Quail hunting a lingering fall tradition in the Southeast

For most of my pre-adult life November meant one thing — quail hunting season. I spent most of my misspent youth following bird dogs through the sedge fields and small garden patches in rural east Alabama.

I’m not sure when the big change came, nor what that change was, but somewhere between youth and middle age, quail have all but disappeared from the landscape of the rural South.

There is at least one exception — on a small tree farm near Denmark, S.C., there remains a place where quail fly like quail of my youth and where bird dogs are as revered as college football coaches. It didn’t just happen that way. It is the dream come true of Johney Haralson, businessman, raconteur, tree farmer — and quail hunting guru.

Johney runs a successful insurance business in rural South Carolina, near the metropolis of Denmark and only a few miles from Charleston and the Atlantic Ocean.

One of the perks of my job is that I get to regularly meet folks like Johney Haralson. An even better perk is to get invited to a quail hunt at his tree farm/hunting preserve. While some people in the South lust after tickets to the big college football game or the nearest NASCAR race, I’m more inclined to dream about an invitation to revisit my youth.

Some time this autumn, I will have the opportunity to hunt quail with Johney and friends.

I have long since given up my 20 gauge over and under and I haven’t fired my original Sweet 16 — a 16 gauge Remington, made before Mr Browning and Mr. Remington sued each other over patent rights, which Mr. Browning won — in well over 20 years. For this hunt, I hope to shoot some memories with my trusty Canon digital camera.

Johney won the Southeastern tree farmer of the year award this year and is a candidate for the National award. To say he is dedicated and committed to trees and the environment is your classic under-statement. On the other hand, he is a leader in the South Carolina Wildlife Association — a double hat not too many folks can wear.

In addition to having it all — a wonderful family, community of friends, successful business and dream come true, Johney remains one of the good people on this earth. He recently gave a considerable amount of his money to Clemson University. I don’t know much about that because Johney is too humble to talk about what he gives, opting to share openly what he knows and what he owns.

I spent some time with Johney back in the spring, and we talked about our very similar upbringings. The one thing that stands out is what one of his friends told him about loaning Johney a valuable antique farm implement. He said, “Johney, if you’ve got it, I’ll know where to find it.” Based on that premise I gave Johney one of my prized, yet basically without value, possessions, a dog-eared copy of Robert Ruarke’s novel, “The Old Man and the Boy.” Like the antique plow, if I need it, I know where to find it.

Johney grew up in rural South Carolina. His family was in the timber business and though he thought for a long time he had purged the pine tar and resin from his veins, later in life he found these were still a compelling part of the man he has become. Raising a family and building a business clouded his dream of building a first rate hunting facility that closely mimicked the quail hunting he and I did in our youth. He tells me he is close to recreating the past with his quail hunting land that doubles as award-winning tree management land. I believe him, but I’m anxious to see for myself.

I’m not sure what all my fall hunting adventure will entail. I know food will be involved. I know a mule-drawn, customized hunting wagon will be in place, and I know some of the fastest flying quail in the Southeast will be found and some of the best bird dogs used to find these elusive prey. Most of all, I know a good time will be had by all.

Like the popular credit card commercial, this experience is price-less. A hunt with Johney Haralson is not for sale, rather these special occasions are reserved for family and friends.

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