Wildrose Kennels has formed working relationships with a number of fine shooting estates and hunting lodges across the continent, the most recent of which is with Westervelt Lodge, near Aliceville, Alabama. This blog has carried a number of posts on our sporting adventures elsewhere and I am delighted to begin reporting on our activities with Westervelt Recreation. Recently, Wildrose associate trainers and dogs picked up pheasants at an Eagles’ Wings Pheasant Shoot, the proceeds from which benefited Eagles’ Wings, a non-profit organization that provides day habilitation services for adults with mild, moderate, and severe intellectual and physical disabilities, including those who are medically fragile.
On Friday, February 4th I accompanied Mike Stewart and seven associate trainers on the day-long activity. Fellow travelers included Sarah Barnes, Tuscaloosa, AL; Tim Clancy, Whitman, MA; Josh Dewitt, Jackson, MO; Craig Korff, Sheboygan Falls, WI; Jay Lowry, Vandalia, IL; Joe Dan Robinson, Stoneville, MS; and Tom Smith Oxford, MS. The crew trailered a passel of elite gundogs, including their personal dogs, some recent imports, and clients’ dogs-in- training.
In two trucks, each with a trailer load of dogs, we left in the predawn from the kennels in Oxford and caravanned 140 miles southeast to Westervelt, one of the last large hunting plantations from the Old South. Westervelt occupies 10,000 acres of land sprawling along the scenic Tombigbee River in west Alabama, featuring upland habitat zones and mixed pine and hardwood stands. Lodge manager, Steven Carroll, greeted us as the wingshooting guests were breakfasting and he directed us to set up several miles into the interior of the property at the site where the action was soon to take place. Shortly after we arrived on site and unloaded the dogs, the shooting guests arrived at there as well. After receiving safety instructions, the shooters positioned themselves by the pegs and we dog handlers and our retrievers occupied spots several yards behind each peg.
Modeled after European driven-style pheasant shoots, this Continental pheasant shoot featured ten pegs situated in a large circle around a tower that was hidden in a copse of tall pines. As Jay Steen, Wildlife Coordinator, and his crew released pheasants individually from the tower, each flew up and over the pines and out toward the woods on the perimeter, giving the guests an opportunity at wingshooting. Our dogs also followed the flight of each bird, marking the position of the fall. As birds fell in a handler’s area, he or she sent a dog to retrieve it. A dozen or more pheasants were released in each round of shooting, with shooters rotating counterclockwise after each round. During the morning session the dog handlers moved in the same direction as the shooters. In the afternoon session as the shooters rotated counterclockwise to another peg, the dog handlers and their dogs rotated clockwise. This ensured that the dogs and handlers were able to work in all of the areas of the shooting site and with each group of wingshooters.
The pheasants flew high and they sailed swiftly towards the woods, challenging the wingshooters and giving the dogs lots of sky-scanning opportunities. For the dogs this shoot gave them live bird flight, gunfire, and prey falling action for marking and retrieving. Given the variety of the surrounding environs (from limited open field around the pegs to tall, thick pine woods surrounding the shooting circle), the dogs got a great workout retrieving in different outdoor settings. The more challenging retrieves, of course, were blinds, when birds fell far into the dense woods and the dogs were lined and handled to the fall.
With 198 picks in the morning, followed by 154 in the evening, the Wildrose crew was pleased with the live-action fieldwork for the dogs. The wingshooters and the Westervelt staff were mightily impressed with the Wildrose gundogs, as well. Several folks commented on the dogs’ retrieving abilities, their fine confirmation, and their calm, quiet, and steady demeanor.
One unexpected visitor arrived on the scene early this season, however. Because of unseasonably warm weather, a rattlesnake appeared in the road near our trucks and trailers. The staff dispatched it in quick order. The day also showed us variable weather conditions, with the morning hunt under cloud cover and the afternoon hunt in rain, ranging from light drizzle to occasional heavy downpours.
At the end of the morning and afternoon shoots the Wildrose crew assisted the Westervelt staff in cleaning the game birds. The entire group lunched at the rustic lodge, with its original 65-year-old tongue and groove pine floors and 40-inch stone fireplaces located on either side of the lounge. Wagon wheel light fixtures, rustic furnishings, and trophy game adorn the lodge. Black-and-white pictures in the hallway depict the history of the lodge’s hunts. For lunch the group enjoyed Southern table fare and the hospitality of the wait staff that served chicken breasts, corn, rice, gravy, corn muffins, and everyone’s favorite—warm banana pudding topped off with meringue.
About Westervelt Lodge: Always focused on delivering an authentic hunting experience, Westervelt developed a nationally recognized professional wildlife and forest management program that attained and preserved their tradition of providing a true challenge in a fair chase setting. Westervelt Lodge’s topnotch management and professional guides create opportunities for excellent whitetail deer hunting, turkey hunting, or quail hunting. After a day of hunting, guests can enjoy lodge dining and private bedrooms and bath with king size beds and daily housekeeping services. Westervelt also offers fishing ponds, endless trails, regulation skeet range, rifle range, 3-D archery course and a seven-stand sporting clay course. Kevin McKinstry manages Westervelt Recreation and Steven Carroll, manages Westervelt Lodge. For information call (800) 281-7991. (The information in this paragraph comes from Westervelt’s website.)
The photographs in the accompanying gallery come from several sources, including Westervelt Lodge’s website, my camera, and my iPhone. Among the dogs that participated are Oak, Deke, Cali, and Opus (with Mike), Gunner (with Sarah Barnes), Rusty (with Tim Clancy), Maggie, Raven, Claret, Josie (with Josh Dewitt), Molly (with Craig Korff), Duke, Tess, Zeke, and Greta (with Jay Lowry), Preacher and Smoke (with Joe Dan Robinson), Dixie (with Tom Smith) and Eider (with Ben McClelland.)
Click on any of the images in the gallery below to initiate a slide show that you can advance at your desired speed.