Hunting Lodges Preserve Southern Hunting Tradition

By:Marie McAden

Date:12/2/2014

Trae Long was barely out of the womb when his father bought him his first hunting rifle, a .458 Winchester commemorating his birth at 4:58 p.m. His brother Hunter, born in the 12th month of the year, received a 12-gauge shotgun. Trent, their youngest sibling, was given a .338 Winchester to mark his 3-3-89 birth date.

Next May, Trae will carry on the family tradition and buy a keepsake gun for his newborn when his wife gives birth to their first child.

For the Longs, hunting is more than a hobby. It’s their heritage.

Their father, Lee, began taking them along on hunts as soon as they could climb a deer stand. By age 6, they were learning how to shoot a gun.

“Ever since we were in elementary school, we have taken off the first day of deer season to go hunting,” said Hunter Long, now 28. “We always thought it should be a holiday.”

The Simpsonville family owns several hundred acres between Laurens and Newberry counties, where they hunt deer and turkey. But it’s wingshooting they look forward to most each fall.

“The sport hasn’t changed in 300 years,” said 26-year-old Trent Long. “It’s the last true gentlemen’s sport left.”

Once reserved for aristocrats, bird hunting conjures up images of English gentlemen in tweeds and caps walking through their country estates with pedigreed pointers in tow. In the Victorian era, it was as much a social event as a sport. British settlers brought the tradition to the South, where it has flourished ever since.

Today, some 50 clubs and resorts in the state offer wingshooting and sporting clays, making the sport accessible to more than just plantation gentry. Any huntsman with a shotgun and a mutt can scare up a covey of quail on public hunting lands and experience the thrill of bagging dinner.

The Longs’ favorite upland bird hunting destination is Harris Springs Sportsman’s Preserve, located on 3,000 acres of breathtaking countryside in the rolling hills of the Piedmont. The Waterloo retreat — once home to a 200-room natural springs resort — was named the Orvis Wingshooting Lodge of the Year in 2008.

“That’s bigger than winning the Super Bowl,” said general manager Mark Seay. “There’s no greater endorsement in the hunting world.”

The preserve’s 1930s-era lodge was the childhood home of Harris Springs owner Jake Rasor Jr. His father built the five-bedroom residence from locally acquired field stone and timber salvaged from the historic resort. 

Red cedar from the dance hall was used to create the beams and paneling in the living room and dining room, giving the lodge a warm and welcoming feel. The flooring in the house also came from the dance hall, and wood from the resort’s bowling alley lanes was used to make the heavy exterior doors. 

“It’s a very comfortable, inviting house,” said the 73-year-old Rasor. “People really enjoy it. It’s sort of like coming home.” 

A lifelong wingshooting hunter, Rasor started the business in 1993 with a sporting clays range. Five years later, he added full-service quail hunting. 

“I like shooting at moving targets, preferably birds that fly fast,” he said. 

Some 700 acres of the family-owned land have been set aside for wingshooting. It includes 10 quail hunting fields. The rest of the property is used for deer and turkey hunting. 

To offer the traditional Southern wingshooting experience, the preserve limits quail hunting to four two-man teams at any one time. An experienced guide leads each hunt into the preserve with two or three of the lodge’s 20 professionally trained dogs. 

The Longs, who have been bird hunting at the preserve since it opened, are granted an exception to hunt together as a family.

“We all have acknowledged that we’re terrible,” Trent quipped. “But you don’t have to shoot anything to have fun.”

On their fall visit, the Longs went out with guide Lee Sipes, who has been hunting in the area since he was a boy. For a half-day package, Sipes typically sets out 40 to 50 quail prior to each hunt. At the request of the client, he can add pheasant and chukars to the mix as well.

The Long brothers began their hunt on a chilly morning in November with Abby, an English pointer, and Rufus, a cocker spaniel, working the fields. As the hunters walked along a trail, Abby ran ahead, sniffing the wind and ground for any scent of birds. It wasn’t long before she found a covey hiding in waist-high grass and alerted the group with her signature stance and fast-wagging tail. On Sipes’ command, the short-legged spaniel bounded into the brush, flushing out the game.

As soon as the quail took flight, the trio of hunters lifted their guns to their shoulders and began firing birdshot, which scatters in every direction as it explodes from the shell, increasing the chance of hitting the small birds.

“Shooting with a shotgun is intuitive,” Hunter Long said. “You don’t aim, you just point and shoot.”

When a bird drops, the dogs are given the command to run into the field to retrieve the game and bring it back to Sipes, who pockets it in his orange vest.

“No matter how many times you’ve shot a bird, it’s always exciting,” Hunter said. “It gets your blood going.”

As they ambled through sweeping fields of golden-hued grass, the brothers chatted and laughed, regaling each other with stories of past hunts.

“I like bird hunting because it’s active,” said 30-year-old Trae Hunter. “You have to go to the bird. With deer hunting, you sit and wait for the deer to come to you.”

Quail hunting season in South Carolina runs from the first of October through the end of March. At Harris Springs, hunters come from as far away as Sweden and Norway to hunt in one of only 24 Orvis-endorsed wingshooting lodges in the country.

“They do an outstanding job taking care of their guests,” said Trent Long, who has hunted in a number of preserves in both North and South America. “The treatment you get here is second to none. The lodge is gorgeous and the food is top notch.”

The Longs have such an affinity for Harris Springs and its staff that they held Trae’s bachelor party weekend at the lodge.

“We’re all about preserving the Southern hunting tradition,” said Seay, who has served as the facility’s general manager since 1998. “Hunting is one of the ways royalty entertained guests. We want to provide the same kind of experience.”

Black’s Wing and Clay Directory lists all of the wingshooting facilities in the state offering the sport. Along with private preserves, bird hunters can apply to the ​South Carolina Department of Natural Resources for wildlife management area hunts conducted on a lottery basis. 

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