When the pavement meets the dirt, you know you’re heading in the right direction. Tucked away, just 25 miles from Savannah in Midway, Georgia, sits a place that's sure to send you back in time. From humble beginnings to now, the transformation is mixed with blessings, hard work and passion. The creation is a southern hunting paradise that many profess is second to none.
On a breezy sunny November morning, John Imhoff, a Sea Island ophthalmologist, gears up for a hunt. Imhoff, a team of dogs and a hunting guide load up on a buggy designed for off-road travel. After a short drive, they arrive at their destination, a pristine quail habitat that combines unspoiled nature with the love of sport. Imhoff loads his 1928 Parker, a side-by-side 20-gauge shotgun.
On the first leg of the hunt, Imhoff’s three dogs and the experienced guide accompany him on one of the nine quail fields Dorchester Shooting Preserve maintains. English Setters, Will and Bill, are the point dogs and the English Cocker Spaniel, Bentley, is the flushing dog. What happens next is almost textbook. Will and Bill are let loose, their noses trained to pick up the scent of the bobwhites. When they locate a bird, their tails point up in the air, almost statuesque-like. It’s Bentley’s turn to do his job and with all his might, he runs in and flushes the bird up in the air. Imhoff, who’s steady in his stance, fires as the bird quickly flies away. Then you hear, “nice shot”, and see feathers, better known as Dorchester Snow, trickle down. It’s now quiet except for the tall pines rustling in the breeze. A few moments later, Bentley dutifully delivers the quail to Imhoff.
Imhoff affirms it’s not about how many birds he bags; rather, it’s about being outdoors and undertaking the mental challenges that go along with quail hunting. “I enjoy watching the dogs work. When you see how smart these dogs are and how man and dog communicate, it’s almost religious,” said Imhoff.
Walking nearly three miles on mowed paths, sometimes making their way through rugged brush and blue sedge grass, the hunt continues. While sometimes one or two birds fly up, there are several times that a covey ascends. The experience can be overwhelming, but in a good way. The beauty of it all appeases every human sense.
A Southern Quail Hunting Experience
While Dorchester offers duck, wild boar and Continental pheasant hunting, the preserve is known for its premier quail hunting experience. Dorchester gives hunters the best fast-flying birds possible and in early September, staff release thousands of birds to supplement its own wild bird population. Quail season runs from October through March and the preserve averages around 1,200 hunts each season.
Hunts are designed to accommodate two hunters per guide and each guide has years of hunting experience to ensure a successful hunt. Thomas Meadows is a three-year veteran guide at Dorchester. “I love being out in the woods and it’s really not work to me,” said Meadows. “I enjoy being with skilled hunters and I enjoy guiding those who don’t get to do this very often.”
While guests are welcome to bring their own hunting dogs, Dorchester has a mix of 70 well-trained retrievers and pointers that accompany hunters. Watching the dogs not only will leave you in awe, their sheer beauty and agility can’t help but impress even those with an untrained eye. Tommy Hagan is a professional dog trainer who works the Dorchester dogs. You sense no hesitation when he tells you the dogs are some of the best around. “We train them to know they are part of a team,” said Hagan. “We enhance what their instinct levels are. They are not diverse dogs; they are trained to know their job and do that job well.”
From Humble Beginnings
In 1999, Dorchester Shooting Preserve was founded by Chuck Gaskin and his father, Charlie, and centered around their love of hunting, fishing and fellowship. In the beginning, they leased a small piece of land, a few miles away from where Dorchester is now located, and had one bird dog. The goal was to design a members-only hunting club for the exclusive gentleman.
Fast forward 18 years later, and it’s safe to say that goal was exceeded tenfold. “We built this from nothing,” said Chuck Gaskin. “It took a lot of years of hard work and determination. I truly believe it’s blessed.”
Over the years, the Gaskin family converted a 5,000-acre pine plantation into a classic southern hunting experience, which in turn has been instrumental in the tremendous growth they’ve witnessed. No longer are just men allowed; Gaskin now employs 35 of some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet; and in 2008, a 10,000-square-foot lodge was constructed near the preserve’s entrance. When you step inside the lodge, striking shotguns line the walls, a fireplace adorns the great room, and you can smell the amazing aroma of whatever is cooking in the kitchen. You can hear laughter coming from the dining room as hunters take a break to enjoy Southern fried chicken, creamy mashed potatoes, green beans and warm brownies.
Sixty percent of Dorchester’s guests are members who regularly hunt on the preserve. In fact, membership is closed and currently a wait list is inked with names. You don’t have to be a member to hunt, though, anyone is welcome on a non-member basis. Traveling hunters come from all over the world to experience what the preserve has to offer. An average stay is around three days.
Blessed with success, Gaskin is still as humble as they come, making you feel welcome the moment he meets you. For a man who has created a hunter’s heaven, he hasn’t lost sight of what truly matters, which are the guests. “Anyone can build a pretty lodge and cook good food, but not everyone truly appreciates the fact that you’re here, every time you are here.”
At Dorchester, no matter if it’s your first visit, or your hundredth, you’re treated like family. For more info, go to huntdsp.com or call 912-884-6999.