WOODBINE, Ga. — On a Saturday morning in a Georgia Low Country field dense with thickets and thigh-high briars, we hit the trail with five other women, a hunting guide, an English pointer, a black Lab, and loaded shotguns. We were on our first-ever quail hunt at the Broadfield Sporting Club and Lodge. We were gun virgins. Before this ultimate wild-to-table trip, we’d never shot a firearm.
We followed Cruz, the English pointer, as he zigzagged wildly through the moss-draped pine forest and open fields. He was clearly a happy dog, on a serious mission. “Yup, yup, yup,” Chuck Dean, our guide yodeled, keeping Cruz in earshot if not in sight.
“He’s getting bird-y,” Dean said, motioning us to quicken our pace. “Yep, he’s on point.” Up ahead, Cruz was poised, dead still, in front of a tangle of briars. We took our positions, guns at the ready. On command, Cruz flushed a covey of wild birds; we jumped; guns popped. Nothing dropped.
“Those birds scared you, didn’t they?” Dean asked with a knowing smile. “But you shot the hell out of that tree.”
The birds were so small. They flew so low. It happened so fast. It was chaos. And thrilling.
“Break ’em down,” Dean said, instructing us to disengage the shotguns. “Let’s go. Cruz is already back on point.”
Guns scare us, but the idea of hunting for our dinner was strangely appealing and empowering. And the Broadfield quail hunting experience, operated by the Forbes five-star Sea Island resort, was an easy, indulgent way for us lady novices to try out the traditional sport. But if we had the notion that hunting was going to be a backwoods, beer-soaked, mud-caked experience (and we did), it was obliterated the moment we arrived at Broadfield.
“We all have a deep passion for the place,” said Lee Barber, the general manager, as he drove us around the preserve. “We hope you feel it too.”
The isolated, private preserve stretches across more than 5,800 well-maintained acres. Old logging roads crisscross through open fields and forests of live oaks and towering pines, and lead to two lakes stocked with bass and bream. Wildlife is abundant, including turkey, deer, pheasant, and quail. The parcel was carved out of the original 50,000-acre Sea Island Shooting Preserve, one of the South’s earliest sporting camps.
There’s a kitchen, lodge, smokehouse, beehives, chicken coops, and organic gardens on the property. While some guests stayed over at the upscale resort on Sea Island (there’s shuttle service to and from the sporting club), we stayed in the rustically elegant, two-bedroom, three-bath cabin at Broadfield, with a stone fireplace and golden pecky pine walls. We went to sleep under star-splashed skies and awoke to birdsong.
The first morning, we ate fresh eggs with house-smoked sausage and thick bacon slabs, creamy grits and buttery biscuits with Mayhaw jelly, prepared by Caleb Smith, Broadfield’s talented young chef. After the Southern-style feast, we headed to the shooting range for a quick lesson, shooting clay pigeons with 20-gauge Beretta shotguns.
”You don’t aim a shotgun,” Dean said. “You point it.” Dean taught us the proper stance, how to tuck the shotgun into the crook of our shoulders (so it doesn’t kiss you when it kicks back), and where to place our hands.
“Lean forward,” he told Kristen, an outdoorsy, soft-spoken woman from Vermont. When she shattered her first clay pigeon, we whooped and hollered.
Kat, a fashion magazine editor from New York, dressed in a mink (yes!) vest and knee-high leather boots, was the ringer in the group. “That felt good,” she said, after hitting nearly all the clay pigeons with precision and attitude. The rest of us? Not so much. We shot under; we shot over; we shot too soon; we shot too late. But after a while, with Dean’s warm encouragement and gentle instructions, we managed to shatter a few. We were gun virgins no more.
It was time for the hunt.
“I actually feel safer with you women,” Dean said as we walked the fields, trying to keep up with Cruz. “It’s the experienced, cocky men I worry about. I’ve had to stand a few down.”
We’d already flushed a few quail, and balked, not confident enough in our shooting. What if we accidently shot one of the dogs? The adrenaline in our group was pumping as fast as Cruz’s lean legs.
“He’s got one!” Kristen yelled, pointing to a stock-still Cruz. We hurried to get in position, cocked and hoisted the shotguns to our shoulders, and waited for Dean to give the command to flush. Four, five, six, maybe more, quail flew in front of us. Guns went off and a tiny bird fell to the ground. Scout, the black Lab, was sent to retrieve it from the thick underbrush. Dinner (well, a snack) was in the bag.
In all, our group returned with five quail. We thought that was pretty good until we chatted to a couple of guys back at the lodge. They had bagged 48. No matter, we women hunter-gatherers felt emboldened by our stalk, kill, eat adventure. And, the crispy fried quail, grilled venison loin, and sweet corn fritters that Smith prepared for us that evening were “mighty fine.”
BROADFIELD SPORTING CLUB AND LODGE 100 Cloister Drive, Sea Island, Ga. 855-714-9201, www.seaisland.com
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com.