By Irwin Greenstein, Shotgun Life
A silent auction to promote literacy gave us the occasion to quail hunt on a family farm with the affordable and gratefully light CZ Upland Ultralight Green over/under.
At 5.8 pounds, the sprightly 20-gauge was deeply appreciated on the unseasonably warm day walking Bethel Oaks Farm near the Florida-Georgia state line.
The hunt was won at a 2016 fund raiser held by One Book Thomas County. In conjunction with the Thomas County Public Library system, One Book Thomas County devotes one week per year of events honoring a selected book and its author. The literary selection for 2016 was the amazing biography “Ecology of a Cracker Childhood” by Georgia writer, Janisse Ray. The evening’s attractions at Pebble Hill Plantation in Thomasville, Georgia were a low-country boil and bluegrass band. Silent auction prizes raised money for local literacy programs. Since Thomasville is a bobwhite quail-hunting mecca, naturally one of the items was a walking hunt with lunch on a nearby private farm.
From left: Kim Jones, Dale Aldridge and Jenna Jones.
As the bluegrass band packed up and the dinner cleared away, the silent auction winners were announced and we prevailed for our prize. Still, we waited six months for the hunt. Quail season had to open, and then, with summer warmth pushing into winter, the thermometer need to drop out of concern for heat-loving snakes. By late January 2017, a seasonable chill developed, although fluke temperatures on our hunt day could be described as serpent-friendly. Regardless, we were in good hands with the owner of Bethel Oaks Farm, Kim Jones, and dog handlers daughter-in-law, Jenna Jones and family friend, Dale Aldridge.
Our CZ Upland Ultralight Green just naturally fit the situation. Mr. Jones uses Bethel Oaks Farm for family quail hunts, turkey hunts and peanut boils.
“It’s good, clean family fun and the kids get to do something different than they would normally do,” he said.
Likewise, the shotguns imported for the past 20 years by CZ-USA of Kansas City, Kansas are the stuff of hardworking American families. CZ’s hunting and sporting semi-autos, over/unders and side by sides are reasonably priced from about $400 to $900. The Upland Ultralight Green has a suggested retail price of $762.00, for both the 12-gauge or 20-gauge models. CZ shotguns enjoy a reputation for reliability – making them heirloom contenders. Essentially, the CZ Upland Ultralight Green was right at home on the Jones family farm.
Mr. Jones purchased the 400-acre spread in 2013. The place didn’t have a name and so he called it Bethel Oaks after Bethel Cemetery across the road, the nearby two-room Bethel School of 1906 and in recognition of the Bethel Christian Church where he married.
“The house of God is important in our lives” he told me. “We have several church and family gathering and we pick up the peanuts on the field and gather them in a barn and have a peanut boil. We’ll put up as much as 85 gallons of peanuts per day.”
Buddy pointing at quail on Bethel Oaks Farm.
Corn, milo, peanuts, millet, chufas, peas, oats and ryes feed the wild life to sustain hunts for turkey and deer. Ducks are taken from the 60-acre Hay Pond we reached during our released-quail hunt. Cash crops include satsuma and timber. Come satsuma harvest, Mr. Jones will tap his four grandchildren to chip in with chores.
“We have a huge family,” he said. “My children and grandchildren are here 75 percent of the time.”
For Mr. Jones, Bethel Oaks Farm “is our home, it’s a place we love, an appreciation of God’s beauty and the game and we’re blessed to be able to have the opportunity to enjoy what we get to enjoy.”
Bethel Oaks Farm owner, Kim Jones.
He’s in the process of introducing his grandchildren to hunting but remarked “for now they’re observing.”
He’s eager to share the game on Bethel Oaks Farm with his family, holding 15 to 20 quail hunts per year for them. He also donates four hunts per season to charity for fund raisers, such as the One Book Thomas County auction.
That morning, the two-lane country road to Bethel Oaks Farm was shrouded in a serene, daybreak mist. When I arrived, Mr. Jones, Ms. Jones and Mr. Aldridge were busy buttoning up the ATV with dogs and gear. Air temperatures seemed to emanate from the cool earth. The forest-green anodized receiver on the CZ Upland Ultralight Green drew some compliments from my new hunting partners. Ready to go, Mr. Jones commenced our hunt with a blessing.
We expected to walk about 4½ miles during the morning hunt, then end for lunch at the Jones’ farm house. We knew the hunt would be a race against the impending heat. In the meantime, a caressing breeze was perfumed with pungent and musty farm fragrances.
I carried the CZ Upland Ultralight Green broken open over my shoulder. With a balance point of about 1½ inches in front of the hinge pin and 5.8 pounds of heft, the 20-gauge felt easygoing as we walked in search of quail. I had choked the 28-inch vented barrels with skeet for the bottom barrel and improved cylinder for the second shot. The mechanical, selective trigger pulled at about 6¼ pounds and so I fully expected to quickly knock down my fair share of flushing quail.
Mr. Aldridge’s English Pointer, Buddy, cut loose on scouring the wiregrass amid the live oaks and hardwoods trees. And as we started walking, Ms. Jones’ cocker, Grace, was eager to get in there and chase up some birds.
Within minutes Buddy was locked on point. Mr. Jones and I swung to opposite sides of the dog and Grace was unleashed, discharging a small covey. CZ’s Upland Ultralight Green shouldered quickly and immediately knocked down a bird – heralding the start of a productive hunt. The shotgun’s sight picture was clear and whole over a single front beat, while the crisp trigger proved intuitive and responsive. We continued walking, talking, getting to know each other − interrupted en route by the rush of Buddy’s fine nose.
We circled back to the ATV twice, dropping off birds, replenishing shotgun shells, rehydrating and enjoying Mr. Jones’ peanuts. But by around 10:30, after hunting for several hours, the heat became palpable – evocative of clammy South Georgia summers. Although we were becoming fatigued by now, CZ’s Upland Ultralight Green didn’t feel particularly burdensome to carry, especially as we encountered a dry stretch of birds that emphasized the trek and heat. And then the quail returned. Somewhat drained at this point, I was still able fire off several successful singles with the lightweight CZ Upland Ultralight Green making it easier than anticipated.
One of the live oaks that populated Bethel Oaks Farm made for beautiful quail hunting.
Our hunt concluded, we zipped across the property to the Jones’ house. The four of us were joined for lunch by Mr. Jones’ wife, son and his wife in a sunny dining room. Lunch had been catered by jb crumbs of Thomasville. It was certainly the best fried quail I ever tasted, accompanied by biscuits, mushroom wild rice, tossed salad, ice tea, banana pudding for dessert – and wonderful conversation.
In parting, Mr. Jones gave me a bottle of his Bethel Oaks Farm satsuma simple syrup that we later added to an after-dinner round of Old Fashioneds on our back porch overlooking the lake – winding down a great day of quail hunting.