This weekend was the annual CMC Hunt Club Quail Shoot. We've traveled all across Georgia over the past 10 to 15 years, experiencing true southern gentlemen hunting. Upland bird hunting is a passion of mine, and has been since I was a young lad.
Big Red Oak Planatation in Gay, Georgia is just about 15 minutes away from the CMC Hunt Club lodge, which makes it extremely convenient. We can make a quick trip over to shoot a round of sporting clays, or have an afternoon or morning quail hunt. Georgia quail hunting is still some of the finest around, but alas, there are precious few really wild quail left in the southeast. And it's not because the hunters have shot them all. It's a combination of reduced habitat due to farming and commercial development, plus their natural predators --- hawks, bobcats, etc. have become relatively abundant. Combine that with the attrition from animals who eat eggs or devastate their nests like raccoons, armadillos, snakes, etc. and the bobwhite quail has an uphill battle.
Thankfully, quail plantations who manage their property for quail habitat and do the prescribed forest management techniques can offer us outdoors-types a taste of southern upland hunting and a great day in the woods.
We started off the morning with a full round of sporting clays on Big Red Oak's 'recreational' course. They have 2 courses, and the 'professional' course is a bit more challenging. We thought it best to start off slow, since we really just wanted to brush up our shotgunning skills for the hunt that afternoon. Needless to say, even the recreational sporting clays course had some very humbling stations. All in all the six of us that were shooting did pretty well. Lots of fun.
Each station has two target throwers, and a description of what the shots should be like for that station. For instance, "Shoot Four 2-shot rounds at Four True Pairs" That's a total of 8 shots for that station with two birds flying at a time. You have to shoot one shot at each 'bird'. Some stations were 'Report Pairs". That means the guy who is pressing the button to send the target from each thrower would send the first target, then as soon as you shoot at that one... he presses the button to send the second target. Report means... after he hears the shot (report) of the first shell, he launches the next one.
Here's Scotty showing good form in one of the stations. You have to stand inside the 'structure' to shoot, and there's rails on each side to prevent you from swinging the barrel too far -- a safety thing.
Each station presents different challenges to the shooter. Sometimes the birds come from the side and cross in front of you. Sometimes, they launch straight up, and literally 'float' down. Sometimes there are 'rabbits' which go rolling across the field on the ground in front of you. And sometimes they simply 'appear' from the wooded areas so you have to have a really keen eye to pick them up out of the background.
Each 'round' of sporting clays involves 100 shots. Typically either 6 or 8 shots per station -- in pairs of two shots. So after a full round, you've either got yourself into 'the zone'.... or you've just got a sore shoulder. A perfect score, therefore, would be a 100... a very respectable score would be somewhere between a 50 and a 70. Over 70 and you're ready to go hunting. One of the guys in the group had a great morning, and I even got a shot with the bird busting in the sky.
And of course, part of the fun is being able to throw-down on your comrades when they miss, and praise them when they get a double.
Justin came along on this trip, and I was happy to have him as a part of the group. He fits right in, and he's been on several South Dakota pheasant trips with the gang too. As it turned out, he was a pretty good shot on sporting clays... but the real proof of the pudding was when we hit the woods and he started shooting at quail.
I did most of the picture taking... but Justin grabbed the camera from me for a couple minute and snapped off a few shots. Not my best form ever, but I still managed to hit a few targets.
If you look really hard at this picture, you can see the spent shell that's just been ejected from the shotgun.
Around noon, it was time to go to the lodge and grab a bite. They cooked up some burgers and fed us really well. Then we loaded up on the Mule and the Bad Boy Buggy we brought and headed off to the woods.
We played rock-paper-scissors to see who would be pairing up for the two days of hunting. This way, we could each see some different terrain, different dogs, and hunt with different guys each time. Worked out great. I got to hunt with Justin the last hunt of the last day --- so a great experience and treat for me.
The hunt were awesome. Each group of 2 hunters limited out in just over an hour or so. And we had the option to take a few more birds... so each group did. At the end of the first day, we had harvested around 80 birds.
Part of the fun of quail hunting for me is watching the dogs work. Well trained dogs will work in tandem to find the birds and then lock-down.... without flushing the covey ... once they pick up the scent. Their heads will be pointed in the direction of the birds, and their tails will be straight up in the air. In the tall grass, those tails were like a flag to help you see where the dog is at. Another important trait of a good bird dog is what's called -- steady to shot. In other words, one you flush the covey, the dogs stay put until they hear the shot go off. Some dogs will run after the birds as soon as they take flight, and that can present a problem if the birds don't gain a lot of altitude initially -- in that, you could shoot the dog. That takes a really smart dog, and a great trainer to get them to that point. We had some dogs who could do that, and a few that were just a bit too anxious. None got shot though.
For me, I'm thrilled to be able to walk the woods and see the dogs working. That's as much a part of the hunt as pulling the trigger. And I did not hit every bird I shot at either. But seeing the dogs lock-down on a bird, and then walking up to see the dog literally shaking with excitement and his nose about 10 inches from a hunkered-down bird is what makes it all worthwhile.
For those of you who haven't done much bird hunting, you usually work with two (sometimes three) dogs who work well as a team. They rove out in front of the hunters, heads down in the brush and grass...trying to pick up the scent of a quail. As they are ranging out in front of you, they will occassionally stop .... look around to see where the other dog is... and keep on looking....typically in a circle or figure-8 pattern. Once a dog locks down on a bird, it's partner will also lock-down and look at the other dog. So whether you see the dog that's on birds, or the dog that is 'backing' the other dog... you know where to look for the covey. It's really neat.
We had just raised a covey... and shot a bird... one setter went to retrieve the bird, and on the way back, he scented another bird that hadn't flown. So she came on point. If you look really closely, you can see the bird she had just retrieved directly below her nose, (covered with feathers) and notice that she's intently on a point for the other bird too. Now that's a good bird dog!!!
This was one of my better hunts. On day two, the group took just over 100 birds total. So we've all got plenty of birds for the grill or the deep fryer. On the last hunt, I got to hunt with Justin, and he really showed me up. He shot about 3 birds for every one I hit. And he got a couple of doubles too.
The weather was perfect -- 30's in the morning, warming up to high 60s in the afternoon. Sunny day. Good flying birds. Good dogs. Good friends.
And to top it off, I got to hunt with one of my best buddies.