I don’t care what Robert Ruark said, Mr. Bob isn’t a gentleman. He’s a trickster. Flush a covey and he’ll come up pretty as you please, but that’s where his civility ceases. He’s probably schemed with his buddies to twist you into knots. One breaks right, another left, a third thinks he’s a woodcock and towers straight up, while a fourth decides to bedevil your dogs and fly down among ‘em, leaving you no safe shot. If that isn’t enough, there’s the rascal who flies straight at you and his cousins who sit tight till the dogs are off chasing singles and then jumps up giving you that sweet, easy going-away double while you fumble to reload your double gun.
It had been a while, a long while, since I chased quail. Last covey I flushed was a dozen years ago on a New Year’s Day dove hunt outside of Paris, Virginia. About a dozen sprang from a clutch of brush. So surprised were we to see a wild covey in country where they’d been long gone for a generation that we watched openmouthed and didn’t fire a shot.
Researching Classic Sporting Lodges, our forthcoming book profiling dozens of the best hunting and fishing lodges in the U.S. and Canada, I arranged to hunt quail down on Live Oak Plantation in Adel, Georgia. Located about 30 miles north of the Florida line, Live Oak devotes about 1,250 acres—roughly two square miles—to bobwhite habitat. Swaths of low grasses and tangles of vine are punctuated by knee-high fans of bright-green palmetto. Most is shaded by tall pines. On alternating years, the cover is burned to keep it low and paths are mown through it for easy walking.
Given a pair of fine pointers or Brittanies to find the birds and a loveable yellow Lab to flush ’em, I’d have no problem bagging my limit, especially after taking Gene Hill’s advice and running through a case of shells at the Biltmore Estate’s Sporting Clays Club. Wrong! Mr. Bob and his pals played their parts to perfection. I shot behind ’em mostly, and often under. It’s clear to me now that one case of 7½s does not a quail shot make.
Along with quail hunts, Live Oak offers tower shoots for pheasants. Each of ten gunners stands behind a fat bale of rolled hay arranged in a circle around the release tower. After ten birds are released, a horn sounds and shooters rotate to the next bale.
Established in the 1980s by Life of the South Insurance Co. founder N.G. Butch Houston, Live Oak became a private quail hunting preserve in the 1990s. It was acquired by present owner Jim Gresham in 2002. In addition to birds, it offers deer hunting and fishing for trophy bass in a dozen ponds. The lodge contains six bedrooms, each with a private bath. An adjacent cabin holds four bedrooms and a full kitchen.
One of the hallmarks of a classic sporting lodge is the attitude of the staff. Live Oak does Mr. Bob proud. Mrs. Kathy is an excellent cook and accommodates special diets with ease. Mrs. Mary handles reservations and special requests promptly and professionally. Mr. Max, the owner’s grandson, organizes hunting and fishing. Mr. Mickey sets out the birds and handles the dogs—well-trained setters, pointers, or Brits, as you choose. If you’re lucky, Mr. Buddy, who’s worked at Live Oak for more than a generation, just might be around to show you the plantation’s covers. They’re more than happy to welcome into the fold, which includes guests who’ve been coming back for 20 years or more.
Deer hunting was high on my agenda. Live Oak allows only 25 whitetail hunters per season, and I was fortunate that Max could squeeze me in. Alas, winter storm Grayson dumped two inches of snow on South Georgia the night before I arrived, the first time since 1989. The following cold front drove temperatures down into the 20s, with wind gusting to 15 miles per hour. Adding to my ill luck, a big full moon graced the night skies.
C’est la vie. I’m going back in November, armed with my .257 Roberts, 16-gauge Parker, and eight-weight bamboo flyrod and a box of bass bugs. Come join me.
For more information on Live Oak Plantation, check out huntliveoak.com.