Doug Porter: Quail Hunting Puts Albany On the Map

Doug Porter

Monday, February 6th, 2017

As a recent retiree, I have a lot of time to think and most of my thinking these days is done from a unique platform — the driver’s seat on a mule-drawn wagon.

Last fall, I secured a part-time job at a local quail hunting plantation driving a couple of draft-horse sized mules and handling a small English cocker spaniel that serves as a retriever. Most afternoons, I sit with my feet propped up on the wagon, my hands firmly on the reins, and a dog standing in my lap, waiting to answer the call, “Find that bird.”

I have watched vultures floating in a cloudless sky, felt the breezeas it rustles the sea of wiregrass before me, and watched the pointers race around like athletes in some crazy, random cross-country race.

As a wagon driver, I find myself in close contact with our guests and I meet some interesting folks. They are mostly business people hosting their friends, relatives, and clients — often working important deals in an intimate, relaxed setting. Some drive from nearby cities in the Southeast, but most fly into Albany on their private jets from far-off cities like Boston, New York and Chicago.

Conversations on my wagon always include comments on our Southern hospitality, and I have lost count of the number of times I have heard a guest exclaiming, “My gosh, this place is beautiful!” This is often followed by a description of comparable experiences hunting grouse in Scotland, waterfowl in Spain and doves in Argentina.

These folks can afford to be anywhere in the world and one of their favorite spots is a place of world-class beauty at a quail hunting plantation outside Albany, Georgia.

I am not a hunter myself, but I am a confirmed meat-eater and I know where my chicken and hamburger comes from. The people who harvest quail for consumption in our South Georgia woods are honoring an age-old tradition. The quail have a sporting chance, and many more fly away than are shot. They are, I would argue, better off than the chickens in a processing plant or cattle in a feed lot.

And out of this hunting industry comes something good as a byproduct — natural areas are preserved. In the Sierra Club Magazine’s January issue, famed biologist E.O. Wilson wrote an essay titled, “It’s Time to Strike a Fair Deal with Wild Nature.” In it, he identifies 12 of the “best places in the biosphere”— places like the Amazon River basin and the Serengeti grasslands. These places, Wilson suggests, are “some of the best places to see the natural living environment, places where Earth’s biodiversity can still be saved.”

Our own longleaf pine savanna of the U. S. Southeast is listed as one of the 12. It is, I believe, quail hunting that has preserved enough habitat to make this list.

Before I took this job, I never appreciated how important this industry is to our region. How many people, like me, are drawing paychecks from it? How many thousands of acres of pine-savanna are being preserved? And how many out-of-town guests love our area? I wonder how many times a conversation at some posh, New York cocktail party would go something like this:

“Where were you last week?”

“Oh, I was hunting quail down near Albany, Georgia, one of the most beautiful places on earth.”

We should roll out the red carpet for these folks. That’s advertising you can’t buy.

Doug Porter is the former executive director of Chehaw.