 870 20 gauge, scoring a double. More birds flushed from the dense cover while others raced into the canes to escape on foot as Steven tried to reload as fast as he could. Hastily dropping one shell into the chamber, Steven nailed another bird struggling to get airborne.
“No” is the favorite word of Englishman Robin Watson when it comes to teaching his British Labrador Retrievers their gamebird craft.
“I train a lot around the word ‘no’ because it’s like in the wild when animals growl at each other,” he explained.
The acrid smell of two-stroke exhaust mixing with the sweet smell of the cedar transported me back to a bygone era – a time of wooden decoys and boats and huge duck numbers.
The boat was a cedar sneak boat over 50 years old. In the water 200 yards distant, the decoys were mostly hand-carved wooden blocks. Although not as old as the boat, the decoys were still carved with the same care of the decoys of old.
Most grouse hunters are sentimentalists at heart and dream of owning a good side by side, which was the gun of choice for the old timers around the turn of the 20th century. The first half of the 1900s was truly the Golden Age for American side by sides and companies such as Parker Brothers, L.C. Smith, and A.H. Fox were producing some of the finest double guns ever made in our nation’s history. It was a time when industrial efficiency and true craftsmanship were co-equals in the shotgun industry.
Well before dawn, the camouflage-clad hunter stepped off the gravel road running through the wildlife management area in eastern South Carolina and followed a small creek into the forest.
The moment arrived! After months of anticipation, we sat still and chilled in the dark blind waiting for a new duck season to open.
I could feel the bite of the north wind on my face as I struggled to break trail through the deep snow. I was exercising my fingers inside my gloves to maintain feeling as my bird dog Timber, playfully skimmed along the top of the crusted snow. However, for me, every step was a chore but I had to keep pace and maintain a good shooting position.
When we think of bird hunting, we instantly go to a sacred place that exists in our hearts – a sacred covert we protect. We dream of finding that place again and want to know it will still be there long after we are gone. As a group, we engage in friendly debates about the dogs, guns and game we prefer. We share our stories, but it’s that moment we find alone in the field that we think about at the end of the day, in a comfortable chair. The birds we hunt are worth finding for the first time, worth fighting for and worth remembering.
American shotgun shooting with English influences. English traditions with an American twist. Call it what you wish but Richard Smith’s The Royal United Company has created a hybrid style of sport shooting that has everyone talking. From game birds to sporting clays, in just a few years, the now 30-year-old originally from South West England has not only made sport shooting more accessible by creating a completely mobile shooting experience, but has changed the way many American view the sport here in the states.
In Minneapolis-St. Paul we boarded a two-engine plane and buckled in while the pilot tried to start the engines. An hour later, we deplaned and made preparations to camp out in the airport. Apologetic employees gave us cookies and stale sodas while we called our loved ones and scratched out our last wills and testaments on the backs of airline napkins.