“Is there any chance this is anything like the game Duck Hunt?”
In nearly 28 years of life, my current situation is one I would have predicted to be about as likely as being asked to serve as spokeswoman for the future colonization of Mars. I’ve dispensed with my usual cool-chick biker jacket in favor of a bulky canvas hunting coat, thickly stitched in a semi-quilted pattern and with identical brown suede shoulder patches that I’d later learn were less of a fashion statement and more of a utilitarian appliance designed to minimize the wear and tear of recoil. It’s been layered with an electric-orange hunting vest that I’m fairly certain could be viewed from space (or the aforementioned Mars colony). Slung over my shoulder is a double-barreled shotgun, broken open to expose two live shells tucked neatly into their chambers. Barbed burrs and stickers seem to launch themselves from the waist-high grasses and onto my less-prepared, denim-clad bottom half as I wade through the brush, following closely behind our guide, Drew, to whom I have just posed this (slightly) sarcastic question.
“Well,” he replies with a modest chuckle, “Sort-of-not-really.” “Thank God,” I heave as I readjust my gun. “I was never any good at that either.”
Situated smack dab between Atlanta and Chattanooga, north Georgia’s Barnsley Resort would recount a million tales if its 3,000 acres of graceful foothills could speak. War, natural disaster, and widespread illness extinguished the noble glory of Godfrey Barnsley’s original mid-nineteenth-century estate, and eventually, like all wounded animals, the Adairsville property succumbed to its wounds until it reemerged as a luxury resort in 1999.
I, along with a handful of other gung ho female writers, have been invited to experience the unfolding of one of Barnsley’s more recent recreational enhancements: the Beretta Shooting Grounds by High Adventure Company. Spearheaded by High Adventure president, CEO, and all-around outdoorsmen John Burrell, the partnership between Barnsley and the esteemed Italian firearms manufacturer is an unprecedented one; in fact, this is the only Beretta Shooting Grounds you’ll find on a world map. The company’s impeccable weapons were brought in to replace older models, and the 28-station sporting clays course—like the one we’re on now—underwent a total revamp.
This is only my second time holding a gun, let alone firing one, and even with John Burrell at my shoulder encouraging me to visually track the target, my shots somehow graze just past it every time, either skittering into the water towards some unsuspecting lake creature or piercing tree leaves. This is going well.
I hear it before I see it. The crack reverberates across the airwaves as the clay target explodes into multiple shards, flying in every direction before settling into the earth below. (Relax, they’re biodegradable.) I eject the spent and smoking shotgun shells from the chamber, awash in a sense of smug satisfaction. Who knew the quickest route to feeling like a certified badass is to take down a couple of inanimate objects?
“Good shot,” Burrell congratulates me. “Now you’re ready for the real thing.”
In the Field
An ability to multitask is near-requisite for trekking through the Beretta Shooting Grounds by High Adventure Company. This sister tract of terrain was recently designated as pure hunting territory. It’s easy to see why; thousands of acres sweep out across the landscape, cutting back and forth in loping hillsides tufted with trees and dense patches of brush that foster an ideal environment for our intended target today—wild quail.
The ATV ride from the grounds’ renovated clubhouse is all but silent. This is partially due to the intermittent pop of gunshots that punctuate the atmosphere, but it’s mostly the dogs. A chosen few expertly trained English setters, pointers, English cocker and Boykin spaniels have been loaded into the vehicles’ portable kennels, and, judging by the raucous, steady peal of howl and bark mash-ups, they know exactly where we are going.
Here’s where the whole multitasking thing comes in. We’ve already been warned by Burrell and our other guides to tread carefully; there are a number of sunken stump holes hidden in the towering brush, left over from tree removal when the shooting grounds were refurbished during the Beretta branding. I’m also concentrating on not dropping any shells from the broken shotgun I’m hauling when Burrell reminds us of a third factor.
“Please do not shoot my dogs,” he implores the group, our pointing dog, Lucky, threaded between his legs. “If a quail flies up, do not pull that trigger until you see blue sky behind the bird.” Oh, boy.
Not long after Burrell sets Lucky loose, the dog catches a scent. Lucky maneuvers along the grounds in an energetic yet deliberate way, coming to a pointed standstill in front of a tangle of foliage. Stella, the small and spirited spaniel, is now on deck, plunging into the clump to flush out the birds Lucky has located. She disappears, her whereabouts only discernible by slight rustling motions in the grass. Suddenly, she finds them. The quail are much quicker than anticipated. The portly cartoon birds I recall from Bambi are nothing compared to these quick little scamps, and most of them are gone before I even pull the trigger. Fortunately for me, Lucky and Stella do not tire easily, so we do this dance several times, roaming from site to site in search of my first kill.
Just as I am about to give up and head back to the clubhouse, where I can drown my failures in the post-hunt bourbon Burrell has promised, I hit one. I track the quail’s flight as it rises from the brush, taking careful aim before depressing the trigger. In truth, I wasn’t even aware I’d actually hit the bird until Burrell claps me on the back.
“You got ’em!” he exclaims to my amazement, as Stella rushes forward to retrieve the game. This seems to commence a kind of magic spell on my hunting prowess; two more quickly follow suit, rounding out my grand total for the day to three unlucky quails. As we make our way back to the clubhouse, I consider my success. I still get the bourbon—and this time, it’s celebratory.