Gentlemen of the Field By Michael Altizer (November/December 2011)
Pine Hill Plantation, Donalsonville, GA
He spoke softly, as though he was all alone with his two lovely ladies and we weren’t even there.
“C’mon girls…. Come on.” His voice was soft and soothing, and the girls did exactly as he requested
Mr. Glover knows his mules.
A lifelong resident of southwest Georgia, Hilton Glover has worked with mules for most of his 74 years. His latest charges, Kit and Kate, were a perfectly matched pair of Belgian sorrels – “sarge” mules, he called them – as big and gentle as their master’s heart.
I must confess, I have never been big on anything equine. Please, don’t get me wrong… I like horses, I respect them, and I have even owned a few – or at least my wife has. But until then, I had never hunted quail from horseback.
And so when Doug Coe invited me down to the southwest corner of Georgia to hunt bobwhite quail at Pine hill Plantation from horseback and mule-drawn wagon, I was curious to say the least. I met Chuck Wechsler at his home in South Carolina, and five hours later we pulled into Pine Hill’s main lodge just in time for supper.
We began hunting at nine the next morning.
Chuck and I began our first day riding on the mule wagon with Mr. Glover, with Dough on horseback alongside guides Jerome Henry and Todd Howard. It was a soft, cool morning in this classic southern setting as Mr. Glover made his wishes known to Kit and Kate. Mules are very self-interest creatures, much more so than horses, and when confronted by anything unusual or asked to do something they don’t understand, they’re likely to first stop and consider the request and who it comes from, and only then decide whether or not it’s in their best interest to comply.
And so, when a quarter-mile down the trail Kate encountered an oversize piece of limestone lying in her path, she paused for a moment to think about it, and Kit paused with her.
But Mr. Glover assured them both, “It’s okay girls… ain’t nothin’ but a big rock. You seen rocks all the time…. c’mon now.” And so reassured by the voice they trusted above all others, the ladies thought for a moment, then silently consulted with each other and finally swung wide to avoid the obstruction, Kate on the left and Kit on the right.
I was curious.
“mr. Glover, do you always hitch them up in the same order? Or do you ever switch sides with them?
“No, they know where they work at,” he said. “If you change sides, they don’t like it.”
I was duly impressed and was making notes in my little pocket journal when the call of “Point!” wafted back to us through the still woods from the riders out ahead.
As soon as they heard the long-familiar call, Kit and Kate halted without being asked, and Chuck and I stepped tot he ground and lifted our empty shotguns from the rack, Chuck with a lovely 28-gauge Beretta and me with my Purdey side-by-side. Then as Doug waved us past the tethered horses, our two pointers, Cannon and sandy, came into view.
“Mister Mike, you swing around here to the left…. Mister Chuck, you take the right.” Todd’s instructions were clear and concise, and only when we were well out in front did we each load our guns and continue forward.
At first it was one lone quail that came up on Chuck’s side, then another on mine, and we dropped each of them cleanly.
“Reload!” came the call, “We still got birds here…” and just as we closed our guns, the whole covey broke in front of us.
I managed to drop two more birds in quick succession as I heard Chuck working off to my right, and when it was done, three more birds had fallen.
By now Cannon and Sandy had already pushed out ahead and each had a single pinned in the tall sedge 50 yards out.
“let’s take this one first,” Todd said, and he and I stepped forward while chuck and Jerome moved off to our right.
Chuck’s bird flushed straight away and folded in a cloud of feathers. Already nervous, my bird towered high and then swung directly back behind us, and Todd and I both called “No Shot!” at virtually the same instant.
For sure, there were more singles here, and the dogs wanted to follow them up. But we’d already taken enough quail out of this covey, so we made our way back to the wagon and then proceeded on through the woods, the horsemen out front with the quartering pointers while Chuck and I enjoyed the ride with Mr. Glover and the girls.
The rest of the morning was as fine as the beginning. I even managed a bird or two with the little single-shot Beretta that Dad gave me when I was 7, and after a perfectly presented field lunch, we invested the remainder of the afternoon with the horses and mules and dogs as Chuck and Doug and I rotated shifts with the guns and cameras.
And that evening as we sat at dinner, I determined to spend the next day on horseback with Doug and Todd and Jerome.
Morning dawned cool and misty, with Chuck down on the edge of the lake with his spinning rod, doing battle with a two-pound crappie. But the beckoning aroma of smoked bacon and sausage and steaming hot coffee summoned him back to our private lodge just as breakfast was being served.
Todd and Jerome and Mr. Glover were waiting for us in a small clearing in the woods at 9 a.m. sharp, and five minutes later I was in the saddle with my shotgun tucked safely in the scabbard beside me.
Now it’s one thing to watch a brace of fine pointers from the wagon. But watching them from horseback is something else entirely. Now I felt more a part of the hunt and not merely a cleanup hitter who steps in once the dogs and horsemen have found the birds.
In a few hundred yards, again came the compelling cry of “Point!” and Kit and Kat quickened their pace without being asked. Chuck and I were up first, and as we worked into position, the covey began to break, first a single that Chuck took on the rise, then four birds in quick succession. I dropped the farthest one and Chuck took another going left. Then one more bird broke on my side and I missed him with my last shot.
Four more quail lost their nerve and rocketed away before either of us could reload, and as the dogs returned the fallen birds to us, I turned to Doug, who had been tracking the whole thing with a camera, and asked him if he got anything.
“I think so,” he said, and as I stepped to see what he had, one last bird exploded form under my feet. We tracked him with our eyes and watched as he curved behind the pines and pitched into a thick row of indigo.
We followed, and the dogs eventually nailed him. But when he flushed, he headed straight for Mr. Glover and the mules and we had no shot.
It had been another perfect morning. And now as Cannon and Sandy locked up on one final covey before lunch, I had an idea.
So I pulled my gun from the scabbard, opened it and moved back to the wagon, giving Kate a gentle scratch behind her soft sorrel ears as I passed. Chuck was already climbing down as I look up at Mr. Glover, still in the driver’s seat where he had sat out every point and flush for the last two days.
“Mr. Glover, why don’t you take this one?”
I half expected him to courteously decline, and I was fully prepared to insist.
But instead, he lit up like a kid at Christmas and was off the wagon with speed and deftness that belied his 74 years. His face bore a broad grin as he threaded my shell pouch onto his work belt, and when he was all set, I handed him the gun.
“I’ll be right behind you with the camera,” I told him as we set off toward the point. “you let me know if I get in your way.”
“Aw, you fine,” he said.
And so I was.
Doug climbed onto the wagon to relax the mind of the mules, and Todd and Jerome did a double-take when they glanced back and saw the two of us coming up from behind, with their old friend and hunting partner carrying the gun.
We could see Sandy locked firmly on point, and only when we had safely moved past Todd and Jerome did Mr. Glover drop a pair of shells into the empty chambers and close the gun.
He spoke softly, tenderly, almost imperceptibly to the dogs as he eased up next to her, and without moving her head she rolled her eyes up to him as if to ask, . . . is that you, Hilton?
It was at that moment that the ground before us erupted with birds.
Some went straight away, some disappeared into the thicket to our left, and some poured back into our faces. Birds were everywhere as gun and camera came up together and fired at nearly the same instant, and moments later Sandy was back at our side with immutable proof that this old gentleman definitely knows his way around a shotgun.
“They was birds everywhere, and I couldn’t hardly figure out which one to shoot at!” he exclaimed. “When you get older, your brain gets stiffer, and I can’t communicate as well.”
Men spend lifetimes seeking such truth and wisdom.
“I know what you mean,” I agreed. “they came up so close that all I could see was a bunch of brown blurs in the viewfinder. I don’t think I got anything.”
“That’s okay, son.” he said, reassuringly. “I did! I smoked’im. I had a good background, and it was jus’ me and the bird and they gun, and I said to him, ‘. . . you gittin’ ready to have a baaad day.’ ”
But if the bird’s day had been bad, ours just kept getting better. I followed with the camera as Todd and Jerome and Mr. Glover worked the singles and then found another full covey, and by the time we had made our way back tot he wagon, we could have packed it in right then and there and known we’d had a hunt to remember.
But we still had another sumptuous field lunch ahead of us, and after that, the whole afternoon left to hunt.
So now, well-fed and with Mr. Glover still grinning and back in control of the wagon, we followed the dogs on horseback as they continued sweeping the woods in search of still more quail.
It had been a wonderful hunt, and as the sun began settling into the western sky, the dogs locked up on one final point. I handed Doug my gun and again too the camera. Todd and Jerome were already with the dogs, and as we slipped past them, Chuck and Doug each moved to opposite sides of the point. I followed close behind, the camera and its wide-angle lens already up to my eye with Chuck fully framed in the viewfinder.
I pressed the shutter release as soon as I heard the whir and thunder of wings, and there was first one shot, then another as Chuck began picking birds from the covey. I saw him quickly break open his gun and reload, and then there were three more birds in my viewfinder crossing left-to-right, and again he and I were firing in unison.
The silence that followed was nearly overwhelming, and the pungent smell of shotgun smoke hung thick in the air as I lowered my camera and Chuck lowered his little Beretta. He broke it open and slipped the empties into his pocket, then turned with a bemused look on his face, as though somehow he didn’t fully comprehend what had just happened.
But for the rest of us it was clear.
Not only had he doubled, he had doubled twice, for the entire covey had come up on his side.
Thinking that he might have monopolized the shooting, Chuck managed a feeble “I’m sorry . . . ” as he tried to apologize.
But our hearty cheers drowned him out, for he was the last one to realize what he had actually done – four shots, four birds, two doubles, along with one memory that will live forever in the minds of all who were there to share it.
IF YOU WANT TO GO
Pine Hill Plantation is located in Donalsonville, Georgia and features great accommodations and exquisite dinning. A Beretta Lodge, it has earned Two Tridents for Upland Birds. For more information call (229) 758-2462, or visit their website at www.pinehillplantation.com