For the second time in just over a year, I visited the Alabama Black Belt Region to pursue fish and game. The Black Belt spans the center of the state and consists of 23 counties sandwiched between the northern Appalachian foothills and southern Coastal Plain. It’s name is derived from the rich, black soil that lends itself to growing high-quality habitat for wildlife, thus creating one of the greatest sporting destinations in the south.
Last September, I attended the annual conference of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA) in Eufaula, Alabama. During that trip, I fell in love with the Black Belt and it’s endless southern charm. There’s something about Spanish moss hanging from trees, fried seafood and a slow, southern drawl that speak to me. I just can’t get enough.
During my first trip to the Black Belt, I had the incredible opportunity of fishing with the “Bassmaster” himself, Mr. Ray Scott on his private 55-acre Presidents Lake that has been privately engineered into what Outdoor Life called “the best fishing lake in America.” Topping such an amazing fishing opportunity would be tough, so hunting was the order of business on my return trip.
Pam Swanner, project director of the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Associations said, “Alabama’s Black Belt Region is a prime hunting destination. Our seasons are long and bag limits generous for whitetail deer and Eastern wild turkey. Southern style bird hunting is offered and wild boar is growing in popularity.”
On this trip, I hooked up with the folks at Great Southern Outdoors. This is a 100-percent fair chase wildlife plantation consisting of 6,000 prime acres of Belt Black habitat. They offer hunts for deer, turkey, quail and hogs. Deer hunting is their number one draw, but I was there to pile up some porkers.
Rex Pritchett is the patriarch of this family owned and operated hunting lodge, but his son, Hunter, has his sights set on one day taking over the family business. At only 22 years old, Hunter is beyond his years in experience and knowledge of the wildlife roaming the family plantation.
“When it comes to southern hunting, we really do have it all here at Great Southern Outdoors,” Hunter said. “But chasing turkeys is my favorite. Bowhunting for big bucks is a close second. We have some giants.”
Proof of Hunter’s statement adorns the walls of the 6,000 square foot activity center. There are giant whitetails, along with turkey and hog mounts everywhere you look. The accommodations are excellent in Bughall Lodge, Hunter’s Hideout and Blue Gill Cabin, but the food is what sets the bar. Ms. Jones sure puts on a spread. I’ve eaten grits before, but I’ve never gone back for seconds. Ms. Jones’ grits mixed with local honey hit the spot. And then if the fried chicken, baked ham, mashed potatoes, green beans and corn bread weren’t enough to pack on a few extra pounds, the sweet potato casserole put me right into a food coma.
While driving south along I-65 in Alabama, digital roadside signs were flashing warnings of extreme drought. While this drought has been horrible for the habitat, it’s actually been good for hog hunting. Since hogs require water frequently, it’s easier to hunt hogs when there are only a few water sources available to them. My prospects for killing some pigs were excellent. At least they were right up to the point I arrived. As I pulled down the long, pine tree lined lane into the heart of the plantation, the skies turned black and let loose a torrential downpour that lasted the next 24 hours. Now water was everywhere destroying the hog patterns.
I only had a day and a half to hunt before I had to be back in Montgomery, Alabama for a National Wildlife Federation meeting at the headquarters of the Alabama Wildlife Federation, so there was no waiting the rain out on this trip. Hunter set up a ground blind for me over looking both a power line cut and a picked agricultural field hogs had been rooting in. I sat in the blind for a total of eight hours, and never saw pig. There was a lot of sign in the field, but no real reason for the hogs to be up and moving in the conditions. A few minutes before Hunter was scheduled to pick me up, I left my blind to take a few pictures of rooting and hog tracks.
Hunter pulled up to the blind while I was walking around in the field examining sign. Next thing I know he is aggressively waving his hands to get my attention and call me back to the blind. After sprinting, I arrived out of breath to Hunter excitedly saying two giant boars had just slowly crossed the power line cut. Such is luck when hunting sometimes. I missed my chance by a couple of minutes.
When the rain finally stopped the afternoon I was leaving, Hunter and I headed out to trail a few bird dogs through the brush in hopes of shooting a couple of quail. This proved much more fruitful, as I brought down a half-dozen bobwhites. Watching dogs work is always a treat, but there is something about bird dogs pointing quail in the south, like a scene from a Faulkner novel.
I’m fortunate to hunt and fish across the country, and I have many favorite places for many different pursuits. Great Southern Outdoors is now on my list of favorites. This place is the total package with friendly, knowledgeable hosts, beautiful accommodations, incredible southern food and plentiful game. I can’t wait to return when the conditions are right with a crew to try our best to put a dent in the region’s dense hog population. For more information, visit www.greatsouthernoutdoors.com