Football may come to mind first when thinking of the South, but hunting, hospitality and food are a way of life in Alabama’s Black Belt region.
Last week, Alabama Black Belt Adventures (ALBBAA) successfully showed the abundance of these resources to representatives from national outdoor organizations and media including Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever, The Flush TV, Covey Rise magazine, Shooting Sportsman magazine, LandLeader TV, Browning and Realtree.
Nonprofit ALBBAA is committed to promoting outdoor recreation and tourism opportunities in the 23-county Black Belt, which extends across the middle of the state below the Appalachian foothills and above the Coastal Plain from Mississippi to Georgia.
An important component in this initiative is the Black Belt’s widely acclaimed hunting and fishing, which have an annual economic impact of about $1 billion, sustain 11,000 jobs and generate more than $60 million for the state’s budget, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study.
“Our collective marketing efforts, coupled with hosting media so they tell our story, builds awareness and increases visitation,” said Pam Swanner, ALBBAA director.
“The earned media is a third-party endorsement, which is more credible to the consumer than paid advertising. The results generate critical tourism dollars, expand education tax revenues and improve the local economy and the quality of life for the residents,” she said. This was the primary reason to showcase the region to well-known national outdoor outlets.
With 140,000 members, Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever dedicates its effort to the conservation of quail, pheasants and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public awareness, education and land management policies and programs.
The weeklong series of activities included visits to private and public hunting plantations, meals by acclaimed chefs and restaurants, and educational opportunities on quail habitat and management.
The national outdoor representatives began the week with quail hunts at High Log Creek Preserve in Hurtsboro and Shenandoah Plantation in Union Springs. The guests then headed to Great Southern Outdoors in Union Springs to be treated to a meal by David Bancroft, the award-winning executive chef and owner of Acre Restaurant in Auburn. Bancroft cooked Southern specialties and wild game.
Getting to hear from Bill Palmer of Tall Timbers was the highlight of the week for the guests and Alabama landowners who manage quail. Sponsored by Caliber, a new outdoor sports store in Homewood, the Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) hosted Palmer at its NaturePlex in Millbrook to speak on “The State of Quail in the Southeast: Challenges and Opportunities on Public and Private Lands” along with representatives from Quail Forever, the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
“The interest in quail and quail hunting remains high in spite of wild quail declines over the last few decades,” said Tim Gothard, AWF director. “It was energizing to see landowners, quail enthusiasts and wildlife professionals together talking about how to raise the bar on quail habitat across the landscape.
The week wrapped up with a day spent on Gusto Plantation, a private hunting property in Lowndes County, which included a quail hunt, a dog demonstration and more good food.
Mike Stewart with Wildrose Kennels of Oxford, Mississippi, presented his “From Puppy to Bird Dog” demonstration. The interactive demonstration included four dogs illustrating seven habits of a successful bird dog. Stewart said Wildrose produces dogs that are gentle in the home, dynamic in the field and the perfect complement to any family’s activities.
Chris Hastings, award-winning chef and owner of Hot and Hot Fish Club and OvenBird in Birmingham, served lunch for the grand finale. The meal included duck and oyster gumbo, a quail cassoulet and a strawberry-lemon posset for dessert.
The weeklong series of events in the Black Belt showcased the region’s rich assets, emphasized the importance of quail habitat management and proved the area to be a top destination for quality hunting, hospitality and food.
“We had a tremendous experience last week in Alabama’s Black Belt region,” said Howard K. Vincent, president & CEO of Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever. “We came for the quail hunting, and that was exceptional; however, we’ll be coming back because of the hospitality, food and friendships. Alabama’s Black Belt truly has it all for the traveling wing shooter.
“We’re also extremely excited that this event served as the catalyst for Quail Forever’s first Black Belt Chapter,” Vincent added. “This new volunteer group will work with the local community and landowners to improve the area’s habitat for quail. Ultimately, these habitat efforts will benefit all wildlife in the Black Belt, water quality and the area’s recreational-based economy.”