Bluffton Packet

Nothing like bird hunting to cure cabin fever

Just when I thought cabin fever was about to get the best of me, the phone rang.

Like a voice from above, my good friend Trent Malphrus -- a charter captain -- asked me if I wanted to go on a quail- and duck-hunting trip to Willowin Plantation in south Georgia.

The very word "hunting" triggered my own version of Pavlov's Theory as I instantly blurted out "Yes!" in a spray of saliva. All I could think was, "Road trip!"

Like two kids, Trent and I hopped in my car with every piece of hunting equipment we owned. Even then, we went over a checklist. "Guns? Check. Bullets? Check. Fishing rods? Check. A pint bottle of Old Mr. Boston's Rock & Rye Whiskey? Check."

With that we were ready to go.

Having never heard of Willowin Plantation in Lax, Ga., we poured over the map as we headed south. Finally, after pulling out a magnifying glass, we found it, a tiny speck of a place near Douglas, Ga. It was rural roads the entire way, which is exactly the way I like to travel. I love seeing the old South, where every town looks the same, with quaint gingerbread houses, railroad tracks and the courthouse standing tall on every Main Street.

After passing from town to town with nothing but cotton fields and religious signs between them, Trent and I both agreed the Bible Belt was alive and well in south Georgia.

Finally we reached Lax -- population 65 -- which is pretty much an intersection with churches on each corner. As we turned in to Willowin Plantation, I could feel my heart beating harder.

Since the owner, Will Wingate, had told us he wouldn't get there until later that day, he suggested we either do some bass fishing or skeet shooting to pass the time.

The accommodations were deluxe and not five minutes had passed before Trent and I were out pitching baits into the pond. On about my second cast with a rubber worm, I felt a thump and set the hook. My rod bent double, the drag screamed, and though we never saw the fish before it spit the hook, it had to have been the mack daddy bass in the pond.

Trent looked at me and I at him and with high fives we agreed that this was a good omen of things to come that weekend.

As the afternoon went on, the rest of the hunters -- mostly from Atlanta -- arrived. The eight of us settled in and built a fire outside, getting to know one another over some Lowcountry oysters that we had brought down.

"Anyone want to go deer hunting?," Will asked. "If you don't, then it's up early for some wood duck hunting, then breakfast and quail hunting the rest of the day."

I knew right then this was not going to be your typical quail-hunting operation. There was a "friendly factor" that was heads and tails above anyplace I had been before. Having never done anything like this before, Trent was like a kid on the night before Christmas. He couldn't wait to get his first duck and his very first quail.

At dawn, we were deep in a cypress swamp waiting for the first squeal of wood ducks weaving through the trees. The silence was shattered by a shot as the ducks came in. Trent got his first duck, and the way he held it you would have thought it was his first girlfriend. He was hooked.

From there we sat down to a breakfast of grits, eggs, sausage and fried biscuits in one of the neatest kitchens I have ever seen. The cook, Rusty, had built the entire kitchen/bar out of old barn wood, rusty tin and other flotsam. He even had an old sugar cane press and from it came the best cane syrup I have ever had. We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner there, and it was awesome.

Quail hunting is all about watching the dogs, and Willowin had some great ones. Sure there were some release birds, but several times we ran into wild coveys and with stiff winds that day, the birds flew like bottle rockets. Watching a bird dog point and hold that point, is something to behold.

Trent was whacking the quail left and right, while I was missing them right and left. The areas we hunted in were beautiful, with long, sweeping hills and hedgerows. When the sun filtered in through the trees it was simply spectacular.

So if you have a case of cabin fever or love to hunt quail -- and like fried biscuits with homemade cane syrup -- Willowin Plantation is the place to go. You can call Will at 404-502-0880.