Some lodges specialize in private, personal hunting parties, attending to the details of friend or family groups. Some develop their expertise around corporate business, providing the relaxation and sporting engagement that makes for productive business meetings. SouthWind Plantation owner Tim Smith, has made sure that SouthWind can handle both at the same time, giving each type of hunting parties the privacy and attention it needs.
Larry Smith, SouthWind's Director of Marketing, met us at the airport and gave us a comprehensive introduction to the plantation on our way to Attapulgus, Ga. We were just a party of two, travelling with three of our dogs for a winter break and a little pre-spring training. It was only at mealtimes - or cocktail hour, to be more specific - that we were really aware of the business groups in to shoot clays, hunt quail and conduct meetings. We also raised a glass with a few local deer hunters at the plantation for day hunts. The 4,000-acre property is spacious, so we rarely saw another hunting party. We stayed in a newly built cabin suite adjacent to SouthWind's Bower Station Lodge, a setting that gave us not just privacy, but a safe and easy location for coming and going with our dogs. Only the horses and mules grazing next to our cabin populated our private SouthWind world.
Each morning we'd drive the few minutes to the main lodge for breakfast, then pick up our dogs and head to the quail fields to meet Chris Tyus, our guide. Transferring our dogs to the Jeep hunting rig's dog boxes, we'd climb aboard, draw in the cool morning air and meander through the long leaf pines until Chris stopped by the site of our first run.
The quail flew beautifully, coveys averaging six to 10 birds, but with a few big coveys - 20 birds or more - surprising us along the way. With just a vague plan of how to work a particular field, we let the dogs take the lead, following their noses, working the wind. Rarely did we find ourselves in food patches, which made the hunt for these fast flying early-release birds feel natural and more exciting. With burning and food plots, SouthWind carefully manages expansive tracts of wiregrass, pines, magnolias and live oaks to create excellent quail habitat. Each year the tracts are assessed and adjusted to maintain their quality and annual growth.
Although we preferred to hunt via the Jeeps, quail hunters at SouthWind also have the option of traditional horseback and mule drawn wagon hunts. For hunters who do not bring their own dogs, SouthWind has an extensive kennel housing 75-80 champion pedigreed pointers, setters and flushers. G.J. Kimbrell, who has been training dogs and managing quail operations for over 25 years, oversees SouthWind’s kennels. Much to our dogs’ disappointment, we did ask Chris to run a few SouthWind dogs for us each day, while our northern grouse dogs, German short- haired and wirehaired pointers, took a break from the warm temperatures. There's no question that a moment of classic quail hunting delight can always be found watching two English pointers on point while a high spirited English cocker bounds in for the flush.
SouthWind's classic "down home" southern cuisine is prepared in a separate cookhouse situated between the main lodge and the small lodge next to it. The meals are served buffet style, so each guest can indulge in his or her favorites. Cocktail hour featured mounded platters of perfectly prepared appetizers like gator bits and fried shrimp. Lunch offered irresistible fried or grilled quail or chicken, paper thin corn bread rounds, cobblers, brownies and other delicious items guaranteed to make a nap before heading back into the field mighty attractive. Dinners topped the charts with thick steaks and immense pork chops.
SouthWind can accommodate up to 35 guests at a time, some staying in the main lodge, which sleeps 18 guests with a waterside view of the beautiful 2O-acre lake. The main lodge is decorated with outstanding mounts and dioramas. My favorite piece, however, is an alligator rising through the glass coffee table. A small lodge near the main lodge, the Bower Station Lodge and the Callahan Lodge complete the property's housing options.
Early morning wood duck hunts provide hunters with a different sort of fast and challenging shooting. We got up at the very un-waterfowler-like hour of 6 a.m. and were picked up shortly after by our guide Tyler Poole. The truck tucked itself onto the edge of field only a couple of minutes from the main lodge and then pulled in by a stand of dark trees. Tyler led us down a path to our blind (no waders or hip boots needed), one of a few spaced along a stretch of flooded corn. Decoys weren't necessary; those ducks just wanted to be there. Legal shooting time provided enough ambient light to silhouette the ducks' aerial maneuvers as they cruised overhead and jacked into the water. With a three-wood duck limit, the hunt was over in about 20 minutes. But those were 20 very exciting minutes. Fast shooting, presentations from all angles, whooshing wings, splashdowns. The dogs had some tricky work retrieving the birds, as they had to paddle through the corn, often finding the birds more by scent than mark.
SouthWind Plantation is an Orvis- Endorsed wing-shooting lodge. Along with corporate retreats, SouthWind hosts weddings, family reunions and outdoors youth camps. During the off-season, the lodge is open for vacationers looking for something other than the hotel norm. Along with enjoying the ambience of the lodge and grounds, guests can go horse-back riding, fish, shoot skeet and enjoy a variety of activities in the area, such as float trips on the Flint River and tours of neighboring South Georgia farms.
SouthWind's quail season runs from Oct. 1 to March 31. Attapulgus is about a 45-minute drive from the Tallahassee Regional Airport and 15-minute drive from the Decatur County Industrial Air Park. A 15-bird limit-hunting package, which includes lodging and meals, is $925 per person per day. Half-day quail hunts are $475 per person. Other packages are available as well. The preserve license costs $12, and shells, coolers and bird processing are extra. Half-day duck hunts cost $325 per person plus state licensing.
For more information: www.huntsouthwind.com, 800-456-5208.