Our plane banks gently to the right, and the bright blue of an endless sky slides up and out of the frame made by my small passenger window. Miles of coastal salt marshes rotate into view, filling my field of vision with a jigsaw landscape etched by mud-colored rivers which snake slow paths through acres of tall cordgrass on their final push to the sea. The plane continues its spiralling descent, and the marshes give way to thick swatches of pine and oak farther inland. This is my first glimpse of Georgia lowcountry, and it is beautiful.

We are on a mission for quail. Our destination is Broadfield, a 5,800-acre private hunting reserve just inland from the Georgia coast rumored to have some truly excellent lowcountry quail hunting. Broadfield was once a part of a sprawling 50,000 acre shooting preserve frequented by US presidents and southern gentleman alike. It was sold off in 1942 by owner Bill Jones, founder of the nearby Sea Island resort, during financially tenuous post-depression years in order to keep the resort afloat. In the 1990s, his grandson Bill Jones III, current CEO of Sea Island, jumped at the opportunity to buy back a portion of his grandfather’s land and set about restoring it to its former glory.

The grounds are surprisingly isolated, tucked away behind a dense layers of longleaf pine and accessible via a series of rustic dirt roads. The isolation only adds to the charm of the place, fostering a truly immersive experience that gently suggests visitors leave behind the cares of the outside world. We are met at the exterior gate by grounds manager Lee Barber who shows us to our sleeping quarters before an afternoon tour of the grounds.

Lee is a laid-back yet no-nonsense kind of guy. He exudes the quiet, easy confidence of a man deeply in touch with the land he loves. His connection to Broadfield spans three generations, and he proudly describes how, under his grandfather’s watchful eye, current owner Bill Jones III took his first deer on the Broadfield grounds at the age of fourteen. As we tour the property, Lee’s lean, blue-eyed dog AJ bounds effortlessly alongside our “bird buggy,” an open-air Toyota Tundra converted for the purpose of transporting visitors over the dirt logging roads that wind their way through stands of pine and oak.

Lee’s knowledge of and care for Broadfield is all-encompassing. He points out the integrated food plots scattered throughout the property—grocery stores for a variety of game—and mentions the experimental pruning he’s done on patches of longleaf pine, just to see how they respond over the years. He describes the importance of their two-year brush burning rotation, which he oversees, and which is a crucial element in maintaining a healthy ecosystem on the grounds. And he makes sure to point out the “blackwater” that defines the swampy areas of the property, noting that, despite its appearance, it is in fact a nutrient-rich elixir, brimming with dissolved organic matter, life-giving sustenance for the plants whose roots wind their way through the rich black mud. As the afternoon progresses, it becomes abundantly clear the Lee is also a certified, card-carrying badass.

“A while back, I was driving home, and I saw something moving in the road. At first I couldn’t tell what it was, but when I got closer, I saw it was a gator, so I scooped him up and put him in the back of the truck and released him in one of our beaver ponds so I can track his growth. It can be really hard to tell how old gators are because so much of their size depends on food availability. I’ve been feeding him for a few years now so I’m hoping that’ll give me a good idea of how fast they grow when there’s a regular food supply.”

The story rolls casually off Lee’s tongue in between descriptions of the rarity and quality of the pecky cypress ceilings in the guest cabins and the trophy gator that used to hang in the main lodge before it burned down in a lighting strike. For a moment the story doesn’t strike us as all that peculiar. But then a lightbulb goes on, and Randy asks, “Wait, Lee, how big was this gator when you scooped him up?”

“Oh I’d say eight, eight and a half feet, maybe.” Lee responds nonchalantly, as if “scooping up” alligators the size of an NFL lineman is no big deal. “They’re reptiles, so they’ve only got a few good bursts of energy in them before they wear out. You’ve just got to mess with ‘em until they’re tired, and then it’s just a matter of jumping on their back and tying ‘em up. You’ve really gotta commit when you go for it though; the key is to move quick and get your knees behind their front legs so they can’t scoot out from underneath you. And make sure to get a good grip on the jaws right away. You don’t wanna put your hands down on either side of the head, or it can get a hold of your arm.”

We shake our heads in collective disbelief as we are ushered into the main lodge where a four-course, southern-style dinner awaits us. Bryan Slattery, the chef, has kindly allowed me to sneak back to the kitchen to snap a few photos of the mouth-watering dishes that await us. As the meal unfolds, the pride and care he lavishes on each plate shines through in each increasingly delicious course.

First there is a quail and shrimp gumbo, made with Broadfield quail. The tender chunks of quail meat swim in a rich, slightly spicy broth, providing a delightful contrast to the firmer texture of the shrimp. Next comes a simple kale salad, drizzled lightly with a tangy vinaigrette, adorned with quartered cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumber, and nuggets of cauliflower. It is not often one uses the phrase, “melts in your mouth” when referring to salad, but there can be no other description for this one. No doubt the tender kale, freshly picked from the Broadfield garden, contributed immensely to the effect.

Continuing the locally-sourced theme, the main course is a succulent set of Broadfield-harvested venison medallions, artfully presented and complemented by a fruity, slightly peppery red wine. The wine proves so delightful we feel compelled to ask Bryan if perhaps he accidentally grabbed the wrong bottle. He smiles knowingly and responds by bringing out dessert—picture-perfect wedges of pecan pie piled high with fresh mixed berries, atop a swirl of sorghum-sweetened whipped cream. At the end of the meal, I find myself fighting the urge to jump up and hug the man. When one is the recipient of a gift borne of the love of craft and given in a spirit of humility, one should take note and appreciate it properly. We opt to shower a profusion of thank yous on Bryan before retiring, utterly satisfied, to our guest house.

We rise before dawn, eager for the hunt. Wes, our guide for the day, greets us as we load our guns and gear into the bird buggy. Word around Broadfield is that he’s something of a dog whisperer, and we are all excited to see his dogs in action. As we make our way to the quail fields, the Georgia sun begins to rise, flooding the pines with orange light. The crisp morning air stings our cheeks and sets our eyes to watering as we pass beneath ancient oaks dripping with Spanish moss that tangles with the sunshine, a shimmering carpet of silvery greens in the golden light. Occasionally we spot quail darting into the brush ahead of our truck, which only serves to heighten our anticipation.

Wes guides the buggy off the main road down a faint set of tracks through waist high clumps of broom sedge and spiky stands of saw palmetto. Longleaf pines punctuate the low shrubbery at regular intervals creating a backdrop unlike anything I’ve seen before. I feel oddly at home in this dry pine forest, which is reminiscent of the subalpine mountain forests in my home state of Washington. The saw palmetto, however, lends an almost tropical effect to the scene, bringing to mind coastal California. Yet here we are in Georgia, a couple thousand miles from those states, just inland from the Atlantic Ocean.

We park a hundred yards in and begin to load up the guns while Wes unloads the dogs. He is running a set of athletic English pointers out front, with a handsome lab held back as as a flusher. The pointers fly through the brush and tall grass, each dog intent on scenting the first quail. Mid-stride, one of the dogs snaps to attention, bringing its mad dash to an abrupt halt. “Set!” hollers Wes, and the second dog freezes in place. The lab sinks into a low crouch, eager to flush, as we move into safe shooting positions. “Alright, get ‘em up, Gus!” Wes instructs, and the lab begins snuffling excitedly ahead of the pointing dog who stands rock solid, unflinching. Within seconds, two bobwhite burst from the cover, wings rattling the foliage as they take to the air. Two shots pierce the morning air, and one of the birds tumbles to the ground. Lauren has the first quail of the day.

It is remarkable to watch Wes and his dogs at work. The four of them seem connected by a string, each simultaneously in the moment, yet acutely aware of each other’s actions. Throughout the day we rarely miss an opportunity due to an over-eager dog, and it becomes easy to take for granted the skill of both dogs and trainer as we fall into an easy rhythm: walk – talk – point – set – flush – shoot. As our game bags begin to bulge, we stop to water the dogs and admire the beauty of the handsome little birds we’ve been fortunate to harvest. In the hand, the bobwhite are stunning, their feathers an intricate tapestry of earthy reds and creamy whites, broken by bars of inky black. Yet that same plumage, so striking up close, becomes a cloak of invisibility against the forest floor. Wes informs us that quail prefer to run or hide when threatened, and the superiority of their camouflage makes it clear why they opt for stealth before flight. Several times throughout the day we come upon a dog on point, only to witness a quail materialize at the last moment, often mere inches from the dog’s nose, where none appeared to exist moments before.

We return in the afternoon, thoroughly satisfied. The day has been a delight, and the swift bobwhite have proven themselves a worthy quarry. The excellence exhibited by Wes and his dogs has often made the hunt feel leisurely, but we come away feeling that we have earned the honor of taking home each quail that fell before our best placed shots. Their sacrifice will not be in vain. There are meals to be enjoyed, and flies to be tied; gifts bestowed upon us by these noble little birds.

Our time at Broadfield comes to an end far too soon. In just twenty-four hours, it has become apparent that this is a special piece of land. Yes, the staff are delightful, the lodgings charming, the atmosphere enchanting, the food delicious, the hunting excellent. There is a reason your average Joe may only visit a place like this once or twice in a lifetime, but there are a lot of places where one can spend a pretty penny on a high-end wingshooting experience. What sets Broadfield apart is the culture. This is an establishment that wears its history and love of place on its sleeve, not as a marketing ploy, but as a badge of honor. It is a place that has been, and continues to be, deeply loved. And it is this love, of land, of game, and of the lowcountry upland hunting tradition, that one finds permeating every aspect of the stay. If you find yourself fortunate enough to tread the fields and forests of Broadfield, make sure to take a moment to breath deeply and savor the sweetness of the air and the beauty of the land. There aren’t many places quite like this one.