March, 2020: On a cold December Saturday afternoon, a few shotgunning friends and clients at my local trap club decided that we were already sick of the grey, cold, and wet weather in Western Pennsylvania. We yearned for a bird hunt in a nicer climate and decided to plan a trip to hunt quail in southern Georgia. After calendars were synced, we booked a trip for six of us at Rio Piedra Plantation near Camilla, GA, March 1-4, 2020.
What southwestern Montana is to trout fishing, southern Georgia is to bird hunting. I adore the history, lore, and tradition of the southern quail hunting plantations. There is gracious hospitality complemented with unbelievable regional cuisine. The majesty of working over world-class pointers and flushers, combined with the challenge of the fast-flying bobwhites, makes this experience impossible to duplicate in other areas of the United States. This region has provided world-class shooting experiences for over 100 years, and the owners of these fine properties have been able to preserve traditional quail hunting for us to experience.
I’ve hunted quite a bit in the “plantation belt” on the Florid/Georgia border between Tallahassee, FL and Albany, GA. Frontiers represents a handful of the best shooting properties in the region. We do have a great working relationship with Rio Piedra Plantation, and virtually 100% of our clients return with very positive reports. It’s been on my quail hunting bucket list, and we booked a great opening toward the end of the season, which operates from late October to mid-March.
Rio Piedra is a three-time recipient of the “Orvis Wingshooting Lodge of the Year” award and is owned by Bill and Annie Atchison. They loved this region of Georgia on the Flint River near Camilla and thought that starting a great quail hunting program would be a fun adventure into their retirement. Once an old turpentine plantation, the property was purchased in 2000, and today, it is a very venerable quail hunting operation that is now managed by the next generation, Sam and Beth Atchison, both of whom are delightful hosts.
The Rio Piedra properties are carefully managed for superb habitat under a canopy of pines and oaks. The trees are spread out, and the undergrowth is controlled through annual burns. What spouts next is a mixture of grasses and other vegetation that provides ideal cover and nutrition for the quail population.
Rio Piedra has plenty of land for up to 30 shooters to effectively hunt with 15 guides. Based on the configuration of the accommodations, they typically have between 20 and 24 clients in the field on hunting days. The guide, who is also the dog handler, has a fully rigged hunting jeep with kennels, gun cases, shells, plenty of storage areas, and a cooler full of ice, water, and soft drinks. It’s a short drive to the shooting areas from the main lodge. Each guide has a large plot to hunt on foot behind the dogs. Two hunters go out with each guide. Guests typically move two or three times per half day by jeep on the section of land. You return for a great lunch and then head back out at 2 p.m. for the afternoon hunt.
What I love most about upland hunting is the dog work. The guides and the lodge have outstanding dogs, including English pointers, setters, shorthairs, and flushers, many of which are English cockers. The dogs at Rio Piedra were amazing—even with the warmer weather we experienced. They found the quail and held their points incredibly well. The cockers were great at getting the birds up and retrieving. Clients are also welcome to bring their dogs. The lodge offers guest kennels upon request. The guides were personable and very experienced with the dogs and clients. Our guide, Chase, was superb, and I almost went home with one of his cockers, Russell!
The lodge itself is incredibly well-designed. There are a number of different living spaces that encourage guests to get together and mingle, but with four or five dining areas, there is plenty of privacy for intact groups from two to four or up to 20—or even more with a private lodge buy-out. Breakfast and lunch is served-buffet style featuring southern cooking at its best with multiple options. The dinner is plated and served at each table. The evening menu is posted daily. They do, however, have other options if the main dish is not in line with your tastes. The Rio Piedra staff welcomes the opportunity to cater to specific likes and dislikes.
After a great day in the field, cocktails or a cold beer welcome returning hunters with terrific hors d’oeuvres—ranging from smoked duck breasts to quail legs and crab claws to local cheeses. All alcohol is included. If you have a favorite brand, it can be ordered and will be on your final bill.
There are 10 rooms in the main lodge, three of which have a single king or queen bed—ideal for singles or couples. Rio Piedra also has four two-bedroom/two-bathroom cabins. There is a full pro-shop with Orvis and Beretta apparel. Rio Piedra has rental shotguns and provides shells in all gauges. Of course, you are welcome to bring your own.
For quail, I suggest nothing larger than a 20-gauge. That’s probably the most popular gauge for the species. For experienced shooters, however, I recommend a 28-gauge. There is a lot less recoil, the gun is lighter, and there is plenty of punch based on ballistics if you need to reach out on a long shot. I used a 28-gauge both days and loved it!
If you want a great hunt close to the East Coast, Rio Piedra is tough to beat. Delta has connecting flight service to Albany, GA, which is about 30 minutes from the lodge. Tallahassee, Florida, has better airlift, and it’s about a one hour and 20-minute drive. The lodge, of course, offers airport transfers. The Atlanta Airport is a three-hour drive. For guests flying privately, Camilla Mitchell County Airport has a 5000’ paved strip with Jet-A and is less than 20 minutes away.
There is a certain style and ambiance of hunting enjoyed at Rio Piedra Plantation that involves a commitment to the history, tradition, and etiquette of hunting in the South. It’s a very special experience that we look forward to sharing with our customers. My group is rebooked for January 31, 2021!
If you are interested in Rio Piedra, please contact Mike Fitzgerald or Joe Linscott at 800-245-1950. Availability gets extremely limited closer to the opening date. Now is the time to book for the 2020/2021 season!