On September 27, anyone with an internet connection can have a crack at bidding on some of the most sought-after hunting opportunities in the country. The 23rd Annual Kate Ireland Auction includes hunts on Red Hills quail retreats, locations that are famously private and fabulously rich in wild quail. You’ll also find sporting art, a golfing and tarpon getaway at Boca Grande, guided turkey hunts, expert-led birding and herping trips in the Red Hills region, and more. But the headliner is undoubtedly a quail gun like no other.
The auction is a fundraiser for Tall Timbers Research Station, the north-Florida-based scientific think tank and sprawling pinewoods laboratory that leads the country in research on wild bobwhite quail and fire-adapted landscapes of the South. It honors the late Kate Ireland, an early adopter and longtime champion of the organization’s work and the conservation of the Red Hills landscape. And while typically part of a gala dinner, this year’s auction will be a virtual affair.
As for the gun, a custom-stocked, hand-engraved Beretta SL3, it’s an international design collaboration headed by Tall Timbers CEO William Palmer; Rich Cole, of Cole Fine Guns & Gunsmithing in Naples, Florida; and Vic Venters, senior editor for Shooting Sportsman magazine. Coming out of Beretta’s Premium Division in Gardone, Italy, the SL3 is built with components manufactured in the Beretta factory, then custom assembled, hand-fit, and finished in the famed Beretta Due custom shop. For the Tall Timbers gun, the third in a series of one-of-a-kind shotguns produced for the organization, the action on the 20-gauge over-under has been embellished with both floral scroll and a hand-engraved bobwhite scene based on artwork by noted sporting artist C.D. Clarke. The walnut stock, you may notice, is left unfinished. That’s because the winning bidder not only gets the gun, but also a private fitting by Cole as well as Clarke’s framed original art. And the psychic reward of helping Tall Timbers in its work to conserve and restore signature landscapes of the Southeast.
Tall Timbers has evolved from a largely private-lands initiative in the Red Hills region to a major research facility leading efforts to manage for wild quail and native-centric landscapes in the South and beyond. “How we manage fire on landscapes across the country will have a lot to do with whether or not we have elk, or wild quail, or even certain butterfly species,” Palmer says. “And folks from the South have a lot to teach others—and many of their Southern neighbors—about how to live with the positive wildlife benefits of fire.”
Along with supporting campaigns to educate about the benefits of prescribed fire, funds raised from the auction will support the construction of a new fire training center and help Tall Timbers in its ongoing efforts to benefit wild quail on public lands. Already the organization has played a role in translocating wild quail to public lands in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and elsewhere.
“Miss Kate was instrumental in resurrecting Tall Timbers in the 1980s and 1990s from a very small organization to one that is nearly nationwide in scope,” Palmer says. “She was an unforgettable character, and we treasure the opportunity each year to remember her passionate energy for conservation.”
I met Kate Ireland only once. She was 80 at the time and cussing mad that a bum knee was keeping her out of the quail woods. She’d shot a wild turkey while hunting with a broken arm in a cast, she told me over a lunch plate of stewed oysters, and couldn’t believe she was old enough to let a creaky joint deep-six a bird hunt. Ireland’s intrepid pluck was famous throughout the Red Hills of north Florida and south Georgia, and whoever winds up owning the Beretta Tall Timbers gun will be swinging it with a bit of her inimitable spirit.
Follow T. Edward Nickens on Instagram @enickens