What could be more fun than girls with guns and the camaraderie and antics that come about during a quail-hunting weekend at George Hi Plantation, Garland, NC. When Penny Schmiedeberg, Guest Services Manager, read one of my articles I had written about “female friendly hunting destinations”, she knew I needed to see it first hand. She contacted me to let me know about a very special upcoming event. Being a hunting blogger focusing on girls who hunt, I decided to attend the G.R.I.T.S. (Girls Really Into Shooting) woman’s weekend event, which included shooting lessons with Elizabeth Lanier of Lanier Shooting Sports who happens to be a NSCA Level III Instructor.
There were plans for two quail hunts – one by horse pulled wagon and one walking. Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) one of the most respected conservation groups in the United States, would treat us to a special presentation and trunk show featuring D. Wright Clothing. I was super excited with anticipation and could not wait to make the trip. Knowing that George Hi Plantation is an Orvis Endorsed Wing shooting Lodge made me feel even more fired up if that is possible!
When I drove down the long winding road into George Hi Plantation, my eyes were drawn to the gorgeous landscape of lakes and fields plus some strategically placed antique horse drawn wagons (without the horse, of course). Immediately, I knew I was in a very special place. The DuBose family has owned the property since 1942 and, in order to preserve the history, they maintained the name George Hi after the George Highsmith family who owned the property for nearly 100 years throughout the Civil War, time period. They lovingly restored the circa 1855 plantation house which is now available for guests. The Lake Lodge where we stayed was warm and inviting with huge leather sofas you could just sink into, two roaring fireplaces and a wide porch beckoning you to come sit awhile. The accommodations were wonderful with each spacious room featuring a private bath.
I was off to my lesson with Elizabeth and she immediately read me like a book and broke down what I needed to do to become a better wing shooter. Truly, up until now I had been “winging” it. After an hour spent with Elizabeth, I was on track to hunt birds! I fully understand why she is at the top of her league!
Back at the lodge, I loved the fact that we could ease through the day from shooting lessons to having a glass of wine on the porch and our hunting clothes and boots were always the perfect attire. It was very obvious that we all were cut from the same cloth as we shared our hunting stories and told each other about our families and experiences. It felt like we had known each other all our lives. Some of the girls were first timers, like myself at GHP while others had been coming there for years. But OUR YEARS didn’t matter. We were all “girls” – all the same no matter our age. G.R.I.T.S. !!!
As the afternoon melted into evening, we gathered up on the gazebo for a beautiful spread that was prepared by fine dining Chef Debbie Valenti. As the lights around the gazebo shimmered and reflected off the lake, we toasted and celebrated into the night and reluctantly gave in to the thought that it had to end so that we could be ready for our hunt in the morning.
Roasting marshmallows by the fire pit prolonged that inevitability for a little longer. Saying our good nights and “see you in the mornings” would have been the signal that the night had to end, but for a few of us, we decided on a nightcap. We poured ourselves a bourbon from the well stocked bar in the great room and clinked our glasses to the most perfect day!
Saturday morning came around and that first cup of fresh hot coffee never tasted so good and the hot breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage and stone ground grits was greatly welcomed by this excited group of girls. One of the distinct advantages of being a quail hunter is that the birds are always there ready for you to hunt. Being a duck, turkey and deer hunter, I typically need to get up at four AM to prepare for the hunt, so this was a very welcomed treat! After a most beautiful lunch of grilled quail and salad, we were ready for our afternoon hunt!
On Saturday our group was going to hunt by horse drawn carriage. Duke and Earl, a pair of Percheron horse, were waiting for us at the back of the lodge under the watchful eye of their coachwoman, Tina. With our guns safely loaded on the side rails of the wagon, we headed out to the fields where we met up with the guides and their amazing dogs. Riding in the wagon was a welcomed treat with the unusually warm temps in the low 80’s plus we could watch and enjoy others hunting while waiting for our turn. We were to work in pairs and there were three sets of pairs to hunt. Molly Martin, a very experienced dove hunter from NY, was my partner and we anxiously listened to very specific instructions from Dan O’Connor as to how this hunt would proceed. There was no room for error as safety was always number one. Guns were breeched at all times until he told you otherwise. We had the best time and I can truly say that under Dan’s direction, we experienced quail hunting from a master. Protocol is imperative so that the dogs, the guides and the hunters all remain safe.
We worked with highly trained English Setters and English Cocker Spaniels both days, and I have never witnessed such perfection and precision. Once the dogs were on a point, the Cocker Spaniel on cue got in position and when commanded, he would flush the bird while the Pointers held their positions. It was like watching a kicker go for the extra point during a football game. Truly this was the most impressive hunt I had ever been on. There is absolutely nothing like experiencing the covey rise and, I promise, it can be at times disarming to the most seasoned hunter with the full explosion of the birds. The afternoon was drawing to a close and we experienced highs and lows as the birds challenged us to levels we had not experienced before.
Sunday greeted us with crisp, sunny skies and temps in the mid 50’s, a welcomed, but sharp contrast from yesterday’s 80-degree temps! We added fellow hunter Leslie Ketner, who had been hunting quail for many years to our team and were now had the perfect threesome to start our walking hunt. Again, we would rotate: two hunters on and one would stand behind our guide, Freddy. Guns all breeched and hunter in back of the guide would remain unloaded. It played out like clockwork. Keeping a great rhythm, we all performed beautifully with some of the most exciting shots as we cheered each other on! If one of us didn’t get a shot, we anticipated where the next rise would be and switched sides so that we each had some good shot opportunities. “Go play”, Freddie yelled to the dogs and they obliged by canvasing the field for that scent of quail. The dogs never ceased to amaze us. At one point, a bird dropped in the thickest mess of vines on a tree-lined ditch and they worked relentlessly to get that bird! They threw themselves at the brush breaking it with their bodies and thrashing the vines until they got to the bird.
While we strolled along and marveled at the beauty of the land, we recognized there is nothing here to take for granted. Quail need tall grasses, weed patches and woody plants as sites to maintain their daily needs. Dan O’Connor is playing a huge role in developing and maintaining the habitat that will provide the food supply needed as well as provide the ground coverage with those habitat components required for quail survival. I asked about sweeping grasses that cover the fields and learned about little bluestem grass and the transformation that was occurring at George Hi. Without a doubt, this is a huge undertaking and by the success we had hunting, it is obvious that GHP is committed to excellence. Our hunt was most impressive and we grinned from ear to ear as we returned with our haul of birds!
After we enjoyed a very pleasant lunch of penne pasta and chicken wraps, we had to say our final good byes for now. None of us will forget the fun, laughter, fine dining, and just plain female bonding we shared. We plan on gathering up as many of the girls as possible for a couple’s weekend. That cannot come too soon! George Hi Plantation is indeed “female friendly”. But that does not mean we always have to leave the boys home!