After introducing himself as our guide for the morning quail hunt, Jeff Crosby looked down at the light boots on my feet and stated, “If you have them, you should change into rubber boots.” It had been raining pretty much every other day at my home outside Athens, Georgia, and apparently the same weather had been occurring near Savannah. I didn’t have anything else but street shoes, so I stayed in my Courtney Safari boots.
I suppose that having to ford puddles and streams while we hunted the mixed pine-grass forest might have reduced the joy of being back on a Southeast Plantation hunt for bobwhite quail. However, it was more than made up for by watching the artistry of the German Short Hair pointers and the English Cocker Spaniel flushing dogs.
But, I’ve gotten ahead of myself. So, let me start with some information about the venue, Dorchester Shooting Preserve. The brainchild of owner Chuck Gaskin, the Preserve was established in 1999. Dorchester’s ‘crown jewel‘ is the 4800 acres of prime hunting habitat. This habitat includes the aforementioned mixed-pine savannah.
Situated in coastal Georgia, it also includes beautiful Spanish Moss-covered swampland – home to ducks, whitetail deer and feral hogs.
As you will see in the accompanying video interview with Dave Massey – GM of DSP – the 10,000 square foot lodge was completed in 2008. There is also a Pro Shop providing Beretta shotguns for rent and ammunition for sale.
Likewise Dave points out that lodging at Dorchester consists of ‘cabins’ that are actually Coastal Homes owned by members who make them available for visitors to the Preserve. Below is the cabin in which I stayed during the hunt; it was nicer than my home.
Dorchester also provides guests with the opportunity to shoot on their Sporting Clays course as well as their handgun and rifle ranges. Before our hunt, I took the opportunity to warm up on the Sporting Clays course.
Given that my shooting on my hunt was not great, I should have spent more time breaking clays.
But, as nice as the facilities were, they were just appetizers for the main course.
Speaking of appetizers, I cannot fail to mention the classic Oyster Boil on our first evening at Dorchester!
Watching the Artists
My morning hunt started just after breakfast Jeff arrived in the hunting ‘wagon.’
Not only did Jeff suggest that I change boots, he added that the area I had been assigned to hunt was chock-a-block full of quail and I’d need to take plenty of shotshells.
I know what you are thinking, pure “guide-speak.” But since I ended up killing my allotted 20 quail, he was proved more than accurate. Dorchester shoots 130,000 quail per year, and almost every area of the property has an abundance of birds.
When I arrived at our destination, Jeff quickly collared the first set of three dogs that would act as our pointers, flushers and retrievers. These included a reddish/brown English Cocker Spaniel named Abby.
There were also two German Shorthaired Pointers.
I would thus experience the joy of moving into quail with six extremely well-trained dogs during my morning hunt.
There were four GSPs — Ziva, Beretta, Luke and Matt — and their flushing and retrieving Cocker comrades, Abby and Faith.
Time and time again the two Pointers would lock into that classic stance seen in paintings. Jeff would then use hand signals and the command ‘flush!’ to send in Abby or Faith.
I had to constantly remind myself of the proper stance demonstrated by Robert Ruark’s grandad in The Old Man and the Boy: “He wasn’t looking at the ground where the birds were. He was looking straight ahead of him with the gun held across his body at a 45-degree angle.”
Unfortunately, not even a great shotgunner like Ruark (or his grandad) kept me from missing more than I hit, though I managed to take out some pines along the way…
As the photos and video footage indicate, the dogs and quail were the stars of our day. It was also a thrill to be around a veteran dog handler and guide like Jeff.
Hunters are sometimes hard-pressed to explain why we are so passionate about our sport. To some it seems so much like the epitome of lust for killing animals.
That, though, is far from what we actually experience. That day’s outing was a paradigm of what we quail hunters, and hunters as a group, ‘get’ from hunting; companionship – both human and canine.
There’s the heart-pounding excitement of waiting for that small bundle of energy to explode from under our feet, the hope that the feather-covered rocket will descend from a shower of feathers, the joy of seeing the day’s catch.
And, finally, there’s the deep-seated satisfaction of providing some wonderful food for our family and friends.
Yep, I’m going to keep hunting. I hope that some of those outings will be back with the wonderful folks, and especially their canine charges, at Dorchester Shooting Preserve.
Mike Arnold writes for a number of outlets; links to other articles can be found here.
[All photos and video courtesy of Keane Phillips and Mike Arnold.]