Hunting & Heritage  |  05/16/2023

Empty Shells & Full Hearts


A South Carolina quail adventure

By Maggie O’Neil
Learn to Hunt: Creating New Hunter-Conservationists for the PF & QF Mission

If you’re reading this, there is a good chance that you have a few memorable bird hunting stories to tell. Like the one time when wild coveys shook the very ground you were standing on, or the one where you shot birds over grandaddy’s prize dog, or the recollection of simply listening to the bobwhite whistle from your back porch. 

I don’t have those anecdotes to share. But hearing them is why I was so driven to attend the adult Learn to Hunt program organized by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR). They partnered with Quail Forever and the Minority Outdoor Alliance (MOA) to organize a weekend full of learning, shooting, hunting, and wild game cooking. This unique partnership brought together passionate professionals inspired to share the special tradition that is quail hunting.

In attendance were adults who haven’t had hunting opportunities in the field until now. Like myself, they had no one to show them the ropes, no one to make sure they felt confident in the woods, and no one to tell them that they deserve to take up space where space is endless. That, my friends, is what this weekend was about.

Ashley and Durrell Smith founded MOA to bring unity and opportunity to the outdoors, and their successful journey led Durrell to a classroom with 8 adults who have never quail hunted. 

Durrell walked us through the North American conservation model, highlighted upland hunting etiquette and firearm safety, reviewed rules and regulations, and then focused on what it means to be an ethical hunter. 

What I remember most is the joy shared between the local game warden and Durrell as they re-lived moments in the field. I started to get the sense that hunting is more than taking an animal.

We were treated to a mentored hunt on the property, and as we tromped through the woods, total strangers became friends. We cheered every time someone shot, offered good luck fist bumps, and high-fived on successful harvest.

As we followed the extremely athletic pointer deeper into the quail woods, I couldn’t help but reflect on the people that have helped me so far, and the wonderful people that put on this weekend. If it weren’t for others willing to share traditions by bringing minorities into the equation, the future of bobwhites would be dull. 

Because of this weekend, this species gained 8 more stewards in the name of conservation of the wild bobwhite quail, and in my book, that’s a win!

Thank you Minority Outdoor Alliance, Richard King Mellon Foundation, South Carolina DNR, Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever!

Maggie O’Neil is now a new hunter. She hails from The Palmetto State, where Quail Forever’s impact continues to grow.