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Until recently Maytag seldom missed a day of quail hunting at Sedgefields during the season. He is troubled by arthritis now, but this has not slowed his reflexes on a covey rise or dulled his incredible eye for spotting the white-throated males in a bunch of birds. It has forced him to give up hunting from horseback as he did for most of his 78 years. Instead he rides along on a specially built buggy, shooting from it when he is alone, content to watch others hunt when he has guests.
A day at Sedgefields begins with a breakfast of buttermilk pancakes, bacon, eggs, homemade biscuits and a selection of jams and jellies worthy of a church bazaar. Like everything else about Mr. Bud, it is solid, hearty fare—no frills, no fancy trimmings and no tiny crustless slivers of dry toast.
The main house at Sedgefields is as unpretentious as its master. Unlike that at Mrs. George F. Baker's Horseshoe Plantation near Tallahassee, Jock Whitney's Greenwood at Thomasville, or John Olin's Nilo near Albany, it is neither columned nor capacious. Rather, it is a rambling, clapboard, one-story affair, simply furnished, marvelously comfortable and obviously lived in. It is the kind of house in which a hunter would not be disgraced to wear his boots, and where he can always be sure of finding some very old bourbon waiting for him on the pegged-wood bar at the end of the day.
The kennels, about 200 yards from the main house, are also white clapboard, trimmed with green. Although there are fewer dogs now than when Maytag went out after quail every day, the kennels still house some 15 finished pointers and setters and about twice that many for breeding and training. George (Bubba) Harden III, who, like his father, has spent his lifetime at Sedgefields, is in charge of the kennels and the stable of walking horses. Although Maytag can no longer ride himself, he has adamantly refused to go along with the jeeps and pickups that have replaced horses for quail hunting on most other plantations. This even applies to his shooting buggy, which is pulled by a matched pair of great black mules.
There are never more than two guns on a proper southern quail hunt, although the size of the caravan suggests a full platoon. A man could, it is true, go out at Sedgefields as he might at home, with only his dog for company, and he would doubtless shoot a limit of birds, but he would miss the real flavor of the sport. For the Old South formalities of plantation hunting are what make shooting at Sedgefields so memorable.
When I shot there, for example, there were grooms for me, for my hunting partner and for George Harden Jr., in addition to George III, who handled the dogs, two scouts, a driver and an attendant for the shooting buggy. Mr. Bud and his good-looking brunette wife Elizabeth rode along in the wagon to watch. All of Sedgefields' 14,000 acres are hunted each season. The area is divided into courses, each of which is hunted for an hour and a half, with a different brace of dogs worked on each course. Normally two courses are shot over each morning and two each afternoon. Between the second and third courses there is always a picnic lunch served somewhere in the field or, when the weather is bad, before a big stone fireplace in the new clubhouse.
It was exactly 9 o'clock when George III took two pointers from their boxes on the shooting buggy and set them down, yelping and straining at their collars, on the first of the morning courses. He held them side by side for a brief moment, then released them. They lunged forward, bounding across the yellow fields of sedge, eager for the scent of birds.
We followed, our horses moving at a brisk, steady walk, our order carefully prescribed by protocol. George Harden, who led the hunt, went first. A few paces behind him, George III and the scouts rode abreast, never taking their eyes from the dogs quartering the fields ahead and to either side of us. Plantation pointing dogs range wider and move faster than most dogs used by foot hunters. This means they cover more ground, but in doing so a dog occasionally gets out too far and disappears from sight. When this happens it is the scout's job to find the dog and direct it back on course.
As one of the guns, my place in the procession was just behind the scouts, followed by the grooms and the shooting buggy. It was a perfect morning, crisp and clear, with the hint of winter in the air and a bright, blue sky overhead. Riding leisurely and relaxed through stands of long, thin pines and rolling fields of burnished grass, my thoughts wandered lazily from quail to a dozen other things. Then, up ahead, Harden stopped. He raised his hand to his hat, the fingers just touching the crown. This meant a dog was on a scent but had not yet located the birds. I could see the dog sniffling the sedge with agitated, erratic movements, his nose and body close to the ground, his tail waving like a baton.
Then, abruptly, he stiffened, freezing in midstride, a forefoot poised, his body rigid. Harden raised his hat high in the air, and the deep, resonant call, "Point," rang across the morning.