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The Hunt Goes On

Jim Edmundson | All Hunting Articles
Posted 04/20/2024




In the early 70s bird hunting was at its peak in Eastern North Carolina. I was a youngster still and loved to tag along on hunts with family and longed to have my own dogs. It was about this time that I attended my first bird dog field trial, a horseback event being held near my Uncle Henry’s farm. It was there that I first remember meeting Dr. W.C. Sanderson. He was there to compete as was his brother “Dute” Sanderson, a popular local professional dog trainer.

I recall the great camaraderie between the Sandersons and Graham Parker as they bragged and traded stories between the braces of competition. The atmosphere at these events was certainly one of sportsmanship and all there seemed to be having fun. To myself, the concept was especially appealing; it being a tradition started by plantation owners to settle the challenge of whose dog was the best. It was a true gentleman’s sport which combined dog, horse and handler and put them to the test.

At the time, I could only dream that I might one day be out there running my own dog. Somehow I did indeed end up spending most of my life behind a bird dog, first on foot, later from horseback, competing with these same men.

In the first few events I entered I received a supreme thrashing, leaving with my tail between my legs. I soon decided “if you can’t beat them, join them” and sought out the assistance of Dr. Sanderson. He agreed to show me his set up and extended an invitation to meet him at his training grounds for a workout. From this outing grew a lifetime of hunting expeditions and a lasting friendship.

W.C. was an educator and he applied the same techniques one might use in the classroom to the teaching of his dogs. I was in awe of his vast storehouse of bird dog knowledge and he patiently answered my questions, revealing those things that worked for him to get a dog to their peak.

First and foremost, he stressed the need to put their feet on the dirt and would often remind me “A dog can’t learn much sitting in the kennel”. Repetition and many hours of patient training were key, “There are no shortcuts to making a good dog”. He also was a firm believer that you needed to start with a strong bird finder first and foremost. He convinced me that a good dog could be taught to run big and had great success in proving this, turning out several champions, most notably the great “Whoa Danny Boy”. I remember watching Danny point 9 coveys in an exciting hour of competition at Hoffman. He was a dog who could always find birds even when others came up short.

W.C. liked to say “The difference between a good dog and a sorry one is that you don’t have to make excuses for a good one, they find a way to get the job done even when conditions are tough”. This sage observation was just one of the many jewels which he would often share. He was full of such sayings and I loved to listen to the stories of hunting in the era when farming was done with mules and sweat, when quail could be found in abundance, a covey literally out the backdoor. Those days before sideboy bushhogs and herbicides. A time when every farm had a garden spot, a few hogs and chickens and any hawk was seen as a vicious pest and thus shot on sight. A time when the bird dog ran loose and slept under the porch and ate table scraps. When one had to save up just to have enough money to buy a box of shells. Times were tough he would say, but we had a good life.

W.C. believed that you didn’t wait until you needed a dog to start looking for one, hence he felt a need to always keep a litter coming on, always looking for that next good one. He had a real knack for matching up his bitches to a sire which would compliment her traits.

While he utililized pen raised birds to get his puppies started, he always stressed the importance of getting a dog onto wild game. At that time there were still plenty of places to find wild birds in Eastern North Carolina. Deer hunting hadn’t reached the widespread popularity it has now and many farms weren’t posted, one simply needed to stop and knock on a door for permission. After a few moments of friendly chatting W.C. could find our way onto most places with ease.

W.C.s charming wife Gale would give him the clearance to go on these all day hunts as long as we promised to be back before bedtime and she would sometimes pack our lunch for the trip. The drive to the hunt was always entertaining as W.C. kept my excitement high by relating past adventures in vivid detail. Our trips afield took us east from Greenville, going to his favorite spots which he had hunted for many years. I could perceive a certain sadness from him when we would arrive at an old reliable hunt, only to find it replaced by a trailer park or hog farm and we eventually had to go farther and farther east to find places which hadn’t been blemished by the relentless onslaught of development and growth.

I talked him into helping me to develop my family’s small farm near Faro into quail habitat and we earnestly embarked into the task, planting food plots, partridge peas and bicolor strips. That fall we released some 40 bevies which our friend G.B. Hatcher had started in his flight pen and enjoyed a good season, finding them with regularity. The Faro grounds worked well for a couple more years until the addition of several new houses and mobile homes on neighboring property proved to hinder our efforts.

W.C. then gained access to Collice Moore’s Grimes Plantation, 1000 acres of big fields which butted the Tar River east of Greenville. While it proved to be great running country and perfect for weekend field trials, it never would hold birds in sufficient numbers for training purposes.

We never gave up our quest for true wild birds and were both loath to concede that the days for native quail in North Carolina were numbered. One great haven we had was found at Jett Ferebee’s “Beetree Farm” down near Lake Phelps. Jett put a lot of thought into management for wildlife and it paid off handsomely. Beetree’s 3000 acres butts up against the huge Pocosin Lakes Wildlife Refuge and game could be found there in abundance. Deer, ducks, turkey, bear and quail in great numbers. The big woods which bordered Beetree exuded a primordial essence and one felt as though they were treading upon the cusp of true wilderness, the forest beyond being mysterious and foreboding. Certainly, a guy needed to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes which were commonplace.

The property sat about a mile off the paved road and as you passed through the entry gate the feeling of being close to nature was evident. Here we could turn our dogs loose without fear of interference from people, cars, 4-wheelers and all that came with the ominous spread of population our country is experiencing. The fields there were drained by canals and ditches throughout with ample cover on them to hold plenty of birds. The hunting was fabulous. I was training several of Jett’s dogs at the time and he would eagerly wait to hear our report at the end of each day’s hunt. I miss those times and hope to return to Beetree someday in the future.

Sadly, the balance of nature has been seriously tilted by the release of Red Wolves in that area. While the concept seemed viable it has grown unmanageable and problematic. The wolves and subsequent hybrid coywolf have decimated much of the wildlife in that part of the country and threaten to spread if drastic measures are not soon taken.

I cherish those days and the adventures which W.C. and I shared. I remember one occasion when we were preparing Ida O Priscilla for the National Championship. She pointed game some 11 times in the two hours we had her down that day on Beetree.I recall well a single I tried to shoot for her when she pointed in a small block of woods on the southwest corner of the property. It was a tough shot, the bird twisting thru a thicket just as I squeezed off the trigger. I thought it a clean miss. He said “You hit that bird”. “What makes you think that?” I wanted to know. “I saw Cilla perk her ears up right when you shot, she could tell you hit him”. Sure enough when I tapped her on the head to retrieve, she went deep into the honeysuckle and soon returned with the bobwhite which I had unknowingly hit. Now, that kind of insight into the subtle body language of dogs is a talent seldom seen, but one which my friend possessed, perhaps somewhat from many years afield with dogs, more likely a natural born acuteness, as W.C. seemed to always pick up on mannerisms which went unnoticed by most.

I have been speaking mostly in the past tense in this account and must admit I do tend to wax nostalgic when recalling these fine memories, but I must add we aren’t quite done yet. Dr. Sanderson and I still get together to turn the dogs loose albeit at a slightly more conservative pace. These days I have the privilege to assist Bob Barnhill with the training of his hunting string over the finest hunting grounds this side of South Georgia. When he can, W.C. meets me at Barnhill Farms with his dogs to try to point a few birds and treat me to his seemingly endless supply of stories. He says Barnhill Farms is as close to the old time bird hunts as one could possibly get. A good day at Barnhill’s will include 20 plus covey rises which are indistinguishable from wild birds. The grounds are immaculate with every inch of the farm devoted to wildlife. The huge amount of perennial food plots helps maintain not only the quail, but the densest rabbit population I have ever witnessed.

Bob Barnhill is a consummate sportsman, a gracious host and one of the finest wing shots in the country. I was called upon to guide a hunt for him several years ago when a horse fell on him and broke his leg. Bob was going to follow the hunting party from the buggy while I guided from horseback. After several covey rises it became apparent that the gunners in attendance were somewhat lacking in their ability and I could tell Bob was getting a bit agitated. The next time the dogs pointed he spoke up “I’m going to try to shoot this time!” He half propped up on the seat of the buggy, his one leg in a cast, obviously off balance and gave the go ahead to flush. He smoothly dropped his double and for the rest of the day put on a shooting clinic from the front seat of the hunting buggy in spite of his injured leg.

Bob’s sons Rob and Austin, as well as many of his grandchildren enjoy the outdoors and the hunting heritage we hold dear appears to have a solid future at Barnhill Farms.

At 83, W. C. is as enthusiastic about bird dogs and quail hunting as he was the first time I met him those many years ago. His current field trial competitor, “A Rebel Trump”, who we call Moose, took 3rd place in the 2014 U.S. Quail Shooting Dog Futurity. There are plans for a litter of “Moose” puppies. So it seems, the hunt goes on……..
 


About the Author : Jim Edmundson
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Jim Edmundson is an avid outdoorsman and hunter. He spent over 30 years training bird dogs and horses, competing in field trials from the prairies to the southern plantations. He currently lives on the family farm in eastern North Carolina where he enjoys hunting with his son and friends.

 
 


About the Artist : Leah Brigham
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After graduating from Millersville University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelors of Science in Art Education, Leah began teaching Art to inner city Middle School students in Houston and later Dallas, TX. Leah has shared with her students her passion for art and nature. This passion has sustained her and continued throughout her life in the form of painting and drawing.

Leah was introduced to American Field Horseback Field Trails and has been able to experience the excitement of seeing her own dog, competing for the National Championship at Ames Plantation in Grand Junction, TN ...standing on point, head and tail held high. This has inspired her to create works of art depicting dogs and the wildlife associated with the sport and hunting.

 
 

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