The last bastion of winter in South Carolina, February is also the month when hunters flock to River Bend Sportsman’s Resort in Inman to take advantage of the final weeks of bird season, which ends on March 31. A wing-shooting preserve that rolls across 550 acres bordered by the North Pacolet River, River Bend welcomes both experienced hunters and neophytes to test their skill at bringing down quail, chukar, and pheasant.

River Bend’s owner and president, Ralph Brendle, hails from Statesville, North Carolina, where he grew up going quail hunting with his father. After graduating from Wofford College in Spartanburg, Brendle took a sales job with Milliken Chemical, where his love of hunting came in handy. “I was taking customers to hunting preserves all over the world for Milliken,” he recalls, “so in 1985 I decided to open my own hunting preserve.”

ROOM & BOARD

River Bend Sportsman’s Resort began with a small lodge set amid acres punctuated by open fields penned in by pine and hardwood trees. In 1998, Brendle built a new pine-log lodge with a restaurant and added 14 rooms to the property (the original lodge is now used as a conference center). Such amenities make hunting here even more appealing. You and your group can experience a half-day hunt, then relax in the evening with dinner prepared by Chef Alex Castro (formerly at Larkins on the River), and perhaps shoot a game of billiards before retiring to your comfortable accommodations for the night. Those include 10 standard double rooms in a building next to the lodge, plus a four-bedroom, four-bath cottage with an open floor plan and fireplace.

GOOD SHOT

Never shot birds before? “You don’t have to know anything about a shotgun at all to come here,” Brendle says. In addition to harboring the renowned Paragon School run by Dan Schindler, the resort employs their own shooting instructors. “They can teach you everything about gun safety so you can start shooting and hitting clay targets.”

Shooting clays is where most of his clients—of which 90 percent are corporate customers who fly in from all over the world—begin their hunt. “We call the sporting course ‘golf with a shotgun,’” Brendle explains, “because you have different stations, so you shoot a set of targets at one station, then move to the next one, like you move to different tee boxes in golf.”

Once they’re warmed up, most groups take to the field with a guide and a dog. While many of the resort’s guides have their own bird dogs, the resort also owns a set of 18 trained dogs, including English pointers, English setters, and German shorthaired pointers. The dogs fill in where humans are lacking, sniffing out birds in the brush and pointing to their quarry, and later retrieving the hunters’ prizes from the dense brush where they fall.

GAME TIME

The resort poses no limit on the number of birds you can shoot. “Whatever you want to pay for, we’ll put out there,” says Brendle, who stocks the reserve with birds raised specifically for him. There are eight locations on the property where a maximum of three people can hunt in a guided group at one time. Purchasing a two-person half-day package is your best value. For $825, you get 30 quail, 2 chukar, and 2 pheasant in the field, a dog and guide, and lunch at the lodge. The resort staff will even clean and package the birds you bag.

Brendle takes pleasure in watching people enjoying themselves. “Over the holidays, I get a lot of families coming in. They may only get together once a year, but they can come up here and get out of the house and enjoy something they all like to do together.” At River Bend, fun is just one more thing that takes flight alongside the birds.

Illustration by Timothy Banks. River Bend Sportsman’s Resort, 1000 Wilkie Bridge Rd, Inman, SC. (864) 592-1348, rvrbend.com; reservations required for all activities.

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