A man wearing a green plaid shirt pulls his horse's face close to his own

Where quail is king

Preserving hunting traditions in South Carolina

By Jessica Collier | May 21, 2018

Pineville, South Carolina

A rolling gravel drive nearly a mile long leads to a stately plantation house. Wooden rocking chairs line the front porch, Spanish moss drapes grand oak trees and horses freely roam, grazing rye grass.

This is the Oakland Club, a destination to experience the tradition of southern bobwhite quail hunting.

A horse grazing on grass in front of a large white house with a porch
The Oakland Club is like stepping back in time to experience the tradition of quail hunting at its finest. Photo by Jessica Collier, USFWS.

Chartered in 1905, the Oakland Club encompasses 11,000 acres in Berkeley County, South Carolina, and contains an impressive array of diverse ecosystems including pine savannas and flatwoods, bottomland hardwood forests and floodplains along the Santee River, cypress-tupelo swamp forests, pond cypress wetlands, and open water ponds.

A man leaning against a desk
Portrait of Roger Revenelle. Photo courtesy of Will Rizzo, Azalea Magazine.

That stunning diversity stems, in part, from an agreement the club has with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). The agency is working with its owners to ensure that the land’s sweep and majesty remain constant, from this century to the next.

There is a sharp focus on the history of the land and fostering an ambiance that reflects traditional bobwhite quail hunts. Roger Revenelle knows this tradition well; for him, it’s a way of life.

A bobwhite quail nestled in two gloved hands
A bobwhite quail at the Oakland Club. Photo courtesy of Will Rizzo, Azalea Magazine.

Four generations of Revenelle’s family have ties to the Oakland Club. His great-grandfather and grandfather farmed its lands; his father, a carpenter, helped construct buildings at the Oakland Club; and for the past 51 years, Revenelle has guided quail hunts on the property.

For Revenelle, the Oakland Club is important for his livelihood, but he also has a personal connection that comes from spending every day learning the intimate details of the land.

He has a true passion for hunting and trail riding. After a long day of guiding hunts, boarding horses, and preparing birds, most people would likely just want to go home and relax in front of the TV. Not Revenelle. At 74, he often finishes a work day by going out to his favorite places on the property to hunt squirrel, raccoon or deer.

Pictures and a mounted rifle over a mantle
The Oakland Club keeps meticulous records to detail each hunt and every quail taken on the property. Photo by Jessica Collier, USFWS.

But his favorite quarry is quail. Traditional quail hunting, on horseback with a pack of well-trained bird dogs, is something into which Revenelle was born. He understands its appeal. The prevalence of modern technology and conveniences, combined with encroachment from industrial and residential development, mean there are few places offering the opportunity to relive the experiences and stories told by your grandfather. The Oakland Club offers that, and more.

Ryan Bowles, the Oakland Club Manager, can tell you.

“We use every 21st century tool we have to go back to the 20th century, to get it back to what it was in the heyday, back to the 1900’s look and feel when quail was the king,” Bowles says.

Restoration in Action

In 1989, Hurricane Hugo destroyed 87 percent of the standing longleaf pine at the Oakland Club. What was left standing after the disaster was not sufficient to sustain quail. Instead, fast-growing trees like sweetgum and red maple started taking over the grasslands and pine savannas, eliminating nesting and foraging areas for quail.

A man with a green and white plaid shirt standing with a brown horse
Ryan Bowles, manager of the Oakland Club, with the oldest horse at the Club, Hugo, who incidentally was born the night of Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Photo by Jessica Collier, USFWS.

The Oakland Club responded before the unwanted trees took over completely. Club employees have worked diligently to restore the pine savannas that support bobwhite quail.

Using prescribed fire management, Bowles and his crew have worked to keep undesirable tree species at bay while also promoting the growth of longleaf pines. The Oakland Club’s dedication to restoration helps sustain fire-dependent species like longleaf pine, wiregrass, pitcher plants, and sundews. It also promotes ecologically rich habitats that could support red cockaded woodpeckers, which historically occupied nearby pine stands.

A large tree stump with a roof, window and door and a white house and trees in the background
This massive tree stump, a reminder of the giant cypress sentries that once loomed across Southern swamp forests, served as the pick-up and drop-off point for hunting dogs during quail hunts in the mid-20th century. Photo by Jessica Collier, USFWS.

Bowles teamed up with the Service’s Coastal Program and Lord Berkeley Land Trust to establish a conservation easement on the entire 11,000 acres of the Oakland Club. Conservation easements protect land for future generations and allow owners to retain many private-property rights. The habitats, biodiversity, and hunting traditions at Oakland Club will be protected in perpetuity.

Raleigh West, Executive Director of Lord Berkeley Land Trust, emphasizes the impact of establishing the conservation easement on this historic land, ‘“By saving one place,” he says, “you save a region.”

The easement protects a central portion of the Santee River and in so, supports all the farms, hunting traditions, and timber operations that surround it.

This sentiment is echoed by Jason Ayers, the Service’s Coastal Program Coordinator for South Carolina. Ayers explains how protecting the Oakland Club land fits into a broader picture across the landscape by filling in a corridor of protected properties along the Santee River. The corridor, he says, is immense, stretching “from the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge by the [Atlantic] ocean through the Francis Marion National Forest to the Santee National Wildlife Refuge and further inland.”

map of protected lands along the Santee River in South Carolina
The Oakland Club land (in blue, orange and yellow) is part of a corridor of protected lands along the Santee River in South Carolina. Map by Jason Ayers, USFWS.
A sign at a gravesite
Working with local communities and organizations, the USFWS Coastal Program helps protect cultural heritage sites like the grave of Revolutionary War Officer Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, which is surrounded by Oakland Club land. Photo by Jessica Collier, USFWS.

To help establish the conservation easement, the Coastal Program developed a baseline documentation report which describes all the species and habitat types found on the property. The conservation easement on the Oakland Club, prevents forest fragmentation. That, in turn, protects ecologically rich habitats and rare species such as a newfound population of the federally endangered plant, Canby’s dropwort. The population found at the Oakland Club is now one of five known populations left in South Carolina.

“The Coastal Program has helped protect thousands of acres in South Carolina,” Ayers says. “However, the perpetual protection of Oakland Club is one of the most crucial and significant private land conservation projects in the history of the program.”
brown and white horses grazing on grass under a large tree
Not many places can trace their roots back for 120 years and provide the type of experience that Oakland Club has to offer. Photo by Jessica Collier, USFWS.

In establishing the conservation easement, Bowles is preserving the heritage of the land, but he is also building his own legacy of restoring quail habitat. It could take 100 years to completely restore the Oakland Club longleaf pine savannas. Bowles knows he will never see the full results of his work, but he’s going to continue to improve habitat on this land.

“It’s the way it’s supposed to be,” he says.

Thriving quail, and a beloved hunting legacy.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supported this Nature's Good Neighbor feature through our Coastal Program, a voluntary, partner-based conservation initiative that provides financial and technical support to plan and implement habitat restoration and protection for the benefit of Federal trust species. Special thanks to the Oakland Club, the Lord Berkeley Conservation Trust, and the South Carolina Conservation Bank for their collaboration. The Coastal Program has locally-based staff ready to assist communities and partnerships from the headwaters to the nearshore. If you are interested in habitat conservation on either private or public lands, please find your local Coastal Program biologist. Connect with the Coastal Program on Facebook!

Jessica Collier is the Coastal and Marine Resource Specialist and a 2018 Sea Grant Knauss Fellow with the Coastal Program at the FWS Headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia.