Nestled on the black prairie of Mississippi lies a slice of bird hunters paradise called Prairie Wildlife. It’s a grand upland lodge that was awarded the Orvis wingshooting lodge of the year in 2020. The property is the dream of Mr. Jimmy Bryant and its also the dream come true to the hundreds of bird hunters who flock, pun intended, here every fall in search of birds, peace, and at times solace.
After multiple excursions to Prairie Wildlife, I think I have experienced the best of everything they offer and the one thing I know for sure is that I will be spending more time there for the 2022 season as well. Engaging a bird hunting lodge should not be simply a hunting trip, it should be an experience. The people that work at this lodge work diligently to provide their guests with just that.
On my first trip there I was on the brink of quitting my job and moving under a bridge in downtown Nashville. It was 2020, COVID was ramping up and no one knew what to do about it. Work was stressful, buying groceries was stressful, and the local news channel was broadcasting death and hospital stats like they were the college football standings. Life was forever changed, and we were not sure about much of anything. Its was a call my from my friend Robert Woodall that started this wonderful experience. He invited me to come on his annual hunting trip at Prairie Wildlife and I could not accept fast enough.
Once I got to the lodge it became clear that this was both a hunting lodge and an oasis of sanity in a world that was, at the time, off the proverbial rails. The lodge itself is very nice and somehow, they managed to be “high class” without projecting that feeling that makes people uncomfortable.
The check in experience set the tone for the trip. Emily Essary was the first person I encountered, and her personality was a giant breath of fresh air in a world where people were almost afraid to talk to one another. I told her my name and was checked in and assigned a room in very short order. Then a young lady, and later I learned a fine dog handler/trainer, named McKinsey Wedel, and her fabulous Lab “Turbo” got my waiver paperwork signed and I was done. I have been back multiple time since that day and everyone there remembers my name. After a couple trips I asked Emily how she always remained so upbeat, and almost contagiously happy. Her reply spoke volumes to me, “no one comes to a hunting lodge sad, and I like happy people”.
The amenities at the lodge are both elegant and thoughtful. Rooms are spacious well laid out and present a very comfortable appeal. They have a “mud Room” that is also a gun storage and cleaning room complete with everything you need to maintain your shotgun on the trip. The room also has lockers for your hunting gear and a safe to store your shotgun.
The dining area is where we start to go from elegant to decadent. Its spacious and somehow spurred a memory of a John Wayne movie. Of course, it takes a heck of a room to serve their meals in. The food at this lodge deserves an entire story of its own, its that amazing. I had always heard people speak of five-star meals but had never understood that that meant until eating here.
After getting settled in and seeing the lodge we decided to shoot some warmup rounds in preparation for the upcoming upland hunts. This lodge has two sanctioned Helice fields and WOW what a treat it was to shoot on them. Xavier Fairly is the in-house shooting instructor and manager of the fields. You can see the spring edition for more on Helice, and how it is the single best shooting discipline to make you a better wingshooter.
On day one of my first trip, we were treated to a European tower shoot. Having never participated in one my expectations were a little cloudy to say the least. By the time it was over I understood why it was called a shoot and not a hunt. The birds were fast and high, the shooting was faster and furious. To say it gave my Browning 725 a workout would be an understatement.
Day two began like day one with a marvelous breakfast promptly at 8 am. (Now I had been soaking up that fireplace since 5 am). We then headed out for a mixed bag upland hunt. I hunted with a guide by the name of Todd Robertson. He and his dog Izzy were a pleasure to hunt with. His pace matched mine perfectly, even with my bad hip. I am sure this was by design as he was a consummate professional, and an easy guy to hunt with. If I typed a thousand words about his dog Izzy it would not be enough as she was an amazing pointer!
That afternoon we were treated to the very first waterfowl hunt the lodge had ever had. Once again, these folks went above and beyond. I am not a waterfowl hunter as I prefer to be moving behind a good upland dog. However, this was just way to much fun!
Day three, our last day, was a sad day for me. I was watching the sun come up, over one of the many managed lakes on the property, and my phone beeped to make me aware of a litany of voicemails I had missed. I had to do what any professional would have done in that scenario. I turned the damn thing off and got another cup of coffee.
We ended the adventure with a final upland hunt, again I choose to hunt with Todd and Izzy. No one knew but Izzy looked just like my first bird dog from way back in the late 70″s. This morning i didn’t not see Izzy pointing I saw my old Partner Sam and her Last Point. It was a glorious morning of wingshooting, laughing, and fellowship. I know my dad in heaven was walking beside me with his trusty Ithaca Model 37 featherlight 16 gauge.
I left Prairie Wildlife both recharged and relaxed. The entire staff made an impression on me that I will remember forever. My only regret was I did not hunt with Benny, the lodge manager, or Mr. Jimmy and his dog Gabe. That’s why I will be back to chase birds and maybe catch a bass.
If you want a true upland hunting experience and the amenities to go along with-it Prairie Wildlife is a destination you don’t want to miss. It’s the total upland experience with a southern flair.
I will probably get eviscerated for even writing this column however its one of those things I have to say. I read the upland Facebook groups daily and everyday the subject of beginners shotguns comes up. Someone will ask “what’s a good 28 gauge over and under for a beginner?” It won’t be 30 seconds before someone chimes in with a 555 Stevens or another of the plethora of Turkish guns available. The logic applied is almost always that you don’t have to worry about scratching these under 500.00 guns. Perhaps it’s just the old man in me but I have never, ever worried about dinging a stock or scratching a barrel. My go to quail gun has some dings and scuffs but they are more memories than detriments in my mind. I have never worried that one of my shotguns will shoot straight, mainly because I pattern them on an actual patterning board. I would venture to say most of the “cheap gun crowd” has no idea how their gun patterns because “its a 500.00 gun and it must be a super duper value for a beginner.”
When you bring up “little things” like how a gun patterns you get hammered by the cheap over and under crowd with the venerable statement ” It will kill birds as dead as a 3000.00 gun” Yes they are right it will kill birds but then again, I saw a man kill three pheasants with a slingshot loaded with number 6 shot. I have also watched people kill upland birds with a recurve bow as well. That does not mean that we should all trade in our shotguns for slingshots and recurves, It simply means that someone has done it. I read a post about someone who shot a Turkish gun, hunted over a pit bull, and wore Chaco’s sandals on their upland hunts. There may be nothing wrong with any of that but why ? I think the answer to why lies in the social media world. People just want the attention of others, not to mention the manufacturers. The logic here seems to be traditions get no attention so everyone jumps into the abyss of craziness to get their proverbial 10 seconds of fame.
Good guns all have a couple things in common. Of course they all kill birds consistently, and the barrels both shoot where you point them. If your top and bottom barrels don’t shoot the same that 500-dollar gun is no more than a single shot. If your shot dispersal is not 60/40 or 50/50 the gun is not actually a shooter its a shot slinger. So unless you have taken the time to shoot at a patterning board with all your chokes you don’t actually know where your gun shoots, and yes it’s possible to kill some birds with a poorly patterning gun. I mean blind squirrel’s actually do find nuts also.
Then there is the suitability of a cheap gun versus both mid grade and high end guns. If you hunt upland birds twice a year as a social event then a cheaper gun it probably not a bad idea. However, if you’re a hardcore bird hunter and/or shoot sporting clays a lot you may be in trouble. The cheaper guns are just not built for someone who shoots 50K rounds a year on the range and in the field.
Upland hunting is steeped in tradition, some are admittedly ridiculous and some pretty dang logical. However the influx of younger folks into the sport has thrown tradition out the window, among other things upland related.
Now all that said my first upland shotgun was a Harrington and Richardson Topper model single shot 20 gauge. Of course I was 7 years old and only an idiot would have placed a fine shotgun in my hands. I, like most of the inexpensive gun crowd, can say I killed a lot of birds with that old gun. The reality is that in the 70’s that was an adequate starter gun and an Ithaca model 37 featherlight, in 16 gauge was what I dreamed about at night. After growing up and getting out on my own I couldn’t stop myself from handling every shot gun I could find looking for a better option. I never did acquire that Ithaca, thanks to an extended stint in the Military. However I I found my true love in some Browning and Beretta over and Under shotguns. Much like a divorce, good shotguns cost so much because THEY ARE WORTH IT!
The first quarter of the year is always a busy time in the outdoor world. I am trying to wrap up quail season in the southeast while fly fishing on the Florida coast is getting fired up. I spent 3-days in Winghaven lodge hunting at 20 Degrees, and had a banner hunt. Then a weekend at Prairie Wildlife hunting quail at 30 degrees. The quail were flying very hard in those colder temperatures. Then three days later I was getting off a plane in Miami Florida with enough gear to open a small fly shop, and it was 85 and Sunny!
It was my first time at Winghaven and it sure was a treat! We had great food, fabulous bourbon, and a wonderful quail hunt in the rolling hills of Eastern Kentucky. Our guide was a young lady named Brittany and her pack of dogs Lucy, Lacy, and Daisy. What a treat it was to see a young lady working hard in the outdoor community. We tend to just say “we need to recruit more women into the outdoors”. I disagree and think we need to recruit the right women and Ms. Brittany is one of those women. It was cold, the quail flew hard and the dog work was amazing.
The next weekend found me down at Prairie Wildlife in West Point Mississippi. Now this is what I call my home lodge and I love everything about it. From Ms. Emily at the front desk to Marty the gentleman who keeps the fires burning and gets hunters their birds. A couple years ago I hunted there and was paired with Todd Robertson as my guide, and I have tried since that day to make sure I hunted with him. All the guides are great but hunting with Todd is much like hunting with an old friend. His pace and demeanor are that of a gentleman bird hunter from back in the glory days of southern quail hunting. We normally hunt his dogs Izzy and Hootie. This trip he asked could he bring a young pup to see how he worked. We didn’t hunt the young pup long but he sure did do a great job! We managed two good days of hunting, despite the cold. I am typing this thinking about getting back down there one more time before the end of the season.
There are a lot of great hunting lodges these days and they all offer great hunting opportunities. However Prairie Wildlife offers an experience rather than just a hunt, and the experience is phenomenal.
I left Prairie Wildlife on a Sunday. Then Wednesday I was getting on a plane in Nashville Tennessee headed to Miami. The plan was to link up with “On the Fly Magazine” for a few days of fly fishing for my favorite saltwater fish, the snook. When I boarded my plane it was 34 degrees and raining. When I deplaned in Miami it was sunny and 85 degrees! Talk about a great feeling after two weeks of bird hunting where is was lucky to get above freezing. We were scheduled to head to the everglade’s but a scheduling conflict prevented us from going that way,
So we headed to Stuart Florida to fish with 772 Fly and Light Tackle Charters. On the way there we stopped at a couple fly shops that were, in total honesty, not all that impressive. Then we happened upon Whites tackle shop. White’s is a fly shop with a gear shop around it. The staff was extremely welcoming, knowledgeable, and they were happy to point two tourists in the right direction! Since the first trip out was night fishing for snook we hunted up some food and a good cigar from Southern Draw Cigars before we headed to the ramp. We caught plenty of fish and laughed until our stomachs hurt. If you want to catch fish, learn a little biology of the area, and improve your cast then 772 fly and light tackle is your guy!
I have been using the Lakewood’s Products take down shotgun case for a couple years now and felt it was time to talk about this magnificent piece of equipment.
As I have stated in other reviews, on different Lakewood’s products. The case is constructed of a very durable foam lines denier exterior, ballistic nylon bottom and ABS plastic interior. This particular case also has a foam lined interior that wont scratch your shotgun,
The stock compartment has a removeable spacer to accommodate even the longest of stocks, I am 6’2 with long arms and don’t need to remove it. It also is roomy enough for adjustable butt plates and cheek risers. The forearm compartment will also handle any forearm you will ever encounter. There is a storage compartment that will hold a multitude of accessories. The barrel compartment will accommodate even the longest target barrels, Mine are 32 inches and there is 6 more inches of available space. It has space for 6 standard choke tubes, the only downside to this case is it wont hold extended tubes in the holders but, the accessory compartment holds cases for extended choke tubes so no worries there. To make the case deep enough for extended choke tubes would take away from the slim design and would add weight to the case. This case is also available in 1,2, or 3 barrel options that are perfect for Skeet and Sporting clays shooters.
I bought the case to transport my clays gun back and forth to the range but it has since turned into my travel case for my hunting trips as well. The case, as with all the products, is virtually indestructible.
I would give this case 5 stars for the itinerant bird hunter and target shooter.
Being an upland hunter, sporting clays shooter, and fly fisherman I tend to be a bag hoarder. I have bags on top of bags. Like most however I only really use a handful of them and the rest were just money down the drain. That is not the case with the Clay Shooter Bag from Lakewood products. Being a hard sided case was the first thing that got my attention. I have a closet full of soft sided range bags that all got retired when this case arrived.
The case is typical of all Lakewood’s products in that the exterior is a foam lined denier Nylon with a ballistic nylon bottom. The interior is made of ABS plastic. I have literally parked my Polaris UTV on this case and not collapsed it!
The things that set this case apart from my plethora of soft bags is that is has three compartments, The sides are capable of holding 200 shells and the center compartment holds another 200 empties. I generally carry 100 rounds, A pair of Ranger Shooting glasses with multiple lenses, Orvis shooting gloves, and my Otopro Hearing protection rather than the total payload of 200 shells and 200 empties.
Other handy features are the adjustable shoulder strap and the fact it floats. Floatability makes this a great bag for the waterfowl hunter since it floats with 200 rounds of shotgun ammo inside of it! The soft exterior pocket is perfect for lens cleaners and range cards.