Behind the Scenes with Rio Piedra Plantation

Shooting Sportsman Magazine Endorsed Lodge Rio Piedra Plantation

To help the wingshooting community better familiarize itself with our new Endorsed Lodge Program, Shooting Sportsman is presenting a series of interviews with representatives from the enrolled lodges. First up is a chat with Beth and Sam Atchison, the husband-and-wife management team at Rio Piedra Plantation, in Albany, Georgia.

SSM: How long have you been at Rio Piedra, and what compelled you to get involved with the lodge?

Sam Atchison: My parents, Annie and Bill, first opened the doors of Rio Piedra 20 years ago. Their vision was to offer a traditional Southern quail hunt combined with upscale lodging and 5-star cuisine. Their many accolades and loyal guests are testament to their success in that vision. In 2018 Beth and I decided to leave the corporate world to help continue the experiences and traditions our parents have created.
SSM: Describe a typical day of hunting at Rio Piedra.

Beth Atchison: Lots of time on the ground! Your guide will pick you up after breakfast at 8:45 to begin your quail hunt. You return at noon for lunch at the lodge—on our beautiful deck by the river, weather permitting—followed by plenty of time to relax before the afternoon hunt at 2. When you return from the field around 5, you will be greeted with a plentiful spread of hors d’oeuvres and an open, self-service bar. Dinner is seated at 7, and most of our guests look forward to relaxing by one of our many fireplaces as a perfect end to their day.

SSM: What aspects of your operation seem to impress guests the most?

BA: The quality of the hunting. It’s real hunting. Wingshooters often think of the 1950s and ’60s as the heyday for bobwhite quail, but it was not. Today is. Conservation efforts over the past couple of decades have brought the birds back in the strip of land between Albany, Georgia, and Tallahassee—aka “the plantation belt.” The birds move back and forth daily between the mostly private plantations in our area, and ours is the only one that is open to traveling wingshooters. The hunting here is like it was 50 to 100 years ago. Our dining and overall ambiance generate a lot of praise from our guests as well.

SSM: Speaking of dining, what is your favorite item on the dinner menu?

SA: Our favorite is Chef Dirk Flachsmeier’s Grouper Imperial: a filet of grouper perfectly sautéed, topped with crabmeat and served over fettuccine with a creamy beurre blanc sauce and capers. The traditional surf and turf—a filet mignon accompanied by a lobster tail—rates highly as well. We obviously love the quail too! Chef Dirk offers new presentations each season. Last season he introduced smoked quail breasts in a mushroom cream sauce over German spaetzle—which was a great example of why our guests consistently compare our food to that of fine-dining establishments.

SSM: What part of the job do you find the most gratifying?

BA: Annie and Bill have always told us that the hunters are not merely their guests but their friends. In the past year we have had the privilege of making a lot of new friends. When you come back, we don’t say, “Welcome back”; we say, “Welcome home!” The reason is simple: The relationships are what it’s all about, and we are honored that our guests return year after year, bringing back their clients, families and friends.

SSM: Finally, what has you most excited about the coming season?

SA: The “off-season” is always a flurry of activity for us, and this year is no different. As you may have heard, we had a little storm by the name of Hurricane Michael visit us last October. While we fared much better than most plantations in the region, we still had more than a little cleanup work. We are happy to report that work is almost complete, and the woods and wildlife are responding very well. Even though our structures were essentially unscathed by the storm, we are using this time to update our lodge and cabins. We’re looking forward to debuting these improvements this fall and once again sharing the pristine, Southern-pine-savannah look that epitomizes Deep South quail hunting.

Find out more about Rio Piedra Plantation as a Shooting Sportsman Endorsed Lodge

Photos courtesy of Brian Grossenbacher and Mike Altizer

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