Peter Brookes: Georgia snow on a bobwhite hunt
“It’s snowing,” he said.
I mumbled, “What?,” looking down to blow away the rising smoke from my 20-gauge over and under, pocketing the empties and reaching for two more bright yellow shells of 7 shot.
“Georgia snow,” Mike, my guide that day, smiled, drawing out the words long and slow with a strong sense of southern satisfaction — like he really enjoyed saying it.
I was still confused since it was March in Georgia — or “Joe-jah” as the locals say — and the temperature was hovering at about 60 degrees that morning at Big Red Oak Plantation [www.bigredoakplantation.com].
Mike, a strapping guy, pointed to a fluffy cloud of tiny white and brown feathers floating slowly to the ground at about the spot I’d just shot at a bobwhite quail.
I chuckled, finally making the connection between the “snow” and the falling feathers.
I offered up that considering we were in the Deep South, it’s probably the only type of snow locals like — especially considering the tough winter that just blew through.
“Big Mike” wholeheartedly agreed as the German shorthaired pointers retrieved the bird from a patch of tall grass under the long leaf pines — the sort of habitat you’d expect for a bobwhite hunt in Georgia.
And even though it was late season, we pushed a number of small coveys which surprised — and delighted — me, especially when I was able to take a “double” during one flush — my first on quail.
Mike praised my shooting to which I responded: “It’s better to be lucky than good.” Isn’t that the truth?
I asked Mike if any of the coveys were wild. He said that while the Big Red Oak operation often has a number of wild coveys at the beginning of the season, the coveys we pushed that morning probably weren’t.
He explained that the coveys we’d busted up that day could’ve been made up of any number of hold-over wild, early-season stocked and or that day’s released birds.
Basically, quail like to covey up — no matter when they arrived in the woods. A covey provides companionship, security from predators and even warmth to the birds.
The release practices at Big Red Oak actually encourage bobwhites to get together.
They don’t swing the birds around in a bag to make them dizzy so they hold in place under a bush or in a patch of grass until the hunters take the field.
Rather, the bobwhites are allowed to walk out of their cages into the field well in advance of a hunt. Once out, they may head off on their own to be hunted up as single–or, even better, decide to covey up with some other birds.
This means the guide doesn’t really know where the birds have wandered off to, instead relying on the good work of some birdy pointers.
Plus, it’s a pleasant change from walking a point-to-point with a guide who knows where the birds are.
In fact, since so many birds are put out at Big Red Oak–some 25,000-30,000 bobwhite per year–you never really know which type of quail (e.g., wild, early-release, etc.) you’re swinging that scattergun on, especially since so many of the bobwhites were hard flyers.
Another benefit is that you never feel like that if one of the birds gets away from you and rockets off to another zip code, you’ve just clicked down the number of quail allocated to your hunt.
In fact, there’s a lot more quail in the field than the number in your hunting package–not to mention the birds you meet wandering around on the driveway, outside the office/pro shop and so on.
Let’s just say: The place is thick in quail.
Another great thing about Big Red Oak is that after walking the fields in search of “Mr. Bob” all morning, you can expect an awesome lunch to quiet your tummy rumblings.
I’m talking memorable southern cooking, including fried chicken, biscuits, sweet tea, black-eyed peas, and candied tomato relish, a condiment that some of my fellow diners put on everything.
It’s hard to push yourself away from the table for the field after tuckering into such a meal, but don’t miss out on another chance to swing your double gun on some quick quail — a southern treat as sweet as a Georgia peach.
Dr. Peter Brookes, a Fort Valley resident, scribbles on his outdoor adventures here whenever he can. Email: Brookesoutdoors@gmail.com