Mr. Jimmy Bryan, proprietor of Prairie Wildlife, invited Wildrose Kennels’ Presdent, Mike Stewart, and me for a quail hunting experience at his conservation and sporting estate outside West Point, Mississippi. Mike brought along two strike-and-retriever dogs, two-year-old Wildrose Deke, the Ducks Unlimited mascot, and Wildrose Indian, a fifteen-month-old yellow lab.
Southern Comfort: During our visit we enjoyed gracious hospitality, fine dining, and plush accommodations at Bryan Lodge. Our dog companions stayed steady on their mats at the lodge doors all the while that we were indoors.
With Mr. Bryan as our gracious host and with capable Harry Pasisis, the lodge manager and chef, serving up a sumptuous repasts, Mike and I reveled in an abundance of good talk and fellowship.
Conservation Practices: As Dr. Loren (Wes) Burger, professor of wildlife ecology and management at nearby Mississippi State University, explained to us Mr. Bryan has converted more than 400 acres of former cropland into herbaceous buffers. They contain native prairie grasses, legumes, and wildflowers under the Conservation Reserve Program, which provides economic incentives for farmers to create such successional native grass buffers around edges of crop fields to benefit upland wildlife such as bobwhite.
Mr. Bryan employs Lee Woodall, a full-time biologist, to implement his comprehensive conservation plan for quail buffers that provide a hospital environment for the game birds, providing quality recreational hunting, as we were soon to experience.
Location and History: Midway between Columbus and Starkville, West Point is a medium-sized city, smaller by half than Meridian, which is an hour and a half due south, and Tupelo, forty-five minutes north. West Point is the repository of a miscellany of historical, cultural, and economic notes. In the 1540s Spanish conquistador, Hernando de Soto, traversed the region, bringing Arabian horses and Extremaduran swine, the antecedents of razorback hogs. Civil War history makes note of the 1864 Battle of Ellis Bridge, where General Nathan Bedford Forrest stopped the forward movement of Union General William “Sooy” Smith’s cavalry that was trying to link up with General William T. Sherman in Meridian. A half-century later “Howlin’ Wolf” Chester Burnett, the 1950s Chicago Blues artist, was born and reared in West Point. Among the region’s economic engines have been Bryan Foods, Mossy Oak Camouflage, and Navistar Defense.
Strike Dogs on the Hunt: The morning after our arrival we were headed for an adventure of hunting bobwhite quail the Mississippi way, riding a mule-drawn wagon with a passel of English pointers into the grasslands of the black prairie. After a hearty Southern breakfast of traditional fare—coffee and juice, a stack of pancakes with sausage and warm syrup—we made our way to the field and loaded up on the mule-drawn wagon. Mike loaded Indian, who sniffed his way around, especially exploring those large beasts of burden that would lead the way under the wagon master’s steady hand. Prairie Wildlife’s veteran dog handler, Paul Lavender, also loaded Mr. Bryan’s pointers, Imus and Samantha.
Mike and Paul have been long-time acquaintances and hunting partners, so Paul jokingly admired Mike’s aging coat, a waxed-cotton Filson that fit every contour of Mike’s body and, he claimed, felt all the more broken in for a number of small tears in the sleeves.
We shooters all carried side-by-sides. Mike and I were using sixteen-gauge guns. Mike had a 1923 Ithaca double-trigger sixteen gauge. I had a Spanish Eibar of the same age, also a double-trigger. We shot number eight shot game loads. Mr. Bryan carried a Bernadelli twenty-eight gauge, double-trigger, sidelock. Imported by William, Larki & Moore, the gun was made in Gardene Val Trompia, Italy. This beautiful weapon had a straight grip and twenty-six inch barrels, choked IC/M.
When we stepped off the wagon and walked onto the prairie, the ten mile-per-hour northwesterly wind made thirty-two degrees feel like twenty-six. Soon, though, sunshine angled from far down on the Southern horizon, brightening the ground and raising the temp more than ten degrees by noon. This was great weather for hunting game birds. Out of the box the pointers frisked around in large circles at great speed, burning of their adrenalin rushes. But they soon were obedient to Paul’s directions and were eager to hunt ’em up. Deke heeled to Mike; Indian stayed on the mule wagon with the wagon master.
As we left the wagon and walked well-mown lanes in the man-tall grasses, Paul kept track of his dogs with a gps location system that showed the distance and direction of each dog, indicating if it was hunting or pointing. With active dogs and useful technology we stayed in birds during the entire hunting period. Paul has trained the pointers to hunt close for this type of plantation-style hunt.
In Imus and Samantha Paul has graceful, athletic runners that are hard-driving hunters, alert and eager to work the field to locate the hidden quail. Imus will sound off in short bursts of voice at first, but soon enough will go silent as he races up and down lanes and into the deep grass. These agile speedsters can cover a wide area quickly, sniffing for scent. Using a brace of dogs, Paul can pinpoint the precise location of a bird. When one dog holds point, Paul calls in the second dog on the same bird from a different direction. After both dogs point, they establish the bird’s position at the juncture of the line between their noses.
During the hunt Deke heeled to Mike, steadily backing up the dogs on point. When directed, he struck to flush the covey, but otherwise Deke waited steadily during the shooting and retrieved each downed bird on Mike’s command, oftentimes having to root deeply into tight cover to find the small quarry.
On the first run Deke steadily backed lemon-headed Imus and we flushed a covey of birds that launched in spurts in all directions. We dropped birds here and there. The value of a retriever is that you can hold him in a specified area to search and retrieve, whereas the pointers are so energetic that they rush about over a large area. Imus finally proved to be a solid retriever and brought in a bird. In workmanlike fashion Deke delivered the rest.
In the second round Mr. Bryan graciously invited me to select the choice of position and to take the first shot. I joked that he was just trying to prove that I was a writer. We hit upon birds that ran in the grass, something common to preserve birds. We struck upon and shot one bird after another and held off retrieving until we had shot through the covey. The rewarding part of hunting with Deke as a retriever was that he enabled us to bag all of the birds with no losses, even with wounded game on the run.
On the third covey flush, Mr. Bryan took one that dropped in the field. Two others sailed away from Mike, angling to his left towards a cedar hedgerow. At this point Mike showed his practiced hand and sharp eye, dropping both flyers. He lined Deke for a double retrieve and the dog proved as keen as the shooter.
Even as the party kept moving at a good pace, still we had moments after shooting and while regrouping the pointers to “visit” in the Southern way, chatting genially about other hunts and sharing information on the well-being of common acquaintances. Mr. Bryan, Paul, and Mike could each be counted on for a quip that sent us into rollicking laughter. As the saying goes, “These guys are a mess.”
In looking for singles and downed birds we struck another covey with a single dog on point. Mike sent Deke to strike. Samantha came into this hunt late and ended up backing Deke, who momentarily pointed before the strike. Mike shot one from the rise. With Deke again steady after the flush and the shot, Mike sent him on the retrieve.
One gratifying part of this hunt is that with Deke to retrieve—and acknowledging Imus’ occasional retrieves—we bagged all of the birds that we shot.
Indian, who had stayed at the wagon for most of the hunt, was introduced to the field in the final round of shooting. He was steady with Mike and eagerly searched for down prey, when sent. At the close of our day in the field, Mike tossed a few dead birds into dense cover and sent Indian on retrieves to acquaint him with this new activity and to reward him for his patience throughout the day.
On the ride back to the lodge we saw several hunting stands strategically placed on big game travel routes from feeding areas to bedding sites. Using motion-activated cameras, Mr. Bryan’s staff has identified trophy-size game for hunters who opt for a deer-hunting experience.
Lunchtime: Following the hunt, Mr. Bryan and Harry hosted us for a lunch of iced tea, fresh collard greens, roast pork loin, rice pilaf, whole-kernel corn, and for dessert, a walnut-filled, cinnamon crumble cake, drizzled with a warm caramel sauce.
After a photo-shoot in front of the lodge with the hunters, the dogs, and the birds, Mike and I loaded up the labs and returned to Oxford, chatting about Wildrose’s busy calendar of events to keep us alert on the road. When Mike kenneled Deke and Indian at Wildrose, rewarding them with a daily feeding, we left two dogs that had had fun in the field and lodge and that were happy to return to their kennelmates.
Southern Style: Prairie Wildlife is an excellent sporting venue for Wildrose family members and their dogs to enjoy a high-quality outdoors adventure, hunting bobwhite prairie quail, Southern style. The ambience of Southern tradition pervades all of the estate’s activities, including the gracious demeanor of the host, the elegant lodge amenities, the mule-drawn wagon ride, and the hunt on authentic prairie lands. It’s all the more rewarding because it is part of a worthy cause of conserving the threatened black prairie ecosystem.
To get information or to make reservations for a Prairie Wildlife adventure, go to its website by clicking on the icon at the bottom of the blog’s first page or call 662-295-7224.
Quail Recipe from Bryan Lodge: On a subsequent visit to Prairie Wildlife with a client and his Wildrose strike and retrieve dog, Mike and I were able to enjoy Harry Pasisis’ preparation of the freshly-harvested quarry. Plus, Harry graciously offered to share his recipe with our readers.
Harry Paisisis’ Fried Quail & Gravy (Serves 15)
Fresh Quail (amount?)
4 Tbls. butter
½ lb. bacon, diced fine
1 medium yellow onion, diced fine
½ cup of flour
3 cups of milk
1 cup of water or chicken stock
2-3 drops of Kitchen Bouquet
2 tsp. salt
1 ½ freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. of granulated garlic
Render the bacon brown with butter on medium heat, 10 min.
Add onion and cook until caramelized around edges, 7 min.
Add the flour, cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring until slightly browned into a roux.
Add liquid slowly a cup at a time, stirring and cooking to let the gravy get thick.
Soak fresh quail in water for two hours, rinsing occasionally. Then soak it in milk for two hours.
Roll the quail in flour, seasoned with salt, pepper and granulated garlic.
Fry the quail in hot oil at medium heat, turning to cook evenly, six minutes to a side.
Serve with rice and gravy.
Acknowledgements and Resources Consulted
Burger, Loren (Wes), Creating Early Successional Wildlife Habitat through Federal Farm Programs: An Objective-Driven Approach with Case Studies. USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Services Technical Note, March 2006.
Conservation Buffers: Wildlife Benefits in Southeastern Agricultural Systems, FWRC Research Advance
Singleton, L.C., L.W. Burger Jr., R. Hamrick. 2010. Northern bobwhite management on private lands: Clay County, Mississippi property management. Research Note, Forest and Wildlife Research Center, Mississippi State University. 2010.
Geologist Charles Swann, Associate Director of State Programs, Mississippi Mineral Resources Institute, University of Mississippi
Harry Pasisis, Bryan Lodge Manager and Chef
Megan Hopkins, Prairie Wildlife photography
Website of West Point, MS: The City of West Point, MS
Website of West Point, MS: The Battle of Ellis Bridge