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S.C. Quail Restoration and Bird Dogs at Moree’s Sportsman Preserve

A return trip to hunt quail at Moree’s Sportsman Preserve in Chesterfield County on October 2 was nearly canceled due to storm damage from Hurricane Florence. Just two weeks earlier this area known as Society Hill received 24-inches of flooding rain, washing out some access roads. The longtime manager at Moree’s is Mike Johnson, and he worked overtime to prep their property and facilities for our hunt. Guide Billy Benson and I discussed bird dog lineage during the entire morning hunt, since I own one of the English Setters he raised eleven years ago at Moree’s.
The annual meeting of the SouthEast Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA) rotates from state to state, and the 2018 meeting took place in Florence, South Carolina. The tropical rains did not affect downtown Florence, but an outbreak of gnats and mosquitoes lingers. Outdoor writer Mike Giles came from Mississippi to join me on the quail hunt at Moree’s after fishing for freshwater bass in their multiple lakes. Unseasonably warm temperatures required that we use two braces of bird dogs in order to guard their health, one of which was a half-brother to my own bird dog.
“I have been guiding here for 30 years now,” said Billy Benson of Florence. “Your dog’s mother was named Roxy, and this 9-year old male named Hoss is from a separate litter of puppies from Roxy. I watch the dogs each year to measure their ability to hunt and Hoss seems primed and ready for another hunting season. Aging is different for all dogs, but around age 11 is when I see it really slow down my working dogs. Another guide here named Leroy Jordan uses English Setters from the same lineage as your dog.”
The green grass was thick, and the dew was heavy this morning, so the ground cover was not yet ideal for upland hunting. The quail flushed too soon in some cases, making it to the safety of the nearby treeline, but the dogs did their job admirably ahead of the wingshooters. The special and unique joy for me on this hunt was to see the traces of similar markings on the English setters we hunted over, while thinking back about past hunts with my own dog. When I told Benson that Chester survived a rattlesnake strike two years ago, he replied that danger from snakes is almost year round now for bird dogs due to the warmer climate.
Moree’s Sportsman Preserve allows hunters to bring their own bird dogs to hunt over, or they can supply the bird dogs. They also offer several different lodging options on the property in order to better enjoy their rural experience. The preserve season for hunting quail in S.C. opens October 1 and continues until March 31, but Moree’s also offers a brand new sporting clays course for guests to sharpen their shooting skills. A combo package featuring golf at the nearby Cheraw Country Club is also popular with return customers who come to Moree’s each year to enjoy the scenic beauty of the rolling terrain found there.

The SEOPA conference in Florence featured bobwhite quail as a discussion topic with SCDNR’s small game biologist Michael Hook and Don McKenzie of the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI). Quail population numbers have been in decline in every state of its range for decades, but out of the failure to fully grasp this landscape scale problem, a new resolve is forming to save our bird hunting culture. Grassland songbirds have also been identified in decline, and it turns out that they require the same early successional habitat as bobwhite quail. A new management strategy that regards both the gamebirds and the songbirds as a treasured resource is uniting partners in conservation like never before.
“We already have plans for a second fundraiser for the S.C. Bobwhite Initiative at the Millstone in Columbia,” said Hook. “We want to establish a field day to raise awareness about quail habitat to the public, and we are bringing in Bill Palmer from Tall Timbers to talk to landowners this November about what tactics they can implement on the ground right now. Our focus areas in S.C. are larger than in the past and our personnel is increasing too. Our quail count numbers for 2018 were almost exactly what they were in 2017 and we have made a long-term commitment to bring back bobwhites.”
Looking at the S.C. Bobwhite Restoration Priority Map online reveals the historical range of bobwhite quail, and which areas are designated as a high priority area. Upland hunting is not as popular with younger generations presently due to decreased opportunity to hunt quail, but if quail recovery occurs then their telltale whistling and covey flushes will be undeniable. The NBCI leadership challenges the SEOPA membership to play a vital role in showcasing wild bobwhite success stories, and my bird dog and I are ready to go on point.

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (394 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com