Sweet Georgia Brown

We were accompanied by an excellent photographer who declined a credit. Our scout, Hunter, loading the dogs in the ancient mule wagon.

by Terry Wieland

It ain’t summertime, and the livin’ ain’t particularly easy, but if you’re a quail hunter, Georgia in the wintertime, when the grass is brown and the air is crisp…well, that gives Gershwin a run for his money.

The cavalcade. The hunt master sets the pace, the dogs range far and wide, and the hunters on horseback follow, waiting for the hunt master to raise his cap to signal a point.

In late January, a small group of us repaired to Sinkola Plantation (www.sinkola.com) just outside Thomasville, to spend two days communing with guns, dogs, horses, and—we hoped—some strong and frisky wild quail.

The dogs work so far and so fast, you would never keep up without the horses.

This was a frankly commercial outing, with Baschieri & Pellagri (www.baschieri-pellagriusa.com) and Chapuis shotguns (www.chapuis-usa.com) picking up the tab.  Our job was to use the guns and ammunition to, with any luck, bag a quail or two and see what the ordnance was capable of.

That’s William, the hunt master, in the center with his flushing whip raised.

As it turned out, the ordnance was capable of more than I was, at least on that given day, but my companions Kali Parmley (editor of Gun Dog) and John Geiger (SCI) more than made up for it.  The routine was the fabled traditional horseback hunting of the South, with a wagon drawn by two mules, containing dog boxes, our retrieving spaniel always at the ready, and any of the participants that needed a break from riding a horse.

Kali Parmley proved a seriously adept hand with a shotgun. By my (informal) count, she did the best of the bunch. Even so, two birds for a morning was a sterling result.

The guns themselves were on horseback with shotguns in saddle scabbards, and all led by the hunt master who controlled the dogs, called the shots, and walked in on a point with a flushing whip, a shooter on each side.

The object of the game. The guns are an over/under and a side-by-side, by Chapuis of France, in 20- and 28-gauge.

This kind of formal hunting takes some getting used to, even if you’ve done it in the past, because it becomes a true team effort.

At Sinkola, retrieving is done by a cocker spaniel that rides in the wagon, waiting for the call. I’ve always suspected the spaniel is really the one running the show.

Wild quail are hard to come by these days, for a wide variety of habitat and societal reasons, and in the deep South are the product of dedicated plantation managers carefully nurturing the broods and bevies.  (Quail, in Victorian correctness, are found in bevies, not coveys, but the usage is now so common it will never change.)

The terrain is the long-leaf pine and underbrush of Southern quail legend. It, also, takes some getting used to.

Hunting wild quail, with horses and so on, will cost $5,000 to $10,000 a day, and you’ll be allowed, maybe, a dozen birds, total.  That is Sinkola’s limit, not the state’s, but as it turned out, it never became a factor.  If you’ve ever hunted these little flying buzz-saws, you’ll understand why, and if you haven’t, you need to.  Scrape up the money somewhere:  Forgo the new car, sell the bass boat, anything.  If nothing else it will put your ego back in its place.

Grays shooting editor, Terry Wieland, hunted wild quail on horseback for the first time in 2007, in the company of Gray’s late editor-in-chief, David Foster.  Most plantations award you a pin of some kind when you down your first wild bird, which gives some idea of the difficulty.  Wieland got a pin that time—barely—and is proud to say he has always managed at least one bird in four subsequent outings.  Not Lord Ripon, but he’ll take it.