Dream Trips for the Southern Sportsman

by Kirk Deeter, Irwin Greenstein, T. Edward Nickens, Jed Portman and JR Sullivan - December/January 2017

From chasing Gentleman Bob to bushwhacking for brookies

Upland

Joshua Creek Ranch
Boerne, TX
Who says you have to leave the South to shoot pheasant? The 1,300-acre swath of Texas Hill Country that’s home to Joshua Creek Ranch remains as unspoiled and rugged as when it was settled in the mid-1800s, with one change for the better. The ranch cultivates its pastures to nurture pheasant numbers more typical of Mid-western prairies, as well as hard-flying, free-roaming quail in quantities that hark back to when bobwhites still reigned supreme. Joshua Creek’s mixed-bag hunt offers a sampling of each, with chukars mixed in for good measure. Back at the lodge, chef Michael Davis knows his game, serving meals of venison and fowl shot on-site. A variety of houses on the property offer sweeping views of the surrounding country (the Covey Haus and the Porch Haus are favorites) and blissful pastoral seclusion. joshuacreek.com

Brook Trout

Blackberry Farm
Walland, TN

Anglers do not venture into the Smoky Mountains to catch big fish; they go seeking beautiful fish—chiefly, the Southern Appalachian brook trout, the South’s sole native freshwater salmonid. But what brookies lack in heft, they make up for in chase. They haunt crisp mountain streams that have never known a drift boat or a day of combat fishing, and they are notoriously suspicious, spooking at the first poorly unfurled cast. Given the scenery and the challenge, hooking one of these gems is as near to transcendence as you can get while gripping a fly rod. Should you make a pilgrimage to pursue the luminous fighters, you can’t do better for lodging than Blackberry Farm. Lauded for its cuisine, meticulous service, and spa, the plush resort sits on 4,200 acres in the foothills of the Smokies and offers guided brookie excursions, so after a day of stalking the creeks, you can unwind in style.
blackberryfarm.com

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Prospecting for brook trout in the Smoky Mountains near Blackberry Farm. beall +thomas photography


Dove

Prairie Wildlife
West Point, MS
The opening day of dove season is its own quasi-holiday throughout the South, and there may be no finer place to celebrate it than in the Black Belt of Alabama and Mississippi. The three-hundred-mile-wide stretch of rich, fertile prairie provides prime habitat for doves (not to mention deer, quail, and turkeys), and the sheer number that swarm its fields would prove hard to top without heading to Argentina. As agricultural pressures increase across the region, Prairie Wildlife, a 6,000-acre conservation-focused estate, is working to ensure that the Black Belt remains a viable home for doves and other wildlife. The preserve plants native grasses and aggressively manages hedgerows, and also maintains ten fields of corn and sunflowers. The outcome is that each opening day, most dove hunters shoot their limits well before noon. But then again, why rush? prairiewildlife.com

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Two English setters on point at Otter Creek Farm. (Photo by Robb Aaron Gordon)

Quail

I. Otter Creek Farm
Ohatchee, AL

A fine cigar room and wine selection, five-stand sporting clays, a five-hundred-yard rifle range, three trophy bass lakes, and a lodge with an infinity pool and a walk-in fire pit. It would almost be enough to make you forget about the quail hunting on this brand-new spread in the Alabama foothills, set to open this season. But within Otter Creek’s 4,500-acre landscape are also 1,500 acres of warm-season quail grasses. A 2011 tornado center-punched the farm, opening up the bird cover, and when you’re there, it’s all yours. The lodge will host one private group at a time. highadventurecompany.com 

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Inside the lodge at Otter Creek Farm. (Photo by Robb Aaron Gordon)

II. Sinkola Plantation
Thomasville, GA

In the bobwhite capital of Thomasville, wild quail hunts are typically by invitation only at private plantations, which is what makes a trip to Sinkola that much more special. By horseback and mule-drawn wagon, guests track elusive wild coveys hardwired with territorial savvy and explosive speed. The man behind all of this is Gates Kirkham, a preservationist at heart and a descendant of the Hanna family, quail plantation pioneers since the late 1890s. Neal Carter, Jr., his lead dog trainer, has been there more than forty years. The lodge is a throwback, too, built in 1943 and awash in old-growth pine. Half-day, full-day, and two-day hunts are available, but because of its distinctive character, bookings are limited to only a dozen or so small-group hunts per season. It’s the next best thing to owning your own Red Hills spread. sinkola.com

III. The Webb Farm
Ellerbe, NC

You can’t turn back time, but on the Webb Farm in the North Carolina Sandhills, you can chase it through rolling pines and wire grass, pin it down with a fine bird dog, and cover it up with the bead of a double gun. Local attorney Bill Webb has turned his boyhood home into a 1,200-acre showplace for quail surrogation techniques that help bridge the gap between wild and pen-raised birds. You’ll course the farm in UTVs, but there’s plenty of footwork required to get to the English pointers. And Webb’s use of hard-flushing Irish Labrador retrievers sends the quail clawing for daylight. There are half-day and full-day packages, but you’ll kick yourself if you don’t book an overnight. The lodge was built to replicate a nineteenth century farm home—but with upscale appointments that would impress even the wealthy Northern industrialists who once flocked to North Carolina’s famed quail country. thewebbfarm.com

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Photo courtesy of the Webb Farm


False Albacore

Cape Lookout Charters
Morehead City, NC

It may be the most frantic five seconds in fly fishing: When a school of false albacore crashes bait on the ocean surface, anglers hurl flies into the leading edge of the melee without a moment to lose. The fish will slash a glass minnow fly with blistering speed, and once you hook up on an albie, the real fun begins. A fifteen-pounder can clean a fly reel to the bare spool in thirty seconds. Even a cookie-cutter eight-pound false albacore will make your shoulders scream. There’s nowhere better to meet the onslaught than the waters of Cape Lookout, where guides can reach the cape, the open Atlantic, miles of shallow shoals, two inlets, and protected inshore waters, all within a twenty-minute boat ride. Local guide Captain Dave Dietzler is on the water daily during the October­ to December blitz, dialing in on the fish’s quick-changing feeding preferences. capelookoutcharters.com

Woodcock

SDW Outfitters
Monterey, LA

Woodcocks are flying corkscrews—funky, long-billed, migrating game birds that hold tight until they spring from the swamp bottom to spiral through overhead thickets. Louisiana guide Billy Sutton has spent forty years chasing the so-called bogsuckers, and he’s one of the few guides in the South who specialize in pinning down woodcocks in the wetland tangles they love. His brand-new lodge sits at the head of the Atchafalaya Basin, where he and his muscular English pointers have access to some 100,000 acres of state wildlife management areas and private land. It’s a bit like highbrow quail hunting meets the WWE: Hunters wade through shin-deep sloughs and briars, carrying side-by-sides or over-and-unders. The daily bag limit is three, but it’s not uncommon to put up seventy-five birds a day, after which you’ll be begging for second helpings of homemade crawfish étouffée and seafood gumbo back at the lodge. sdwoutfitters.net

Trout

Chetola Resort
Blowing Rock, NC

When the conversation turns to North Carolina trout, most folks think of hand-sized wild browns and brookies and rainbows that might push fourteen inches. But most folks haven’t fished the managed trout waters of Chetola Resort, a Blue Ridge escape in Blowing Rock. With private access to catch-and-release stretches of three mountain streams, Chetola puts clients on the fish of their dreams day after day. And forget about dawn patrols to beat other anglers to the stream. You and a guide will have your own water locked up. When you’ve had your fill of chasing fish that would make a Montana angler envious, you can try out the new clays course, unwind at the spa, or explore the arts district of the charming mountain town. chetola.com

Osceola Turkey

Storey Hunts
Okeechobee, FL
Florida’s swamp gobblers are the Next Big Thing in the hunting world, but going head to head with an Osceola thunder chicken has its own set of challenges. This subspecies of wild turkey is call-shy and warier than your average bird. And its limited distribution—mostly from Orlando south—puts a premium on private land hunting. Outfitter Brandon Storey has assembled 30,000 acres of prime Florida ranches, all of them managed and fine-tuned for Osceolas. Storey’s landscape-scale territory allows his guides to bounce from ranch to ranch, keying in on unpressured birds. Hunters can choose semiguided hunts in which they do their own calling, or fully guided hunts. Either way, Storey puts an emphasis on instilling confidence. Exhaustive preseason scouting and an extensive trail camera network enable him to walk you through a day in the life of a chosen hunting region before the sun rises. storeyhunts.com

Bonefish

Bair's Lodge
South Andros, Bahamas

Bonefish destinations often fall into two categories—places where you get plenty of chances but the fish tend to be smaller, and places where you can hook a giant but that might be your only fish of the day. Andros, particularly South Andros, is one of the world’s best bets for having it both ways. The seasoned guides at Bair’s Lodge can tuck you inside one of the island’s many creeks, or get you to a vast, unspoiled flat, and spot a silver ghost at unthinkable ranges, giving even a novice caster a good shot at a legitimate double-digit-pound fish. It’s worth it to make the long ride to the fabled west-side flats, where the biggest of bones will test your skill. When you get back to the plantation-style lodge right on the white sand beach, you’ll swear an icy Kalik and a plate of cracked conch could not possibly taste better. bairslodge.com

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Releasing a bonefish at Blair's Lodge. (Photo by Brian Grossenbacher)

Largemouth Bass 

Living Waters-Fly Fishing
Round Rock, TX

Though it’s not exactly a secret, fly fishing for bass in the limestone creeks of the Texas Hill Country is still underappreciated for both the consistency of the action and the gorgeous scenery. And if you think you’re a good hatch matcher, the ultimate test may be on Brushy Creek, where the bass key on different bugs seemingly minute by minute. Marcus Rodriguez is a homegrown guide who has spent decades learning the fickle whims of these waters. He can float you to where the Llano River flows gin-clear over granite rocks and sand and through shady groves of pecan trees, setting up sight shots with poppers and dry flies at feisty largemouths. Or try your hand at landing a rare Guadalupe bass on its namesake river. Set your compass for Round Rock and base out of a hotel or a bed-and-breakfast, fish all day, then take in as much of the Hill Country food and music scene as you can. livingwatersflyfishing.com

Redfish

Louisiana Fly Fishing Charters
Saint Bernard, LA

You can sight-fish for tarpon on the flats (or trout in the mountains) your whole life, but when you see the southern Louisiana marsh come alive with finning and tailing bull redfish on the feed, you’ll never be the same. Of course, things have to line up just so—the right tides, good weather, light winds—but when it all comes together, pulling on thirty-pounders in the marsh is as heart-pounding as it gets. There are many great guides in this area, and they all have their chosen beats. The guides at Louisiana Fly Fishing Charters fish some of the best flats out of Hopedale, an hour or so from the heart of the Big Easy. Stay in New Orleans, and rendezvous in the morning for shrimp and grits at Penny’s Cafe in nearby Violet. Fair warning: Trips can book up more than a year in advance during the peak fall months. But plenty of big fish get caught year round. louisianaflyfishingcharters.com

Sporting Clays

Primland
Meadows of Dan, VA

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more scenic or challenging sporting clays course than at the mountaintop Primland resort. The fourteen stations nestle seamlessly into the varied terrain through the ingenuity of Primland’s outdoor honcho, Carl McDaniel, who holds a Level II instructional rating from the National Sporting Clays Association. Station markers range from stacked firewood overlooking a ravine to bales of hay in a field to an old wagon wheel under a sprawling oak, and as you make your way through, you’ll pass, deep in the forest, a cemetery and dilapidated moonshine stills. The shotgunning program also includes driven and walk-up pheasant hunts and spring turkey hunts, and apart from the terrestrial beauty of the resort’s 12,000 acres, three tree-house cabins raise you up into the canopy, while an on-site domed observatory brings the stunning Blue Ridge night sky even closer. primland.com

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Happy hunters. (Photo by Terry Allen)

Waterfowl

Tallahatchie Hunts
Webb, MS

Three northern Mississippi rivers converge here, forming an aquatic world of backwater sloughs, timber holes, rice fields, and cypress-tupelo brakes at the bottom of a virtual bottleneck in the Mississippi Flyway. Consistent duck hunting is one thing that separates Tallahatchie Hunts from many Southern waterfowling enterprises. Worry-free outfitting is another. Instead of DIY bunking at whatever mom-and-pop you can find, you’ll overnight in one of four homes scattered around the outfitter’s family farm. Before dawn you’ll fuel up on sweet rolls and coffee at the main house, and return for a full Southern breakfast. Tallahatchie has access to more than seventy-five duck holes across 8,000 acres, so plan on hunkering down and coming face-to-feet with mallards, pintails, and wigeon in their winter prime. tallahatchiehunts.com

Tarpon

Bahia Honda Sporting Club
Lower Keys, FL

During the peak of the tarpon migrations through the Florida Keys, it’s not uncommon to see thousands of silver kings in a single day. Getting one to eat your fly or lure is a different trick. Twenty years ago, Bahia Honda Sporting Club owner and guide Gordon Baggett invented what is considered perhaps the most effective tarpon fly ever (the “stiff worm”), and his full-service fishing lodge in the Keys is open only during peak tarpon season, mid-April through June. While a growing number of guests are bringing nonfishing spouses to this inviting Mediterranean-style villa, it’s still a place where tarpon junkies hunt down their silver fix. And since the club generally accommodates only around ten fishermen at a time, it’s an agenda-free experience: Get up when you want, fish when you want, as long and hard as you want. bahiahondaclub.com

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A Bahamian refresher. (Photo by Brian Grossenbacher)

School Days

I. Florida Keys Fishing School
Islamorada, FL
There are fly-fishing instructors and then there are titans like Steve Huff and Chico Fernandez, two of the illustrious fishermen who often teach at the Florida Keys Fly Fishing School in Islamorada. Five times a year, a crack team of seasoned guides and veteran instructors spend two detailed days teaching twenty-some students the art, beginning with the necessary equipment and continuing into fly selection, knot tying, and, of course, casting. There’s a reason this school has been around for twenty-seven years: In the glittering Florida Keys, it’s like rock-and-roll fantasy camp with counselors Keith Richards and Paul McCartney. floridakeysoutfitters.com

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Hooked up at Blair's. (Photo by Grossenbacher)

II. Pursell Farms Wingshooting School
Sylacauga, AL
The Orvis Shooting Grounds at Pursell Farms opened this fall, bringing a world-class instructional program to this top-notch Southern plantation resort. Steeped in the classic English Churchill method of instinctive shooting, the Wingshooting School covers upland, waterfowl, and sporting clays techniques. There’s hardly a classier classroom in the South. More than 3,000 acres of rolling plantation ground are clad in pines, oaks, and native grasses, with amenities ranging from a twelve-station clays course to luxe cottages and a 14,000-square-foot Alabama stone lodge. The shooting schools are scheduled for both one- and two-day dates, all of which include a professional shotgun-fitting session. pursellfarms.com


III. George Hi Plantation/Wildrose Kennels Gundog Trainer
Garland, NC
This 1,000-acre estate in North Carolina’s rolling pinelands has garnered acclaim for its restoration of classic quail habitat, but waterfowlers and retriever fans also flock here each spring to take advantage of the plantation’s collaboration with Wildrose Kennels. Considered among the world’s finest kennels and training protocols for sporting retrievers, Wildrose schedules a pair of two-day training sessions for beginner and seasoned dogs at George Hi. Bring your own retriever for intensive instruction and training in an immersive learning environment that will jump-start your canine’s sporting career. georgehi.com

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Nose to the air at George Hi Plantation. (Photo by Andrew Kornylak)


Beyond the South

Trout
Spotted Bear Ranch
Whitefish, MT

Fly fishing on the South Fork of the Flathead River in Montana is a bucket-list experience. It’s one of the only places left in the Lower 48 that demonstrate just how fat and predatory trout can become when they don’t see many people. Situated between Glacier National Park and the sprawling Bob Marshall Wilderness, Spotted Bear Ranch lets you have at it at your own pace. Adventurers can opt for a wilderness excursion on horseback that will take them days from the nearest road, while more measured sorts can tap the action by day, and retreat to a rocking chair on the porch at one of the lodge’s cabins every evening with a good book and a glass of wine. Come morning, do not pass up the huckleberry pancakes. spottedbear.com

Upland
Highland Hills Ranch
The Dalles, OR

The dramatically lit rough-hewn timbers of the grand lodge at Highland Hills Ranch glow like a jack-o’-lantern in the dusk of Oregon’s high desert—a beacon to bird hunters everywhere, especially those after an upland grand slam. Come morning, guests pile into 4x4s, traversing rivers and hills in pursuit of chukars, Hungarian partridge, pheasant, and valley quail in a single day. Top-notch guides and their eager dogs walk you across a rolling terrain of grasses and scrub, where you’ll shoot uphill, downhill, and across expansive fields. The quarry is wily and acrobatic, so good luck with that grand slam. The day’s hunt concludes with a bone-warming bonfire, spirits, and cigars before it’s back to the lodge for dinner and maybe just one more round by the blazing great-room fireplace. highlandhillsranch.com

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Highland Hills Ranch. (Photo by Terry Allen)

Dove
Guayascate
Córdoba, Argentina

In the Córdoba province of Argentina, to say the birds darken the sky is no exaggeration. Here, voracious doves propagate like crazy and devastate crops, so there are no bag limits. A boutique ten-room lodge, Guayascate offers access to 1,550 acres of prime Córdoba roosting ground. After a morning of all the shooting you can handle, lunch consists of a deluxe outdoor spread, complete with linen napkins and crystal. And since the birds fly throughout the day, there’s more of the same until dinner back in the elegant dining room. Córdoba fare typically consists of the renowned local beef, game birds, and plenty of Argentina Malbec, but of course, you come for the millions of doves. The only hindrances are your shoulder and the ammo bill. guayascate.com

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Pheasant
R&R Pheasant Hunting
Seneca, South Dakota

Seems like everybody and their brother is a pheasant guide in South Dakota, so it’s all too easy to wind up on a hardscrabble farm with a lousy dog and a “lodge” dinner straight off a hot plate. Not so at R&R Pheasant Hunting. Sal Roseland is a fifth-generation farmer who runs a first-rate family operation across 18,000 acres of rolling cropland, native grass pasture, shelterbelts, and wildlife plantings. Each year nearly ten square miles of prime farmland are set aside for wild pheasant hunting. You’ll push long fields of cut and standing corn, flushing retrievers coursing in front of you, as staggering numbers of wild roosters rocket from the fields. r-rpheasanthunting.com

Waterfowl
Hooray Ranch
Kingman, Kansas 

How could Hooray Ranch not be the hottest ticket in waterfowling these days? Buy or lease more 
than 20,000 acres of top-shelf duck ground in the Central Flyway—flooded timber, agricultural
fields, open  water, and marsh—and intensively manage it. Build four tricked-out lodges. Line up
every means of transport imaginable, from ATVs to Gators to eight-wheeled Argos. Scatter a
hundred deluxe blinds across the property, and then never allow more than two parties of duck
hunters a day on the entire spread. That kind of minimum pressure maxes out what is already a waterfowler’s paradise. hoorayranch.com

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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