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Hard Labor Creek Plantation

In 1988, just three years out of college, 28-year-old Ted Everett moved to Chipley, Florida to manage his family’s 5,000-acre property. His dad predicted it would be about three months before Ted would be back in Georgia. But, that never happened.

Ted had a plan from the beginning and started to transform the land to fit his vision” by selective cutting the timber, building ponds and with controlled burns.

In 1992, Ted had around 300 acres scattered in a few ideal locations to start what today is Northwest Florida’s premier bobwhite quail hunting preserve”:Hard Labor Creek Plantation.

Hard Labor Creek Plantation is aptly named due to the mind-boggling amount of labor required to keep the quail habitat up to the level required by the game birds. Each April though July, 12-hour days are the norm, as Ted and his crew put the tractors through non-stop days of disking, bush hogging, mowing and then controlled burning to perfection. The end results are what we upland game hunters get to enjoy each October though early spring, and what my Labrador retriever thinks is paradise.

Upon arrival at the plantation, we met at the clubhouse for coffee with the guides and Ted to get a bit of a run-down on what to expect during the day’s hunt. The trap and skeet range is situated right out in front of the clubhouse to provide an opportunity to get in a bit of a tune-up on some clays before busting up coveys. Ted’s partner in the shooting sports complex is also probably the best quail guide in the South. Gary Clark. Gary has been hunting quail his whole life, and his kennel of both pointers and Labradors are the best I’ve ever seen anywhere.

Although local birds seem to be making a comeback in Northwest Florida over the past few years (Gary said he has seen more over the past two years than he has in the last 15), pen-raised birds are still what make up the bulk of the action. While we were busting clay pigeons, Gary’s son James, who happens to be a trap and skeet champion and the best wing shot I’ve ever seen was putting out the birds in singles and groups of anywhere from to 7-10 birds in designated hunting areas.

When the gang was ready to go, Gary loaded everyone up on a custom trailer that sits three hunters in comfort, along with built-in cages for dogs. A Polaris Ranger pulled the trailer, where a fourth gun can sit with Gary and James. Two pointers were released from the trailer box and ranged out in front of the Polaris. Ted has the quail area set up in blocks, where you can drive section to section on well-maintained dirt roads, so you are not getting slammed around, which makes it a pleasant experience for hunters of any age.

It didn’t take long for the pointers to lock up on the morning’s first covey and kick off the day’s hunt.

With one of his flushing Labs heeled up on him, Gary had everyone load their shotguns and form a line on both sides. As we approached the locked-up pointers, Gary told the group which areas are safe to fire and which directions are off-limits to shots. It was amazing to watch his pointers not even twitch as they held their points while shooters got positioned. When everyone was set, Gary gave the command for the Lab to flush the birds.

I am a Lab guy, so to be able to include Labs was very special to me. The Labs busted the birds up well, getting them up and away and making for some excellent shooting. Gary was kind enough to let me bring my own chocolate Lab “Abby” along on the hunts. While Abby is nowhere in the same class as Gary’s dogs, she is pretty intense, and the experience was invaluable for both of us when she and I hunt on our own.

Hard Labor Creek also offers hunters the option of putting out some birds to hunt with their own dogs, and while I take advantage of this every year, it just isn’t the same as going with Gary. One thing I would highly recommend for anyone hunting with Gary at Hard Labor Creek the first time is to ask him to let his son James be included in at least the first couple of coveys. Watching this young 14-year-old man shoot a shotgun is nothing short of art. James just simply does not miss!

On our last hunt, we had my wife, Maggie, Buddy and Kurt Gentry from G&S Boats and James as gunners. Out of the 60 birds released, we harvested 52! I am sure that James killed at least half of them! I had to laugh, as Gary told James that he didn’t want him shooting until someone else fired first. It didn’t matter, as he still dropped them like crazy! Gary told me James was hunting with a shotgun he had never fired before that day because his own Beretta was just “shot up,” with the tens of thousands of rounds put though the gun. Think about that for a moment. The kid is only 14 and has already used up a Beretta! No wonder he doesn’t miss!

Hard Labor Creek Plantation is a special place. I have known Gary, James and Ted now for the four years I have been here in the Panhandle. They have shown me what it takes to have world-class dogs, taught me safety and given my wife and I so many fond memories. They are true friends who love what they do and have so much passion for the sport, which is rare to find today.

Hard Labor Creek Plantation has a great A-frame lodge for hunters that come from a distance and want to spend a few days on the plantation. Ted also has some well-stocked ponds with lunker largemouth bass, so be sure to bring along some bass fishing gear. Birds that are not harvested and can escape predators like hawks, owls, and foxes will group up and form coveys. So it is pretty common to pay for a 30-bird hunt and put up quite a few more.

The experience of hunting this land should be on every upland game hunters “bucket list.”

There is even an off-road park located in a separate area of Ted’s land, giving visitors a safe place to ride their ATVs and side-by-sides ”” something that is becoming harder to find here in Florida.

A visit to Hard Labor Creek is something you will never forget. I guarantee that after that first hunt, you’ll be back for more.

For pricing and a list of available hunts, visit the Hard Labor Creek Plantation website (www.floridaquail.com) or (www.hardlaborskeet.com).

You can also reach Ted and Gary at the following: Ted Everett: 850-527- 6063 (cell), 850-638-4316 (office), email: [email protected] or Gary Clark: 850-326-0318 (cell).

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Capt. Mark S. “Corky” Decker is an IGFA-certified captain, freelance writer and a proven world-class billfish guide. He grew up commercial fishing on the East Coast, prior to quitting college and relocating to Alaska to cash in on the booming fisheries of the 1980s. After almost 20 years of incredible success, it all suddenly came crashing down with a looming federal lawsuit for illegal fishing practices that changed a whole way of life — not just for him but for commercial fishermen in general.

 At age 40 Corky ran away to the South Pacific to start over, fishing for marlin and writing about the sport. Today, Corky's home port is Destin, Florida, where he lives with his New Zealand-born wife, Maggie. Corky recently completed his first novel To See A Green Flash and is currently working on a sequel to his personal memoir A Hardway to Make an Easy Living. In the Spring of 2012 Corky came full circle yet again and purchased a Maine harpoon boat to pursue the fish of his youth — giant bluefin tuna. He fishes out of Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine, during the summer — where his passion for fishing began. To find out more about Corky and order one of his books, visit corkydecker.com.