Earlier this year, I decided to donate a free session to the National Wild Turkey Federation Lowcountry Longbeards conservation banquet. Most know that I'm a hound hunter, but some may not know that I'm also an avid turkey hunter. I've always felt that the NWTF does a great job giving back to all sorts of hunters, and they always offer a variety of great programs each year for everyone from youth to ladies only events.
While discussing specifics with Tim Beckham, he suggested that I also offer photo coverage for the winner of a 30 bird/2 gun quail hunt at Backwoods Quail Club in Georgetown, SC. Now, I have done a lot of hunting, but aside from shooting doves I'd never had the chance to experience something like a quail hunt. But I had promised myself that over the next few years I'd like to document as many types of hunting dogs as I can, and I was intrigued by the chance to watch bird dogs work.
As Luck Would Have It...
Due to COVID restrictions, we were seated outside at the chapter banquet. When I heard the bidding start, I headed toward the doors to try to find out who would end up purchasing the hunt. After the bidding wrapped up, the couple that won asked if they could bring their own dog to the hunt. I was excited to hear that they would be allowed to. After all, I didn't know anything about quail hunting, but I DO know hunting dogs...and I knew I could deliver someone that was bringing a dog they cared about photos they would love.
Scouring Facebook to get in touch with the winner, I discovered that the couple's prettier half (sorry Derek!), Ashley, was in fact a photographer herself. Like any self respecting photographer would do, I set about browsing her work. I found that Ashley had also photographed dogs and horses, along with weddings and real estate. Naturally, at this point anxiety set in. I'm very type-A, a full blown perfectionist to say the least. I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to give Ashley and Derek images that she would find acceptable. At that point I felt my biggest saving grace was that one of my high school best friends knew Ashley from college, so at least she didn't seem like a TOTAL stranger.
Ashley and Derek's hunt was scheduled for 2PM, so I left a little early to make my way down the back roads from Ridgeville to Georgetown. I stopped at a little store on the corner to pick up a couple drinks before I got to Back Woods, and I felt a little more at home seeing that there were quite a few dog hunters there who had stopped to pick up lunch. We exchanged the customary "y'all do any good today?" and I made my way to the club.
The area around the Pro Shop at Back Woods was bustling with folks there shooting skeet and other hunters getting their dogs out of the truck and ready to hunt. The accents of several groups suggested that quite a few were not from this area. My first impression was that this was essentially a country club for shooters, and this hound girl felt a little out of place!
A Gun Dog with "Skinny Jeans"
A short while later, Ashley and Derek arrived. They and Bulleit hopped out of the truck, and Ashley immediately greeted me with a hug. After making the "human introductions," I met Bulleit, a beautiful and well-mannered German Shorthaired Pointer. She quickly informed me that he wears his bow tie while he hunts (after all, he's a Charleston gentleman!), and Derek wryly commented "yeah, he wears his skinny jeans." I immediately felt at home with the couple, and they took me to the Pro Shop to look around and let us girls make a bathroom break before we hit the woods.
Back Woods Quail Club's Pro Shop has a little bit of everything, from logo items, to Garmin Alpha systems, to shotguns, cases, and ammo. The sweet girls at the counter are the first point of contact and get everyone signed in and ready to move on to their intended activities. There's something for any shooting enthusiast, from trap shooting and sporting clays, half and full day quail hunts, to even turkey and deer hunting.
There was a homey lounge area with big screen tv's, a bar and snack area, and comfortable leather couches beyond the Pro Shop. Some absolutely beautiful SC deer mounts decorated the walls, and I assumed that they were harvested on the club.
After our pit stop, we met our guide, Mr. George Hutto, and headed to the block that we would be hunting. George and Ashley decided to first let Bulleit work by himself, and after asking a few questions so that I would know how best to maneuver without getting in Ashley and Derek's way we headed out to start the hunt.
Bulleit pointed the first bird right off the edge of the road. Although he was a friendly and almost goofy dog during the ride over and just "hanging out," he was all business in the field. I was immediately struck by the intensity of his expression and the careful way he moved closer to his quarry. I believe Derek made the first shot, and we moved into the taller grass as Bulleit continued to hunt.
The way that Bulleit hunted was somewhat unexpected to me. Accustomed to watching hounds work with their noses to the ground, it surprised me to see Bulleit making wide circles while moving very heads-up. The speed at which he moved while trying to locate a bird was also a surprise. In my mind, I was expecting a bird dog to almost creep through the grass but Bulleit covered ground swiftly until he settled in to point a bird. It also came as a surprise to me that the dogs were often literally face to face with the quail. The care they took to not bust the birds prematurely was an impressive test of obedience and self control.
Like most dogs, he needed 20 minutes or so to settle in and really focus on hunting. I could tell this was agitating Ashley a little, but I assured her that it was nothing I wasn't used to seeing even from my own dogs. I understood her frustration, because I know I always feel a little pressure for my dogs to perform at the highest level in front of others but Bulleit was doing a fine job. Our guide, George, even noted that Bulleit was one of the nicer client dogs that he had hunted with, which to me was quite a compliment.
One of my reservations about taking on this shoot was the fact that this type of hunting could be dangerous if all involved are not aware of their surroundings at all times. I've had hunters shoot close to me in the past during dog drives, which is always a bit of a hair raising experience. I wanted to be able to provide Ashley and Derek with some impressive images, but first and foremost I wanted to make sure that I stayed out of their way so they could hunt with no interference. I was beyond pleased with their diligent adherence to safety for not only us, but the dogs. I never felt unsafe at any point during our 3 hours of hunting, and both they and George answered every question that I asked in trying to learn more about the hunt.
Ashley and Derek were both excellent shots. Ashley had recently gifted Derek with a new shotgun for his birthday, and he was extremely pleased with the way it shot. I would say she deserves a nice haul from Santa for making a great choice!
They killed at or close to their 30 bird limit over the 3 hour hunt, and I would say Ashley probably contributed the most to that limit. It's always refreshing to meet another woman who is serious about hunting. I appreciated the fact that Ashley handled Bulleit in the field, and that she handled her shooting without needing to take direction from someone else. We both laughed about that fact that when you are a woman in a male dominated sport, you feel like you have to perform even better than the "average" man to be taken seriously. I hope she was proud of the way she shot, because I certainly was proud for her.
Fairly recently engaged, Ashley and Derek kept the guide and I both laughing as they picked at each other over their respective shooting. Derek did his share of joking, but it was very obvious that he was proud of and respected Ashley as a fellow hunter. I think every woman hopes that her significant other will support them in this way when it comes to shared hobbies.
One of the things I enjoyed most about this hunt was seeing the bond between Ashley and Bulleit. She told me several times that he was her best friend, and this was very evident in the way that they interacted. Their love for each other reminded me very much of the relationship I had with Waylon. Many people in this world have been close to a pet, but the bond with a dog that is also your hunting partner is something different altogether.
After letting Bulleit work alone for awhile, George brought his own GSP, Whiskey, out. I thought Bulleit was a nice dog, but Whiskey was truly next level. He came face to face with quail several times, and it was truly a sight to behold watching a dog at the top of his game working. The intensity in Whiskey's eyes as he pointed the birds echoed the same look I have seen in every truly amazing hunting dog's eye that I've had the privilege of owning or hunting with. It was obvious that George has spent a lot of time on Whiskey's training, and that Whiskey has had quite a bit of time in the field. George was pleased with the way the two dogs hunted together, and I very much enjoyed seeing the dogs and handlers working.
The shot of the year, and a toast to new friends.
As we wrapped up the day's hunt and laughed over a cold beer, I was scrolling through the image previews on the back of my camera when one stopped me in my tracks. It was a photo of Whiskey pointing a bird face to face, but the bird is in mid-flush with wings outspread. The golden hour light fell perfectly over the dog's face and eye, as well as the rising bird. The tall grass made focusing a challenge, and I knew there was a high likelihood that upon downloading the image the focus may very well not be tack sharp on the subject. I excitedly showed Ashley and said my prayers that it would come out properly focused. Before I left that night, I downloaded the image and saw that God had answered this dog hunting girl's prayers. The photo was so beautiful I nearly cried. I hope that this will be the one that wins me my first contest and puts me on my first magazine cover.
This was one of the most fun experiences I've had in 2020. Not only did I get to learn about a different sort of hunting, but I got to make some new friends and capture some beautiful images along the way. I can't thank Ashley, Derek, and George enough for showing me the ropes, answering my questions, and just plain putting a smile on my face. I'll definitely be making my way back to Back Woods in the future for my own hunt, and Tim has already recruited me to offer the same deal for the 2021 banquet. I can't wait to see what the next hunt brings!
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