You know that feeling of familiarity—you go to your favorite restaurant and order the exact same dish, every time. It’s vacation time, and you make your annual trek to your favorite beach resort, not because you have one of those timeshares, but because you have always had a great time.
There is that unmistakable draw you feel going back to your favorite spots, where pleasant memories take you to a time you will always treasure. Like wrapping yourself in a warm, cozy blanket on a cold night, there is something comforting about returning to a place we know, much the same as the strong desire we have to be with familiar friends.
I first learned about George Hi Plantation two years ago when I was invited to a girls’ hunting weekend sponsored by Girls Really Into Shooting (GRITS). This mid-February event sounded like a lot of fun, since we were all like-minded women gathering at an upscale quail-hunting facility with private shooting lessons, horse-drawn wagon rides, gourmet meals, and of course, quail hunting at its best. What could be better than that?
Not only were my expectations about the facility and the hunting exceeded by a mile, but I met such wonderful girls, and we felt an immediate bond. Under the attentive care of Guest Services Manager Penny Schmiedeberg and General Manager Dan O’Connor, we experienced exceptional quail hunting in a setting that looks like it was torn from the glossy pages of a bird-hunting magazine. George Hi Plantation offers sweeping fields of bluestem grasses, a scenic lake brimming with bluegill brim and largemouth bass.
The inviting main lodge features opposing fireplaces. One side faces oversized leather sofas, providing a perfect place to sink down, leave work behind, and just melt into the softness of the gently weathered leather. Gracing the other side is a pleasant dining area with large round tables set with fine china, where we would enjoy our beautifully prepared and delicious meals, served in the warm firelight.
I was happy to meet so many cool girls at this event. But I had the pleasure of getting to know a couple of girls, Molly and Leslie, better than others, because we hunted together. Penny nicknamed us “The Dream Team.” We are not sure why we were honored with this distinction, but we didn’t ask questions and were quite flattered by it.
Fast forward to two years later, when my husband surprised me at Christmas with a hunt for the two of us at George Hi Plantation. I had not stopped talking about it since my first trip. Thrilled, we immediately decided to book a mid-February date, and I casually mentioned how great it would be if I could get “The Dream Team” together to join us—with their husbands, of course. One quick email to my friends, and the excitement was off the charts. Yes, we were all in,and somehow, even with all of us living in different states, we managed to coordinate a time and date that worked for all three couples!
As everyone started to arrive, excitement was in the air. Just as if these great guys had known each other for many years, they were quick to bond, sharing laughs and hunting stories while the girls renewed memories of all the fun we had on that first trip that had drawn us all back to George Hi. But it was not just the couples who made this hunting experience memorable: It was the staff, the guides, and the beautiful setting that set the tone for an unforgettable experience.
To truly appreciate the quail hunting at George Hi Plantation, one would need to have an idea of the plantation’s long history, which goes back to Civil War days when George Highsmith owned it. The Highsmith family had been granted the land by the king of England, and the native grasses and pine stands formed a perfect habitat for wild birds to thrive. The DuBose family, who purchased the property in 1942, maintained the name George Hi in order to preserve its rich history.
But it was a game changer in 2013 when Mr. DuBose hired Dan O’Connor, who had been with Orvis for many years, to act as general manager. Mr. DuBose’s vision was to improve the hunting experience at GHP to a level of excellence. Dan set out to do just that, and in a short period of time, his efforts to develop and maintain the habitat, which would ensure the survival of the quail, were successful. To further illustrate the great strides that were made, The Orvis Company gave their internationally recognized, Orvis-endorsed stamp of excellence to GHP. It is evident that the attention to detail and the obsessive customer service are what bring hunters back.
Now it was time to get out to the field! Our experienced guide expertly led us through fields of bluestem grasses, but the dogs were clearly in charge as they dashed through the tall grass and seemed to sail through the air, then dove down to search for the quail. Suddenly Whiskey, the skilled English setter stopped on a dime and held a motionless point as we stepped up our pace to get in position, and Ninja, the English cocker spaniel, went in for the flush.
Watching my husband, Trippett—who had experienced many quail hunts growing up—make shooting quail look like child’s play, I was happy I’d had a chance to hone my skills a bit with a lesson with Dan the day before our hunt. The covey rises were in Trippett’s favor a lot more often than in mine. Poor birds, but I had an amazing time hunt on foot, connecting with some birds, taking in the breathtaking landscape, and watching the dogs work their magic.
As the afternoon hunt drew to an end, we were beaming with excitement having had a wonderful hunt. We couldn’t wait to meet back up with our couple friends and share stories of our hunts over cocktails on the wide porch overlooking the lake with the firepit beckoning us to come sit awhile as our dinner was being prepared.
Precious time flew by as we enjoyed lots of laughs and plans for future hunts, and soon a stunning dinner was waiting for us, prepared by Head Chef Debbie Valenti and her staff. Wine was poured, and as we toasted to new and renewed friendships.
The glowing embers from the fireplace added to the ambience of a perfect evening as we gathered on the comfortable leather sofas and sipped the signature drinks Molly designed on our first trip. The taste of Molly’s cocktail (still a secret recipe) brought back memories of the fun time we had on our first trip, and certainly will be part of our tradition! But we knew that soon we would need to turn in so we could be ready for our morning hunt and toast to the perfect end to a perfect day!
We were awakened in the morning by the aroma of fresh coffee, along with a beautifully prepared Southern-style breakfast of hot sausage and eggs. It was the perfect way to start the day, followed by a brisk morning of quail hunting! At the end of our trip, we were so proud that we had been able to share this hunting weekend with our hubbies. They now know firsthand why we had such a great time, and we are already talking about going back to George Hi Plantation!
Written for Wacamaw Outdoor Magazine, April 2019 Issue