Quail Hunting at Southwind Plantation
Some twenty years ago the phone rang uncharacteristically late on a Saturday night: it was Dad. “Just wondering, are you going to be busy at about 4 AM tomorrow?” I explained that, yes, I had definite plans to be in a deep state of restful slumber. “Good,” said Dad, “Here are the directions and this is where you need to be downstate to pick up my quail.” Dad's scheme was to stock quail at one of the farms, so yes . . . I made his quail pickup for him. The stocking attempt did not pan out well.
There are a few quail left in downstate Illinois, but nothing like the vibrant numbers of the 1950s and 1960s. As noted by the Illinois DNR, “The small, diverse farms of the 1950’s had abundant small grains (wheat, oats etc.), livestock and hay fields with lots of fencerows and hedgerows separating small fields that provided great cover for quail."
Today, corn and soybeans have replaced most of the small grains, pastures, and hayfields that were once common in Illinois. The hedgerows and fencerows that provided cover for game are gone or have been ‘cleaned up’ with herbicide, leaving very little habitat and eliminating travel corridors between the remaining blocks of habitat.” The winters in northern Illinois have not done quail any favors, either. For years, we had talked on heading south for a grand old quail hunt, but that never transpired. Finally, though, we got it done.
Orvis takes great care in rating their wingshooting lodges and Southwind Plantation at been at the top of the heap for many years. There are no direct flights to Tallahassee from Chicago, so we flew the unfriendly skies of United to Jacksonville, rented a humorless 2022 Mustang turbo convertible that has the capability of inflicting Parkinson's syndrome to all who dare to drive it for seven hours or so . . . in this case, me. The only un-fun part of the trip was rolling out of the sack at 2 am to leave for the airport at 4 am in the snow.
Southwind likely does it as well as these things can be done. The dogs and guides are top-notch, the 6000+ acres are scenic and manicured. The cabins are luxurious, the staff is very friendly and competent, the food is outstanding as well. You can hunt from a mule-driven buggy if you wish. Aside from quail, they also do turkey, mallard, driven hunts, deer, and tower shoots. If you don't want to bring your own gun, there are several CG, Fabarm, and FAIR shotguns to rent if you wish.
Left to right: Bruce Wright, a pile of birds from that morning's hunt, Scott Trulock, Randy Wakeman.
We bagged 101 birds, according to the receipt. Whether they threw in a few bonus birds or not I can't say, but that seems likely. I used an Orvis Elos D2, the same 20 gauge O/U that I use here (Fabarm Elos 2 Elite) with different cosmetics. The shells used were 1 oz. Federal #7-1/2, and I decided to use a pair of Trulock Skeet 2 Precision Hunter chokes. There is no perfect choke for quail, for in some situations Cylinder is too tight and Full is too open. The Precision Hunter Skeet 2 was George Trulock's favorite moderate range hunting choke, and I think George was right: I used a pair of then in the Orvis Fabarm Elos 20 gauge. Although there was a video crew on site complete with drones for one hunt, I boiled down ten hours of footage from my GoPro to five minutes or so give you a taste of the action: https://youtu.be/NbWI_lBTD6M .
guide, Josiah, was
superb, as were his team of beautifully trained dogs. This was a
record-breaking shoot, for me, in the sense that there were more
flushed birds than I've ever seen that I didn't bother to shoot at.
Some birds head for the clouds, but others fly too low for my tastes
with dogs in hot pursuit: for those birds, I was happy to just let
them fly. Regardless, everyone got a generous amount of action. It is
not that we ever missed, but some birds do not fly correctly.
At the Southwind Pro shop, rental guns are available. It was mentioned, unsolicited, that the Fabarm O/U were trouble-free and held up really, really well compared to some of their 'other' guns. These rental guns get more rugged hunting use in a year than I'll do for the rest of my life.
Trulock chokes is headquartered close by, in Whigham, Georgia, since 1981 when George Trulock developed his first chokes from American steel and an American family. George always said that, “I believe it is my duty and the duty of everyone who makes a living from our industry to give back something to help promote and protect our industry. I have truly been blessed to be able to earn a living from something I love to do.” I'm proud to use Trulock chokes, and was delighted to see Scott and Jamie from Trulock at Southwind. Most of the time they are developing new choke designs and shooting at paper so it is good that they can squeeze in a hunt or two along the way-- even though it is a busy time for them.
For some, Southwind will be a one-in-a-lifetime event, for others: it will be an annual adventure. It has been an increasingly popular spot for weddings and corporate events as well and soon after you arrive, you'll see why.
Copyrigh 2023 by Randy Wakeman and chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.