Good Old Fashioned

By Ashley Johnson
Managing editor

Once upon a simpler time, quail hunts were a common sport among those in South Georgia and northern Florida. But this was a common man’s sport until rich industrial leaders like Henry Ford and John Rockefeller discovered it, built their own private plantations and added gentrification to the overall experience.

These rich men located themselves in the region and brought along their not-so-simple lifestyle.

Pine Hill Plantation in Donalsonville, named Orvis’ Wingshooting Lodge of the Year for 2013, is a quail hunting lodge pulling together that same gentrification of those good old fashioned hunts, with the accessibility of a public plantation.

Owner and operator Doug Coe said he wanted to reach out to a group of clients who were longing for the experience of a private plantation hunt and combine that with an organic hunting experience.

Located off of Spring Creek Road the 6,000 acre facility sits on a lot of longleaf pine timber with a wiregrass understory. There are several state of the art lodges that accommodate groups between 10 and 12 and they come equipped with a house staff for meals and other accommodations. The quail hunts are done on horseback along with a mule-drawn wagon and the plantation houses more than 50 dogs ready for the hunt.

Clients come from all across the U.S. for trips to Pine Hill. A large percentage of clients fly in on private aircraft, coming from places like New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Utah and Texas.

The fine amenities certainly make Pine Hill unique, but it’s the style of the quail hunts that set the plantation apart.

“Our goal is to produce authentic quail habitat that results in high challenged covey shooting,” Coe said, who explained Pine Hill does not place birds out prior to hunts, but rather creates and maintains a habitat where they are encouraged to live. Pine Hill utilizes all of their 6,000 acres to maintain natural quail coveys and hunters cover about 250 acres during each hunt.

“We hunt on horseback because its traditional, but it’s also practical,” Coe said. “We move from wild covey to wild covey and if you walk you wont get many coveys in during the day. But if you go on horseback and have big-ranging dogs, you can work in a reasonable amount of coveys.”

The expenses for maintaining 6,000 acres and ensuring that the wild bird populations are at a good level are costly, Coe admits. But the plantation operates on the idea that there are five keys to keeping good quail habitat — cover, cover, cover, feed and feed. Those with the Pine Hill team work to keep shelter for the birds as well as keep predators at bay.

“We have to be very careful that our hunt rotation is such that we do not overhunt a particular area,” Coe said and explained that hunt masters on staff at Pine Hill have to know what coveys to hunt and which ones to let rest.

While other plantations encourage their hunters to shoot as many birds as possible, Pine Hill focuses on not over hunting coveys because they are wild and not placed out by hunt masters.

“This isn’t the place for everybody,” Coe said. “People often call and ask how many birds they will get to shoot. I tell them if the number of birds is what you are after, we are not your place. But if you want the real thing — and you want to be challenged by Mother Nature — and you want to see 30 or 40 birds get up at once and you have to shoot and one and hope you can get to a second, then we are exactly what you want. But there is a big difference. We are really about authenticity.”

Coe’s love for quail hunting came in high school when a classmate introduced him to raising bird dogs and hunting. Coe says he caught the bug, and caught it bad. After college and moving into the business world, Coe would often take hunting trips himself and even bring business clients. He remembers early in his career having the opportunity to be a guest at a number of private plantations.

“I said to myself, now this is the way to do it,” he said about the plantations he visited.

He came across Pine Hill Plantation, a plantation that carried out hunts on horseback and had one small cabin. Coe realized the importance of the place — it was somewhere he could go to enjoy his passion without needing an invitation. He did not own the plantation but had a cabin to himself to bring clients to as he would at a private plantation.

Later in 2003 Coe would sell his business, become a part owner and then in 2005 his co-owner sold the business fully to him.

Coe and his wife built new lodges and pushed forward even during the recession in 2008.

“Everyone pulled back then and we didn’t,” he said about the recession. “We grew more than 50 percent each year, even during the recession.”

A new lodge was just completed in January on the plantation that will now bring the lodging capacity up to the full potential of the hunt capacity, Coe said.

The plantation is also expanding into other new areas of growth, like hosting weddings, events and even conferences where business groups can come for workshops in their new large facility.

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