QU Celebrity Quail Hunt Includes Sonny Perdue
Quail Unlimited’s 2003 celebration of quail hunting on south Georgia plantations helps fund bobwhite quail restoration projects.
For the past 17 years Georgia has hosted the Celebrity Quail Hunt, Quail Unlimited’s (QU) signature event. The concept is simple enough; allow a group of hunters to bid on the opportunity to hunt on select quail-hunting properties with celebrities and corporate executives, and provide a series of highly entertaining evening events where they can celebrate the day’s hunt.
The inaugural hunt took place in 1986 on a single property outside of Savannah.
“On the first morning of the hunt I thought I was witnessing the death of an event before it was even born,” said Joseph Evans, one of the founders of QU. “As luck would have it, the weather forecast for that weekend called for heavy rain, and it really came. I’ll never forget catching up with the hunting party just in time to witness a soaking-wet Ben Johnson chasing an equally wet single bird up a road in a futile attempt to make it fly.”
Not to be deterred, Joseph worked to relocate the event in Albany. “There was initially a high degree of skepticism in the quail-hunting community over the possibility of getting the quality properties located there to participate. But, when a commitment was reached with Blue Springs Plantation everything began to fall into place.”
Joseph and Connie Dean, QU’s director of national events, credit the success and growth of the event to the area landowners and property managers that host the celebrity hunting parties each year. During the 2003 Celebrity Hunt, which took place January 30 through February 2, a total of 46 regional properties participated in the event. The hunting lands are grouped within a 60-mile radius of Albany and include land in Baker, Dougherty, Calhoun, Lee, Mitchell, Sumter and Terrell counties.
Over the years a diverse group of celebrities have participated and many vie for the opportunity to return. Little Jimmy Dickens, Lee Horsley, Steve Kanaly, Lane Smith, and Anne Lockhart are a sampling of the entertainers that participate regularly.
The world of sports has been represented by Ryan Klesko, Nancy Lopez, John Hirshbeck, Nicky Cutro, Dick Butz, and John Schuerholz to name a few.
Georgia’s new Governor Sonny Perdue and Georgia Representatives Bob Lane and Bob Hanner hunted this year as well.
More than 150 hunters take to the quail plantations around Albany each day of the event. The typical party includes one or two celebrity hunters, one or two bid hunters and one or more corporate representatives.
The hunts involve a combination of wild and released birds. The properties hunted range from very well-managed working farms with wild birds to quail plantations where released birds are hunted.
While the concept of the hunt might be simple enough, the logistics required to guarantee its success can be mind-boggling. Each year Dean and her staff arrive a week early to begin the logistical preparations aided by a contingent of local volunteers. Shortly after their arrival, 46 Chevy Suburbans are delivered to serve the transportation needs of the event. The format of the hunt has remained relatively unchanged since inception. However, the name was changed to the Quail Unlimited Chevy Trucks Celebrity Quail Hunt to reflect a significant increase in support and sponsorship of the event from Chevy Trucks.
Although the celebrities for the event are generally scheduled to arrive on Thursday in time for the Landowner’s Appreciation Dinner, many sneak in a few days early to renew old friendships and get a little extra hunting in.
This year, Thursday’s dinner allowed everyone to get acquainted and enjoy some great food prepared by Outback Steakhouse and listen to some of the biggest stars in country music perform.
Friday and Saturday mornings start early for the hunters as they are escorted to their hunts following breakfast. Nonhunters are entertained with a variety of tours throughout the region, giving them an additional taste of Southern Hospitality.
On Friday night Budweiser sponsored an evening with Robert Lee Smith and the Original Tams.
The Maddox Conservation Dinner and live auction are the focus of Saturday evening’s festivities. A wide variety of items ranging from limited-edition and one-of-a-kind artwork and firearms were available to bidders, as well as unique hunts and sporting event packages, not to mention the unique sports memorabilia that the athletes bring. This year, more than 900 people, including 50 celebrities, attended the Conservation Dinner.
Sunday wraps the event up with a Celebrity Sporting Clays Fun Shoot and luncheon at Wynfield Plantation.
The Celebrity Hunt serves as QU’s biggest fundraiser for work to restore upland bird populations.
During the first half of the 20th century, Albany and the pinelands surrounding it were renowned as the “Quail Capital of the World.” This title was not taken lightly. Surveys indicate that in 1949 approximately 22 million quail were harvested nationally. Many states reported more quail being harvested annually than dove. During these glory days of upland bird hunting, the bobwhite quail was, “The Prince of Game Birds.”
However, as agriculture and forestry practices underwent radical changes during the latter part of the century, the nation’s quail populations began to spiral downward. Georgia’s quail hunters were not immune to this phenomenon. Many quit hunting all together; others began to look for other species to hunt.
In 1981, Jerry W. Allen and Joseph R. Evans decided to pursue a different solution to the pending crisis by founding Quail Unlimited Inc. (QU). QU is a national nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to the preservation and re-establishment of upland game bird habitat vitally needed to sustain healthy populations of quail and other upland game birds. QU is comprised of 520 local chapters scattered across the nation representing more than 50,000 members.
Last year, QU spent more than $2.1 million on habitat improvement projects. They were responsible for more than $4.2 million in habitat improvement through chapter activities and seed distribution. QU funded or conducted prescribed burns on more than 72,000 acres, and sponsored 35 national research projects; participated in 48 wildlife surveys in conjunction with state and federal wildlife agencies. QU financed improvement of more than 12,000 acres by mowing, discing, spraying and other manners of brush management. More than 265,000 trees and shrubs were planted in wildlife projects. QU purchased 150 pieces of equipment for habitat management, and they sponsored 476 youth activities reaching 244,000 youth.
Dr. Lindsay Boring, director of the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center, states, “One of the great things about quail management is that it benefits other species too, including a host of nongame species such as songbirds.” Many threatened and endangered species benefit as well, including red-cockaded woodpeckers, gopher tortoises, fox squirrels, and indigo snakes.
One Georgia-based program that QU supports is the Bobwhite Quail Initiative (BQI). This unique provides financial compensation to the landowner over a three-year contract period off setting the cost of taking land out of production and managing it to provide quality brood range and nesting cover for quail and other species.
For more than a century the bobwhite quail has had a significant impact on the economy and culture of Albany and the surrounding region. With the help of QU and their collaborative partners, they should have celebrities hunting quail here for years to come.
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