The below blog entry is a guest blog entry by Scott Efird
It was late on a winter afternoon, and my computer screen was buzzing with unanswered emails and reminders of upcoming appointments. Just as I grab my coat, I reluctantly open the last email. It wasn?t the content of the message, but rather the memories that immediately flashed through my mind when I read the note from Mike Johnson, the general manager of Moree?s Sportsman Preserve. The hum of the computer disappeared and I had already forgotten about the stress of the day as I glanced over to a picture on my credenza of four guys standing beside a wooden cabin, laughing with a new spirit filling their souls. There are few weekends that I remember more clearly than the one I spent last February trekking through the sun drenched hills of South Carolina with my Benelli M2 twelve gauge on my shoulder and three good friends along my side. It was quail season and it was time for a guy?s trip to a place we?ve never been and for a hunt we?ve never experienced together. It all started with a call to Moree?s Sportsman Preserve in Society Hill, SC. The Preserve is about forty miles outside of Florence, so it was within range for a weekend trip. It was already late in the season and I was sure Mike Johnson, or as I soon would be calling him, ?Big Mike?, was going to turn me away within a minute or so. Luckily enough, there was a recent cancellation and we were slotted for the A-Frame cabin, which is nestled on the edge of a large pond stocked with catfish and surrounded by acres upon acres of rolling hills and straw grass. Moree?s offers all kinds of hunts ranging from guaranteed big game hunts including deer and wild boar to guide-led hunts for upland birds. We were slated for an all day quail hunt with a few Chinese ring-necked pheasants to boot. As I hung up the phone, I was already mentally rifling through my hunting gear searching for an excuse to make a run to the Bass Pro Shop. A few short weeks later, we loaded up the truck and headed out of town in search of the thrill of the hunt and the tranquility of the preserve. We pulled up to the main lodge and were welcomed by Big Mike, who was sitting on the front porch flanked by a few guys who looked like they?d spent the morning in a duck blind. If there were a hundred people in a room, I have no doubt that you could pick out Big Mike without ever having met him. With a red checked shirt, jeans and an old John Deere cap, his smile spread from ear to ear. He wears his age on his face but his grin and welcoming spirit remind you of a much younger man. He carries himself with ease and without premonition. With such a large preserve to manage including the reservations, guides and various hunts, I expected him to cut the meet and greet short, get us on our way and move on to the next group. I couldn?t have been more wrong about Big Mike and soon appreciated the humility and grace that he showed to every hunter. It was almost as if he knew something that we didn?t and I was determined to figure it out. Big Mike lined us up with an afternoon at the skeet range so we could get warmed up for the morning hunt on the following day. Moree?s sports a ten-station skeet range equipped with top of the line side by side ATVs to transport you from station to station. We were challenged by every type of shot you could imagine, including picking off skeet that sailed just above the water. After a friendly competition and a few jabs at one another for errant shots, the sun had retired for the day, so we headed back to the cabin to fire up the grill and wet a hook.
The shooting was incredible at the preserve, but standing on the dock casting a spoon in an opening by the pier as steaks sizzled in the background may be my favorite memory from the trip. The office wasn?t calling, the kids were safe and healthy, my wife was at home and texted me she loves me. A sense of true gratitude and appreciation of the blessings in my life just came over me and to this day, that is what draws me back to the preserve.
The aroma of freshly brewed Starbucks woke me in the morning and the other guys are already decked out in their bird vests and blaze orange hats. We geared up and met Larry, our guide for the day, out in the field designated for us. Immediately, I knew we had a great guide. Larry?s blaze orange was more of a faded pale yellow with worn boots and a steel whistle dangling from his neck. No doubt about it, Larry knew these hills like the back of his hand and his control of the dogs was something to admire. The birds are pen bred and placed earlier that morning throughout the hills and near the ponds. Every so often, we?d duck into the woods to spot a few of the quail that we missed on the first attempt. For the most part, the hunt is out in the open and it?s then when you realize the expanse of the preserve and its beauty. Larry ran between two and three dogs over the course of the day and the dogs seemed to have no limits. I remember as we were climbing up a hill, the dogs led us to a small pond and the lead dog pointed. In obedient fashion, the other two dogs pointed directly behind the lead dog. I flushed the covey and three quail darted left with one solo skirting to the right over the pond. No one but me saw the solo bird, so I quickly adjusted my stance and dropped the quail in the middle of the pond. Without hesitation, the lead dog leapt in to the pond and paddled all the way to the bird and back dropping it at my feet. I could see Larry smiling off to the side as he turned to help the others retrieve their birds.
As the hunt winded down, we came upon a ridgeline in the hills and Larry told us to be ready for pheasant. When you?ve spent the day shooting at 5-7 ounce birds and you see a beautiful Chinese ring-necked pheasant soar from beneath the tall grass, I?m telling you ? your jaw drops. We almost didn?t even shoot the first pheasant as we all stood in surprise and awe. At the end of the day, we bagged all 150 quail and five pheasant, mostly thanks to Larry and his dogs for their tireless efforts to track down every single bird.
Back at the cabin, we didn?t have the energy we did the first night, so we sat around the fire, cooked some Wahoo on the grill and swapped stories of the hunt. By the morning all of the birds were cleaned, iced and ready for us to take home. Big Mike helped us load the birds in the truck and saw us off. From the moment we arrived, everything at Moree?s that we experienced was first rate. As we headed back to the big city, I smiled to myself as I finally figured out Big Mike?s secret ? what he knew that we didn?t. Moree?s isn?t just a preserve for the sportsman, it?s a sanctuary for renewing friendships, remembering your core values and appreciating God?s beautiful landscape.