Gates Shaw began work on Brierfield Farm, his family’s eight hundred acres in Bibb County, Alabama, in 1993. Back then the land was mainly cattle pasture, but Shaw, a passionate quail hunter, had big plans for it. The first thing the retired pastor did was eradicate the grazing grasses and encourage the natural seedbed to become established again. Before long ragweed, partridge pea, buffalo grass, and blackberry patches were running wild. When it comes to quail, Shaw says, “you want it messy. Not neat.” He also fostered the growth of scrub and water oaks, which provide smaller acorns for the birds to eat, and began prescribed burns to replenish the landscape. Slowly the cattle land reverted to what nature had intended. “What’s there is what God put there,” Shaw says. “We just gave it sunlight.”
These days Shaw is at Brierfield at least three times a week, often running his bird dogs and hosting bird-hunting friends. One Saturday last December, Radcliff Menge, the owner of the sporting apparel company Tom Beckbe; writer and Garden & Gun contributor Charles Gaines; chef Chris Hastings of Birmingham’s Hot & Hot Fish Club; and photographer William Hereford were greeted by a welcome cold spell and treated to splendid dog work and plenty of adroit coveys. They ended the day at a small cabin on the property, where Hastings basted a rack of lamb in his prized duck fat. Not surprisingly, Menge calls it the “most perfect day ever.”
From the looks of it, we would hardly disagree.