The Bobwhites of the Bluegrass state

When one thinks of western Kentucky it conjures up thoughts of basketball, bourbon, and horses. Even though all those things accurately represent Kentucky there is one thing missing, and that is bobwhite quail. Last season I discovered a little piece of quail hunting paradise called Winghaven lodge. It’s a place where the three important B’s, Bourbon, Bob Whites, and Birddogs, all combine. This combination equals a first-class bird hunting experience. Russel and Michele Edwards have transformed their slice of the bluegrass state to a Bobwhite paradise, and upland hunter’s dream.

Now there are many quail hunting operations in western Kentucky, but Winghaven is a quail hunting experience. Everything from the lodging to the food is carefully thought out and planned well in advance of the first hunters arriving. After all bird hunting should be more than just a hunt. It should be a experience filled with memories of more than just dead birds.  Russel and Michele Edwards ensure that you leave with both birds and memories. Their dreams become the client’s reality from the moment you arrive to the day you depart. Its amazing that these two, with minimal help, run such a top shelf operation.

The lodge is a beautiful place surrounded by the beauty of the western Kentucky landscape. The rooms are spacious and comfortable and the check in experience is smooth as a glass of Kentucky’s finest bourbon. However, lets face it a room is just a place to sleep so I tossed my bags down and took a tour of the lodge. The large dining room can accommodate anything from hunting partners to a corporate business group. The large fireplace and copious amount of taxidermy make the dining area a warm and inviting place to gather after a day of chasing birds in the surrounding rolling hills of Kentucky. The pro shop is well stocked and very reasonable and affords a perfect Segway into the main lodge. The main lodge emanates the outdoor life on every aspect. More taxidermy than most big outdoor stores, a full bar, leather couches and chairs, fireplace for those cold Kentucky evenings, a corner set aside for live music, and a big screen television. While I was there the TV was playing “heist” which was very appropriate, and educational, considering we were setting in the heart of bourbon country.

To try to describe the food would be doing nothing short of an injustice to the staff, but I will give it a shot. Breakfasts are what a traveling bird hunter should expect out of a top tier upland operation. They were hearty, large portions, and had a southern flair that brought everything together. Lunches were what I would describe as a hunter “comfort foods”. They were hearty enough that eating everything on your plate was a challenge, yet not so over filling that they would impede a great afternoon afield. Dinners were of the quality of a high-end restaurant in both quality and quantity. All of this was accomplished for two main reasons. First was the amazing and spacious lodge kitchen. Second was the hard work of Michele & Russell Edwards, more Michele than Russel in the kitchen. She handles the food prep almost single handedly while Russel is seeing to the needs of the hunters, and at times their canine partners.

Once settled and my gear unpacked for the hunt we headed out of a look at the main attraction, bobwhite hunting in the rolling hills of Kentucky. It was instantly obvious that Russell Edwards put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into the quail habitat on the property. The native grasses were an ocean of premium habitat as far as we could see. Our guide for the day was a young lady, whom I can’t say enough about, named Brittney Downing. I must take a moment to discuss women in the outdoors while reminiscing about our hunt. Everyone in the outdoor industry says, “we need to recruit more women into the outdoor pursuits”. I tend to disagree and think we, as an industry, need to focus on recruiting the right women into the outdoor industry. Brittney is a glowing example of that kind of woman. She was a consummate professional and not only was she a perfect representative for Winghaven lodge but for women in the outdoors as well.

When the dog box was opened, I realized I was hunting with a Brittney and her troop of female dogs. We hunted with Lilly a GSP, Lucy another GSP, and Daisy a yellow lab. The irony of myself and Russell being the only two males was not lost on the group. That day turned into one of the most memorable days afield in a ling time. The dog work was exquisite to say the least and words will never do justice to the guide work I witnessed that day. Brittney was the best dog handler I have seen in years. No yelling at the dogs, no need for the shock functions in their collars, a simple and occasional beep of the collar kept everything copasetic. We had more shot opportunities that day than I have had in Kentucky in more years than I can count. It was also nice to hunt with Russell and his gorgeous side by side .410. Being an aficionado of sub gauges, myself made the day even better. We put the .28 gauge and his .410 through the paces for sure. In the sub gauge world, you hope to get as many as you missed and today was that day. We took home enough quail, enough that we had a great day wing shooting, and left enough to give the next group a great hunt as well. That day will always be remembered as the day I hunted with the ladies. Brittney, Lilly, Lucy, and Daisy we a treat to hunt with and I would hunt with these four anywhere in the country.

At the risk of taking away from the fabulous quail hunting I need to point out two other amenities that beg to be discussed. First if the fishing lake that it literally right outside the lodge. Its manicured shorelines and clear water begged me to cast a fly rod into its depths. However, is was only 20ish degrees in the mornings to fishing had to take a back seat to morning coffee and a fireplace. Second was the bar and bourbon selection. I love bourbon, and I mean good bourbon, not the crafty hipster type bourbon that seems to gain more and more of a following these days. Russell’s bourbon collection was hailed as “the best bourbon collection west of Louisville Kentucky” by Bourbon review magazine. That’s a big statement in itself!

We ended our trip with enough birds and a glass of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. I can’t think of a more fitting end to a quail hunting trip than that.

If you want to partake in some of the finest bird hunting in Kentucky, you can reach Russell and Michele through their website at www.winghavenlodge.com  or by calling 270-836-7998. Tell them On the Fly Magazine sent you.

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