Southern woods, Southern hospitality

Mar. 16, 2013 @ 09:13 PM

When I looked at the clock, it was 2:15 a.m. I am past the 60-year-old mark and I don’t dream about females very often, especially about young ones. I lay in bed and thought of her. I don’t think anyone would call Dakota, beautiful. She’s short and she isn’t slender. She could be called petit. She probably wouldn’t be called pretty. Cute is the best description; she’s really cute.
What makes her attractive is her personality. She’s just so full of energy and fun, and there’s a playfulness that makes you want to spend time with her. I think the way she treats people is a source of my attraction to her. No matter what the reason, I am smitten. At one point, a sat down on the tailgate of the Jeep and she sat down beside me. She leaned up against me and then rested her head in my lap. I stroked her back and then… she caught me by surprise and kissed me. Not a peck but a warm wet loving kiss. I’m in love, but she’s a working girl and this is what she does for a living.
I love almost all dogs, but Dakota is one special dog. She’s an English Cocker and her job is to flush and retrieve quail at Southern Woods Plantation in Sylvester, Georgia. Dakota was one of our team of three dogs and our companions in the best bird hunt of my season this year. Sandy and Dale were the pointers and Dakota’s job was to flush birds once the bigger dogs pointed them. Since pointers aren’t always strong retrievers, her job also included retrieving though the pointers did some of the retrieving when multiple birds were on the ground. If Sandy picked up the bird, Dakota would run up and take it from her mouth. Dale was a strong retriever, though, and she never even tried to get the bird from him.
Chosen by CNN as one of the top six hunting destinations in the country, Southern Woods is a prime location with great hunting, comfortable lodging, wonderful food, and world class dogs. The lodge is a column fronted, plantation house with 24 rooms for guests. Rooms are well appointed  with first class bedding, bathrooms, and décor.  There are rooms that open into the connector hall and a cluster of rooms that all connect to a central living room with lots of overstuffed chairs for groups. The main meeting room is filled with dozens of mounts from a full elephant head mount to twin giraffe heads arching over a doorway. Beautifully matted prints line the walls.
The food isn’t ostentatious but it is very good. Cherie and I have shot at several preserves where the name of the entre was often more impressive than the flavor. At Southern Woods, many of the vegetables on you plate grew on the plantation. Manager, Benjie Deloach, keeps as many of the employees working in the off season as possible and they raise peas, beans, corn, okra, and other vegetables and freeze them for the coming season.
Less than an hour from Thomasville, Georgia, and just a few miles from Albany, it’s in the heart of Georgia quail country and the fields are rolling hills with pine trees, wire grass, marshy bottoms, and sandy connecting roads. The shooting is generally open but there are always pine trees for the birds to duck behind and Cherie and I both managed to take a little bark off the pines.
We rode out to the fields on well supplied dog trailers towed by colorful jeeps; there’s a lot of walking but it isn’t really strenuous. Moderately fit hunters won’t have any trouble at all keeping up with the dogs. Southern Woods is a put and take operation, meaning the birds are planted in the fields before the hunt but not planted just before. At Southern Woods, the birds are released at random over an area large enough that there’s little worry about them wandering off the preserve. Jamie Cootz, our guide, took us to the first spot and we hunted over 40 or so acres. There were small coveys as well as singles. It’s not exactly like hunting wild birds in North Carolina but the birds are very strong flyers and the hunting is far from predictable. When he was satisfied we’d covered it well enough, we moved on to a new location.
Dogs and guides are one of the things that make a preserve great and, while our guide, Jamie and pointers Dale and Sandy did a wonderful job, Dakota made the show. She alone would have been worth the trip and I literally dreamed that I tried to buy her from Benjie and Jamie. The trip was great but she was icing on the cake. Of course, everyone knows I have a soft spot for dogs.
As outdoor writers, we go to a lot of locations for bird hunting. Some have great facilities. Some have great food or great dogs. Some are spartan locations with great hunting and a lot are not so good in any category. What makes Southern Woods so special is that somehow Benjie manages to successfully cover all the qualifications that make a hunting venue great. As we drove through the South Georgia countryside, heading on down to New Orleans to continue our trip, we reflected on our stay. Hard as we thought, we couldn’t find a single thing to fault. I don’t remember a single place I’ve visited that provided a better trip. True, this is the end of the season, but it’s been a great ending for our bird hunting year. Thanks Benjie, Jamie, and Dakota for ending our hunting season on a perfect note.
For more information, check out southernwoodsplantation.com.
Dick and Cherie Jones are outdoor writers living in High Point. They do public speaking for clubs and organizations, host outdoor events, are NRA Shooting Instructors, own Lewis Creek Shooting School and help church and youth groups raise money with outdoor events. You can visit their website at offtheporchmedia.com and contact them at offtheporch52@yahoo.com