It’s a classic song of the South: the jangling of the mules, the creaking of the wooden wagon, the clomping of hooves in soft earth. It’s a lullaby of sorts that soothes the soul—and transports listeners back to simpler times. Welcome interruptions come from the huntmaster with calls of “Point!” followed by the sounds of hunters dismounting, gathering guns and positioning themselves behind staunch dogs. The hunters respond as the percussion section, trying to pull quail from fleeing coveys, and then the retrieving dog comes bounding from the wagon like the cavalry to assist the huntmaster in finding downed birds.
The tune is one that plays over and over at South Georgia’s Pine Hill Plantation. And to rave reviews. After all, there a few places where hunters can enjoy bobwhite hunting exclusively from horseback and mule-drawn wagon. It is an experience that rings of tradition and authenticity and gives hunters a taste of how things were during the Golden Age of Southern Quail Hunting.
Pine Hill owner Doug Coe describes the hunting as being borne of nostalgia. “A lot of quail hunting history relates to wealthy Northern industrialists discovering South Georgia and finding the region a welcome escape from harsh winters. They had their own private plantations, private house staffs and personal cooks, and they hunted from horseback and mule-drawn wagon. Today it is the dream of every quail hunter to live like those industrialists—and we offer a similar experience, from the horses and wagons to private lodges with private house staffs to chefs that come to the house and prepare meals. Our mission is to replicate the feel of a private plantation—to take guests back to the way things were.”
Pine Hill provides the experience in style—on more than 6,000 acres of longleaf pine forest and wiregrass understory. The meticulously managed cover is true to habitat that has produced birds here for 200 years, and it shows in coveys of 15 to 20 quail that blow out in jaw-dropping flushes.
Coe relates that guests appreciate the authenticity of the habitat and that this is real hunting. “This is not a commercial operation where the birds are put out and taken the same day. We begin with wild birds and use the same management practices that many of the private plantations do. When we head into the field, we don’t know where the birds are going to be. The dogs have to find them. And when a covey of 20 gets up all at once, it adds another level of excitement. It’s a lot more challenging to pick birds out of a large covey than it is to take two from a rise of three.”
That this is not run-and-gun hunting is what appeals to many. The relaxing, methodical pace allows time to admire the Red Hills scenery and the dogwork and to enjoy pleasant conversation in the comfort of padded seats and saddles.
Of course, horses and wagons can cover a lot of ground, which necessitates having plenty of land as well as ample resources. A hunting party of four horses, a wagon drawn by two mules, a dozen pointing dogs, a flushing-retrieving dog, a huntmaster, a dog handler and a wagon driver represent a major investment. But it is more than worth it to those who appreciate the romance of the way things were—and the best of what quail hunting can be today.