Quail & clays at the Beretta Shooting Grounds by High Adventure Company
by Ralph P. StuartRain and quail hunting don’t mix. Not only do wet birds often fly poorly, but also soggy weather tends to dampen hunters’ spirits. So last December when forecasters began calling for a major storm to hit Georgia during our scheduled quail hunt, my girlfriend, Trina French, and I postponed our trip in hopes of better weather.
And, boy, we were glad we did. We ended up dodging an “event” that caused travel nightmares and dumped rain and even snow in north Georgia. By the time we touched down in Atlanta the following week, the skies had cleared, the countryside had dried out and the temperatures had warmed to seasonal. Ideal conditions to chase quail.
High Adventure Company owner John Burrell with his setter Hank; some of the grounds’ prime quail country; and Boykin spaniel Tari.
Our destination was Barnsley Resort, about an hour northwest of Atlanta in the town of Adairsville. On the drive up we joined our host, John Burrell, owner of High Adventure Company. John lives only a half-hour from the grounds, so we followed him from his home in the suburbs to the rural foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, eventually turning into the resort’s tree-lined drive.
After checking in at the gatehouse, we proceeded to our private cottage, where we deposited our bags and changed clothes before John whisked us away to the shooting grounds. He had been watching several large hogs on a trail camera and was hoping that we might get a crack at one from a nearby treestand.
A Storied Resort
Barnsley Resort, which serves as home to the Beretta Shooting Grounds by High Adventure Company, is a world-class destination offering premier accommodations, fine dining and activities for both shooters and non-shooters.
The historic Southern estate was established in the 1840s, when Godfrey Barnsley began construction of the original manor house as a gift for his wife, Julia. Tragically, Julia, a mother of six, passed away before the Italianate villa was finished, but Godfrey eventually completed the manor along with its elaborate gardens. During the Civil War, the estate suffered irreparable damage, and it remained in disrepair until 1988, when it was purchased by Prince Hubertus Fugger of Bavaria. Fugger revived and expanded the gardens, restored the manor-house ruins and opened the grounds to the public as a historic site. He then added guest cottages, restaurants, a spa and a golf course and in 1999 opened the estate as a resort. In 2004 the complex was sold to a north Georgia family, which expanded the property and built four large cottages, an inn and a hall for hosting meetings and events.
Today Barnsley Resort is comprised of 3,000 acres and offers a total of 150 guest rooms and suites. In addition to wingshooting and golf, activities include horseback riding, hiking, biking, fishing, canoeing and UTV trail riding.
For more information, visit barnsleyresort.com.
The shooting grounds are located about 10 minutes from the main resort and, since taking over management of them last year, John and his crew have made major improvements. Not only that, but they also have gotten Beretta involved, and now the Beretta Shooting Grounds by High Adventure Company has become a premier wingshooting destination.
Unfortunately, that afternoon the hogs never showed, so at dark we returned to the resort. Dinner was at the Rice House, one of Barnsley’s three restaurants, and we luxuriated in a meal that included quail appetizers, lobster bisque with eggnog whipped cream, rabbit, scallops and pork chops. Chef Evan Babb came out of the kitchen to introduce himself, and we learned that he was a hunter and forager and that he had sourced many of the ingredients himself.
After dinner over bourbon and cigars, John described his involvement with Barnsley. He confessed that, despite the resort being in his backyard, he hadn’t known much about it until he had been contacted about taking over the shooting operation. Barnsley’s general manager at the time had been aware of High Adventure’s reputation for owning and managing some of the world’s top hunting and fishing destinations, and he figured that it would be a good fit. When John saw the facilities and shooting grounds—and realized the latter’s potential—he jumped on board. He then placed a call to Beretta, which he had worked with before, with news of the gem he’d discovered. The gunmaker sent a representative to check it out, and the rest is history.
The next day after breakfast Trina and I were picked up by BJ Moore, the general manager of the shooting grounds, and driven to the hunting clubhouse. BJ is a local guide and had worked at Barnsley prior to John taking over. He gave us a quick tour of the home base, showing off the new open-air gathering area—complete with big-screen TV and a Land Rover that is being converted to a bar—as well as the new kennel, which houses about 30 dogs, including English setters, pointers, German shorthairs, English cockers and Boykin spaniels. Inside the clubhouse was a small bar, a large fireplace and a separate kitchen and dining area. There also was a gun cabinet housing some of the 40 new 20- and 28-gauge over/unders that Beretta had sent.
Trina selected a Silver Pigeon in 20-gauge while I sweet-talked John into letting me borrow his side-by-side 28-gauge Model 486 by Marc Newson. Then we loaded into the UTVs and headed afield.
The country we entered was beautiful, with rolling hills blanketed in waist-high grass and dotted with mature pines. As we drove, John, who is a certified wildlife biologist, described some of the habitat changes he had made, such as letting certain mowed areas grow up and adding and moving food plots. He said that his main focuses were creating escape cover and establishing a strong feeding program—two keys to holding birds and keeping them healthy.
All that remained in the air were feathers floating to earth.
When we stopped on a ridgetop, the first dogs on the ground were John’s setter Hank and BJ’s Boykin Tari. We loaded the guns and set off, Hank stretching his legs and Tari staying obediently close. Minutes later Hank had disappeared, and we found him locked up in tall grass on a sidehill. Trina and I got in position to either side and, at BJ’s command, Tari jumped in and filled the sky with quail. I managed one bird for two shots, but Trina’s gun remained silent.
The next covey was five minutes down the ridge, and again I shot twice and dropped one bird. After the third covey flushed without Trina firing, we asked what was going on, and she admitted to being a bit overwhelmed. Having hunted pheasants and blue grouse in the West without dogs, she found this new experience exciting but intimidating, with all of its moving parts. She prided herself on being “safety girl” and wanted to be absolutely sure before pulling the trigger.
Thankfully there were plenty of opportunities, as rarely did five minutes pass without either a covey rise or a single or pair getting up. The birds flew strong and far, with several coveys flushing en masse and scraping the top of the grass like wild birds. Trina eventually became comfortable enough to shoot, and she was able to give Tari some retrieving work.
Lunch was at the clubhouse, where Chef Evan specially prepared pan-seared steak and duck along with wild-foraged mushrooms and cornbread drizzled with sorghum. Afterward we were ready for a nap, but we mustered enough energy for a second hunt.
That afternoon we headed to another of the property’s 16 courses. This time BJ ran two of his shorthairs, Zip and Nelli, along with Tari. The shorthairs were a bit less steady than Hank had been, resulting in the humorous call of “Whoa, Nelli. Whoa, Nelli!” whenever the dogs would point. Again we found plenty of birds, and the shooting was fast and challenging.
The next morning we checked out the clay-shooting facility, which is on the opposite side of the resort from the hunting grounds. The clubhouse there was not as fancy, but it held everything a target shooter could want, including stacked boxes of new 12- and 20-gauge Berettas.
After choosing guns, we headed to the covered 5 Stand, where targets are thrown over an old bauxite-mine pit filled with water. John’s brother Drew, High Adventure Company’s director of operations, showed us the different presentations—one of which was a challenging incomer launched from the opposite bank.
The grounds have two sporting clays courses, each with 14 stations. One of the first improvements John made was to outfit the stations with Promatic traps along with Claymate wireless controllers. Also, because on any day shooters can range from rank beginners to experts, he started setting each course for a different skill level, with one always geared toward novices.
Our group headed to the end of the “easier” course and started banging away, but the combination of tricky angles and varying target speeds had several of us stymied. Fortuitously, we had been joined that day by Jeremy Simpson, who is not only one of the hunting guides but also an NSCA Level 1 shooting instructor. So when Trina began getting frustrated, he offered to take her to the 5 Stand for a tune-up.
Rarely did five minutes pass without either a covey rise or a single or pair getting up.
And it couldn’t have worked out better. By the time we made it back to the 5 Stand, Trina had had an “aha moment,” as Jeremy had diagnosed that her vision was neutral dominant and her eyes were fighting for control. Because she is left-handed, he had placed a smudge of lip balm on her right glasses lens, so that her left eye would take over. The smile on her face when she smashed the incomer from across the pond was priceless.
Hoping to keep the momentum going, we drove straight to the quail fields, where BJ put the “A-Team” of Hank and Tari on the ground. Hank hadn’t finished his first cast before he went on point. Trina strode in and set up, and on command Tari lunged into a patch of brush and sent a half-dozen quail airborn. It’s funny what a difference confidence makes. I still can see in slow motion Trina bringing the gun to her shoulder, tracking a bird, pulling the trigger and swinging through as the quail tumbled into the grass. All that remained in the air were feathers floating to earth.
Jeremy looked up and grinned. “That’s what we call Georgia snow,” he said.
“Now that’s the kind of snow I like,” I replied.
And it continued snowing for the rest of the afternoon, as Hank and then the duo of Zip and Nelli found the birds, and Tari and John’s English cocker Sid made them fly. With so many opportunities, Trina and I were able to ease into the rhythm of the hunt, and birds began falling with regularity.
Eventually the light began to wane, and no sooner had we agreed that the next point would be the last, when Zip locked up in a wooded bottom and Nelli slipped in to back. Sid was sent to roust the birds, and a dozen brown blurs buzzed out of the broomsedge. Two reports from two guns resulted in two downed quail. It was the perfect way to end our two-day hunt.
With the guns cleaned and put away, we poured drinks and settled in around the clubhouse fireplace. I complimented John and his team on all they had accomplished and thanked them for a wonderful experience. We raised our glasses to good friends, good dogs, good guns and good birds.
“And don’t forget Georgia snow,” Trina added.
Everyone drank to that.