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Sports Desk: The Thrill of the Hunt

A visitor to Southwest Georgia, and Thomas County in particular, early in the year might mistake the repetitive shotgun blasts of a gentlemanly quail hunting phalanx to be emanating from an artillery range – if he or she were provincially uninformed.

There is nothing like the Red Hills region of South Georgia and North Florida for elite quail hunters in the late fall and early winter months. “Thomasville is the wild quail hunting capital of the world,” says former Mayor Max Beverly unabashedly. He is unwavering in his view that nowhere else in the world can lay claim to that preeminence.

If you spend any time in Thomasville when it is cold outside, you will learn that the thing that emotionally stirs the natives is to swap talk about quail hunting. They mix cocktails by a sprightly fire, grill thick steaks and remind you that an outdoor setting with a bird dog on point is one of the most fulfilling scenes known to man. When Thomasville talks quail, L.L. Bean and Orvis listen.

Let’s interrupt our narrative, momentarily, for some Thomasville-flavored facts: There are about 71 plantations covering more than 300,000 acres in the Red Hills area that make up the Georgia-Florida “woodland island.”

“That contiguous acreage, managed with a commonality, enables this area to maintain a wild bird population that brings our way hunters from all over the world,” Beverly says. (Among those who have hunted in Thomas County are Duncan Sandys, great grandson of Winston Churchill. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor cavorted here, and Dick Cheney can’t wait to return. Jimmy Buffett. Peyton Manning. Golf in Augusta and quail hunting in Thomasville were the ultimate in outdoor respites for former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.)

The economic impact of the quail plantations on the Red Hills region is about $275 million annually, with the majority of that in Thomas County, Beverly says. When tourists hear about quail hunting, they also learn about the Rose Festival, the Plantation Wildlife Arts Festival and other Thomasville attractions, including shopping at Kevin’s Fine Outdoor Gear & Apparel, a rich ordeal that resonates with those who identify with the outdoors. After a walk through Kevin’s (even without making a purchase), you look better. Feel better, too.

Plantation life is spiced with the early morning cacophony of bird dogs yelping and anxious for the hunt, the aroma of bacon sizzling in a skillet and biscuits rising in the oven – you can even have fried quail for breakfast if you like. The prelude to the hunt puts you in the optimum mood – like a quarterback being “on” in warm-ups.

Then there is the hunt. The hunt. The hunt.

In my mind’s eye, I can see a guide on horseback, waving his orange cap to signal that a dog is on point. It is time to dismount the wagon, reach for the shotgun and move in the direction of the dog’s sensitive-nose-due-diligence, which has identified the quarry. Compelling marksmanship will then make one identify with the ultimate in outdoor gratification.

You anticipate an adrenalin rush as you walk quietly up to where a bird dog is still, rigidly frozen, his tail immovable and his nose identifying a bobwhite quail that is stiller than the dog, quieter than your heartbeat, but awaiting a lift-off symphony that electrifies the atmosphere.

The sudden rush you get when a covey of quail, in sync, explodes thunderously, is unmatched. It is like the intrigue of a World War II movie, when against all odds, the cunning of deft saboteurs succeeds in blowing up the enemy-held bridge. That quail scene is an enrapturing and fulfilling moment that lifts one’s spirits – to be enjoyed again and again.

The best marksmen in Thomasville refer to their string, when every time they shoot the rising quail, their aim is true. They do that day after day and wax euphorically until the string is broken. Then they start a new string. For some seasoned hunters, the string goes unbroken for years. Some might bag three quail on a covey rise, never missing in 75 or more attempts.

Perhaps, you’ve seen paintings of dog-on-point scenes. You may even have one on your wall, but the most rewarding occasion, emotionally, is to experience it live.

At the guide’s urging, the dog moves in the direction of the scent, which his nose has cogently detected. Suddenly there is a captivating explosion as a covey of quail booms up and away.

Shots ring out. Supper’s on the ground.

Makes you succumb to the view of Thom-asville partisans who incessantly proclaim hunting quail in Thomasville is the ultimate outdoor sporting exercise.

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