The Bobwhite Chariot

Mule drawn or propelled by horsepower, the bird buggy is a regular fixture on most quail hunts in the Deep South.

Quests watch a trio of quail hunters from a traditional mule-drawn wagon at Brays Island Plantation in South Carolina.

 

From the new 2016 Sporting Lifestyle issue of Sporting Classics.

 

The pines smelled delicious in the warm wind that blew softly across the field. It only took one whiff to convince me that ‘tallstrunt,’ a Swedish tea brewed from young, green needles, would probably taste delicious. The folks local to the South Georgia plantation told me they could easily differentiate between the aromas of the longleaf, shortleaf, loblolly, spruce, and slash — and I believed them. I can tell if striped bass or bluefish are in the ocean waters of my New England home. It’s simple. Land a fish, rub your hand along its sides, and close your eyes. Place your hand below your nose, and inhale deeply a few times. You’ll recognize the aroma when schools of fish run the beaches just as you know when your neighbor grills steak and not chicken. It’s probably that way with the five pines, too.

Growing in between softwoods were fields of wire, love, Johnson, and switchgrasses. Long strands of Spanish moss dripped from the limbs of the cypress and tupelo that rimmed the field edges. Quail whistles of call and response resonated from points near and far, and a peaceful serenity filled the air.

Aromatherapy was part of the reason for my visit, but it was more of the kind associated with the opening of a double gun after both barrels have been fired. My home seasons for grouse and woodcock were closed; there were no aspen stands or alder runs for me to navigate, so I packed my bag and headed for South Georgia. Down here I would not risk pinging the barrels of my Parker against a dense stand of white birch during a follow-through on a grouse. I didn’t worry about scratching the barrel brown or the stock as I slithered under a 100-year-old rusted string of barbed wire.

Instead, I hunted like a gentleman. I sat in a cushioned captain’s chair with armrests that reminded me of the kind bolted to the deck of a speedboat. Four of these were perfectly spaced on the top deck of the customized bird buggy, and they proffered me with an unparalleled view.

The buggy was built on a Suburban frame with a Chevy 350 block. A safety cage of stout black steel circled the top floor and was so strong it could stop a hockey player crashing into the boards. A cooler filled with water, cokes, and juice sat behind my chair; there was a reservoir of water poured from a spigot into dog bowls, and enough dog boxes to house a dozen pointers. A padded bench seat positioned on the mezzanine level accommodated hunters unwilling to climb to the Skybox, and shotguns of all makes and values were stored in velvet-lined racks housed in a covered compartment adjacent to the hood.

The handlers rode out front on walking horses, and two braces of pointers and setters cut up the fields. Every now and then they’d yell “Dixie!,” “Sugar!,” “Bo!,” or “Bubba!”A series of well-orchestrated plays unfolded, and from my vantage point I watched the snappy dogs run the edges with the all-business precision typical of their CH field trial lineages.

As a setter man, I pulled for Professor Long Hair. One locked up ahead of the pointer, a fact I happily noted to my pointer-myopic friends. Willie, the driver, saw it too, and he downshifted into second and gave the buggy some gas. We arrived on the scene in an instant and acted like kids awaiting the final bell on school’s last day. Two shooters traded seats for shotguns and walked up behind the steady dogs. A handler unleashed a field cocker and we all prepared for the covey rise.

I could get used to this, I thought.

 

Upland hunters traveling throughout quail country encounter a theme and variation of bird buggies old and new. It’s common to find Texas quail rigs customized from Jeep or extended cab pickup chassis. At the heart of every vehicle are enough dog boxes to account for a day’s hunt in big country. The boxes occupy an easy-to-access space above the frame, and inline watering systems hold enough water to withstand the heat. Seating for hunters and guides is the next part of the build-out. Some rigs have combinations of benches and seats in the stern above the dog boxes, while other chairs are placed in the bow, just ahead of the grill. Some gun scabbards might be securely tacked to the side of the front quarter-panel, while free-standing racks are positioned midship in others. Most of the vehicles are painted, but I saw one buggy with paneling so exquisite it would make a 1951 Ford Country Squire woodie blush.

In other areas of quail country, a modified ATV gets the nod. Four-wheel-drive Kawasaki Mules or the like feature bench seats and roll bars. Padded gun racks hang in-between the front and rear seats, and custom dog boxes are mounted in the bed. Sometimes the pointing dogs run while the buggy ambles down the dirt roads; other times the vehicle is parked and the hunters stretch their legs and walk. The easy entrance/exit is perfect for those of us with beat-up backs and knees sustained from a life well lived.
My favorite is the oddity known as the mule-push wagon, which I’ve seen only in old photos. Once favored by the plantation set, these reverse-styled shooting brakes look like a normal sulky cart with built-up sides and a chair. The only difference is that a mule pushes the cart rather than pulling it. Over-sized wheels provided a relatively smooth ride and a height that offered a stellar view of the dogs. But here’s the kicker: The push wagon could be rolled right up to the pointed covey. Shooters took cracks at rising birds without even stepping down from the brake. Imagine that.

Ah, mules.  Well, if the Rose Bowl is the granddaddy of ’em all for college football, then the procession of a traditional quail wagon drawn by a matched pair of mules is the pinnacle of quail buggies …

 

To read the rest of “The Bobwhite Chariot,” read Keer’s Destinations column in Sporting Classics’ new Sporting Lifestyle issue.

The Sporting Lifestyle issue is a new product from Sporting Classics. The issue will showcase the finest in sporting homes, furnishings, and more each spring.

 

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