Quail Hunting With Kate Blackburn
This young lady loves to hunt.
There is an annual January gathering in Sylvania that warms the heart, even if the temperatures have dropped and the weather has a sting. The quail fly better anyway when the weather has an edge, but no matter the climatic conditions, the hospitality is unsurpassed.
Don Sheppard Jr., his brother, Stan, and his father, Don Sr. organize a quail shoot on a holiday weekend, and welcome a selection of friends, including Macay McBride, a promising left-hander who was invited to spring training with the big club of the Atlanta Braves.
There is another athlete, Kate Blackburn, who usually joins the gathering, and she impresses everybody for a number of reasons. Primarily it’s her love of the outdoors. A member of the ninth-grade class at Screven County High School, she can knock down a quail with a gleeful reaction to match any of the adult males who participate in the hunt.
Kate pitches for her softball team and is also a member of the tennis team. Nobody has to remind her to do her homework. She killed her first deer when she was a seventh grader. She brought home a seven pointer in 2003 but didn’t take a deer this past fall. However, she has this description of her last day of the season. “We saw nothing at all, but it was a nice day to be in the woods, and I saw the prettiest sunset, ever.”
Kate had just expressed what the outdoor experience should mean to all of us. If we don’t come home with our limit, or if we don’t shoot a trophy buck, there is much to enjoy.
She, too, delights in observing the dogs work on the Sheppard’s farm. You watch as she and her father, Austin, are in quiet conversation as they walk down a one-lane road, bordered by broom sage and small pines. On a recent outing, he reviewed with her the importance of quail habitat and wildlife conservation. Each point he made, you could hear her politely saying, “yessir.” She was not perfunctorily expressing good manners, she is eager to learn more about wildlife and the outdoors.
Seems like yesterday I first saw her aim straight and true to drop a quail — which brought generous applause from a group that included John Donaldson, former Georgia halfback and offensive backfield coach, and Jim Minter, former Editor of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution.
Now she has her learner’s permit. When she takes ownership of her first vehicle, it probably will be a pickup.
She is in the sunrise of her life, enjoying her teenage years with her friends, but remaining serious about important things like school work. Kate hasn’t given much thought to the future, but she figures that the outdoors will play a major role in her life.
“All my girlfriends at school enjoy hunting, and my close friends all want to kill a deer,” said Kate. “They enjoy hunting just like I do. In fact they are jealous today that I am out here quail hunting. They would like to be here, too.”
While walking through the broom sage with Macay, they discussed pitching. When Kate asked for pitching advice, he laughed, “Throw strikes.”
Like Macay, Kate is a lefty, and it was a scene worthy of keeping when they lined up behind the dogs and from the port side, each brought down a quail.
“I got one,” she squealed, when a bobwhite, moving across the field, plummeted to the earth as she was right on target. She could hardly wait for Howard Griffin’s pointer, Boo, to pick up her bird.
This hasn’t been the best outdoor year for Kate who laments that she was shutout during deer season. Shutouts are for softball not hunting. While she is appreciative of those walks in the fields and woods and the inspiring sunsets, she is already planning for that trophy buck next deer season.
In the meantime, spring fishing is on her agenda following tennis. “I probably enjoy fishing most of all,” she says.
High-school softball games are scheduled in the fall, which has cut down on Kate’s hunting options.
“I didn’t get to go dove hunting a single time,” she says. “There isn’t enough time for everything, but it is fun for me to get in as many hunting opportunities as possible.”
Her conversation ranged from school to Georgia football to baseball with Macay, who can bring down a couple of quail on a rise as easily as striking out the opposing pitcher.
When we broke for lunch, we gathered at a cabin owned by John Daly on Brier Creek, a waterway in Screven County well known for its redbreast bream. His two sons, Mike and Dennis, prepared lunch in the dining room where an energetic fire sent forth a warmth of welcome that immediately drew a crowd to the hearth.
The meal was blessed, and caused me to recall of a long-standing line in the society section of small-town newspapers over the years, “a good time was enjoyed by all.”
The hospitality of the Sheppards and the Dalys is appreciated as much as the hunt. This is a community where good neighbors abound. They have raised their children to respect their elders, to say grace before partaking of a meal, and to enjoy the outdoors and appreciate wildlife.
For Macay McBride, the rosy red-cheeked, young left-hander, it doesn’t matter that the major league is instituting a new testing policy regarding drugs. With his background, the temptation would never trip him. Just like a seven-figure signing bonus didn’t turn his head and send him on a spending spree or put him in touch with the wild side.
He drives a pickup truck, with his Georgia Bulldog tag, to spring training. And if big-league success isn’t out there for him, he will be disappointed, but he will come home and follow through on his original plan to become a forester. He’ll fish in Brier Creek and shoot quail with his family and friends.
If he someday has a girl, he’ll want her to be like Kate. A young lady who enjoys the outdoors, playing sports and who underscores good manners and gives proper emphasis to school work. And above all, someone who stresses being a good neighbor.
Come to think of it, that is the way it will be for Macay no matter what his big-league record becomes.
And what about Kate Blackburn? She is not sure at this early juncture what she will do when it comes to making life choices, but she, too, will likely seek the outings at Brier Creek and in the broom sage with a covey of quail rising against a backdrop of pine trees.
It’s way too early for this young lady to be thinking about her future partner for life, but there is one thing that you could safely predict. He better enjoy hunting.
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