We advanced slowly through the longleaf pines, carefully watching our guide’s dogs in front of us as they scoured the brush for our quarry. The morning had been productive, and our game bag was filling. The dogs methodically worked the area from left to right with some occasional encouragement and instruction from their master. The jingling of the bells that were affixed to their collars filled the air. We patiently awaited their silence, as that would announce that the dogs had found a bird – and were frozen on-point.
Without warning, the floor of the Carolina bay that we were slipping through came alive. In an explosive rush, a covey of quail sprang up directly in front of us. We were caught completely off-guard, and our inexperience in the sport of quail hunting came to light; not a shot was fired. Our guide smiled and politely explained that we had just experienced our first natural “covey rise.” We regrouped and continued our forward progress with vigor.
That moment will forever be etched in my mind, much like another covey of quail I had experienced many years before in an urban setting at the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE) in downtown Charleston. I remember walking through one of the venues and coming across a large bronze sculpture of a covey of quail exploding into the air, exactly as we had just experienced in that swampy Carolina bay. I remember standing in awe at the beauty captured by the artist and feeling the desire to see that scene in the wild.
The many short stories and works of art that I had enjoyed regarding quail hunting were validated the moment those birds took flight and eluded my barrels. The short stories of Havilah Babcock and Archibald Rutledge that I had read over and over had come to life yet again. The countless paintings and wildlife sketches of dogs onpoint and getting “birdy” came to mind. I had experienced an event that had sparked not only my imagination and wonder but the skills of many artists and writers of years passed – and those yet to come.
I sat in the dining room of the hunting lodge, having lunch after that morning’s hunt, and looked about the room at all of the artwork and sculptures that had been collected over the years by the outfitter. Each piece told a story. Who made them? Where did they come from? What inspired them? I immediately thought of the upcoming 2019 Southeastern Wildlife Exposition and the fun to be had in searching for quail art for my own home to assist in reliving my experience, as well as finding some new gear for the field.
SEWE, to me, is indeed a celebration of the time we spend in the outdoors as hunters, conservationists and spectators. The three-day event draws people from around the globe of varied walks of life, interests and motivations. Growing from approximately 100 exhibitors and 5,000 attendees in 1983, to present day with over 500 artists, sculptors, exhibitors, craftsmen and 40,000 attendees, SEWE is now among the largest and most prestigious events of its type in the United States, and the cultural and economic impact to the Palmetto State and Charleston area is second to none.
Strolling from venue to venue, one can find a wide variety of attractions. Whether you are looking to renew your membership with the conservation group of your choice and learn more about their mission or attend a seminar to learn about wildlife habitat, how to properly throw a cast net or even techniques for rattling in that elusive 10-point buck during the rut, SEWE fits the bill. And no visit to SEWE would be complete without a visit to the merchant’s village tent at the Brittlebank Park venue, followed by some delicious Lowcountry fare at the food court, accompanied by live bluegrass music playing in the background.
Most hunting seasons in South Carolina have concluded by the time SEWE rolls around in February each year. So, as an avid outdoorsman, it is the perfect time and venue to relax, regroup and reflect on the past season, while making preparations for the next. It’s also the perfect time to visit with old and new friends and share the stories and exploits of recent adventures and those that are yet to come. It is the ideal time to engage in the beauty of the outdoors in a short period of time, all with great ease and enjoyment.
Regardless of your outdoor experience, or level of interest, the upcoming Southeastern Wildlife Exposition on Feb. 15, 16, and 17 should be marked on your calendar.
By Michael Cochran