Chosen by CNN as one of the top six hunting destinations in the country, Southern Woods Plantation in Sylvester, Georgia is a prime location with great hunting, comfortable lodging, wonderful food, and world-class dogs. The lodge is a column-fronted plantation house with 24 rooms for guests. Rooms are well-appointed with first-class bedding, bathrooms, and décor. There are rooms that open into the connector hall and a cluster of rooms that all connect to a central living room with lots of overstuffed chairs for groups. The main meeting room is filled with dozens of mounts, from a full elephant head to twin giraffe heads arching over a doorway. Beautifully-matted prints line the walls.
The food isn’t ostentatious, but it is very good. My wife, Cherie, and I have shot at several preserves where the name of the entree was often more impressive than the flavor. At Southern Woods, many of the vegetables on your plate grew on the plantation. Manager Benjie Deloach keeps as many of the employees working in the off-season as possible and they raise peas, beans, corn, okra, and other vegetables and freeze them for the coming season.
Less than an hour from Thomasville, Georgia, and just a few miles from Albany, it’s in the heart of Georgia quail country and the fields are rolling hills with pine trees, wire grass, marshy bottoms, and sandy connecting roads. The shooting is generally open but there are always pine trees for the birds to duck behind and Cherie and I both managed to take a little bark off the pines.
We rode out to the fields on well-supplied dog trailers towed by colorful jeeps; there’s a lot of walking but it isn’t really strenuous. Moderately-fit hunters won’t have any trouble at all keeping up with the dogs. Southern Woods is a put and take operation, meaning the birds are planted in the fields before the hunt but not planted just before. At Southern Woods, the birds are released at random over an area large enough that there’s little worry about them wandering off the preserve. Jamie Cootz, our guide, took us to the first spot and we hunted over 40 or so acres. There were small coveys as well as singles. It’s not exactly like hunting wild birds in North Carolina but the birds are very strong flyers and the hunting is far from predictable. When he was satisfied we’d covered it well enough, we moved on to a new location.
Dogs and guides are one of the things that make a preserve great and, while our guide Jamie and Pointers Dale, and Sandy did a wonderful job, Dakota the English Cocker Spaniel made the show. She alone would have been worth the trip and the night after the hunt I literally dreamed that I tried to buy her from Benjie and Jamie. The trip was great but she was icing on the cake. Of course, everyone knows I have a soft spot for dogs.
As outdoor writers, we go to a lot of locations for bird hunting. Some have great facilities. Some have great food or great dogs. Some are spartan locations with great hunting and a lot are not so good in any category. What makes Southern Woods so special is that somehow Benjie manages to successfully cover all the qualifications that make a hunting venue great. As we drove through the south Georgia countryside, heading on down to New Orleans to continue our trip, we reflected on our stay. Hard as we thought, we couldn’t find a single thing to fault. I don’t remember a single place I’ve visited that provided a better trip. True, this is the end of the season, but it’s been a great ending for our bird hunting year. Thanks Benjie, Jamie, and Dakota for ending our hunting season on a perfect note.
The best game preserve I’ve ever hunted, all things considered.
Put and take preserves provide shooting where hunting wild birds often doesn’t. The birds fly well under most conditions but weather can play a big factor. Generally, Southern Woods is booked far enough in advance that you have to take your chances on weather.
A more accurate assessment would be one of cost. Southern Woods is mid-priced among quality preserves but quite a bit more expensive than locations that offer less.
This preserve does everything right. The rooms are immaculate and comfortable, the food is always good, the guides and dogs are top drawer.
Images by Cherie Jones