Photos and Essay: Discovering the Magic of Mays Pond

Written by: Phoebe Bean

The view of sunrise from the duck blind was spectacular.
Photo by Phoebe Bean

Mays Pond is a quail hunting plantation located near Monticello, Florida, that has been in the Perkins family for generations and has both Orvis Wingshooting and Fly Fishing schools on-site. I was fortunate enough to be invited by Nancy and Dave to go down with them last week; after hearing about it for most of my life, I was beyond thrilled to be able to experience what Mays Pond is all about.

The journey from Vermont to Florida—traveling with three dogs and guns—was anything but smooth. After dealing with exceptionally rude TSA agents at 4:00 AM, loopy dogs, and getting separated on different flights, we finally made it to the “Big House” at Mays Pond. One step through the front doors, and I knew this was going to be a week to remember. One wall in the living room showcased every species of duck that had ever been shot on the plantation, and huge maps of the region displayed the quail courses on Mays Pond and surrounding plantations. If it was this cool at night, I couldn’t wait to explore it during the day. After a scrumptious dinner of rock crab by the fire, I went to bed and dreamed of alligators and poisonous swamp creatures.

Nancy calms Mikey at the airport on the way down to Florida.
Photo by Phoebe Bean

Before dawn on Sunday, we loaded our gear into the rental and drove to one of the plantation ponds in search of ducks. I have been blessed with countless breathtaking views in my life, but the millions of overhead stars reflecting on the black, glassy water as we canoed to the blinds left me awe-struck. Unfortunately, I was so intent on looking for all of the alligators I knew were out to get me that I didn’t take any photos of the stars.

After a somewhat successful hunt (for Dave, at least) we swapped our camo out for briar pants and went on a walk-shoot for quail. I spent three months in North Carolina one summer, so I’m no stranger to heat and humidity, but that hunt was HOT! My excitement to hunt with horses and a wagon for the duration of the trip was exponentially heightened after walking all afternoon in knee-high, heat-locking, leather snake boots.

Learning how to identify the bird’s age by how much white is on the tips of their wing feathers.
Photo by Phoebe Bean

Fast forward a few hours, after a nap, and we were back in our camo—this time, in a cyprus swamp. I consider myself a relatively fearless person when it comes to being in the outdoors; put me in a place with alligators, though? Nope. Can’t deal with them. I spent more time jumping at every splash and breaking twig than I did looking for ducks. Luckily, there weren’t any ducks anyway, so my distracted state didn’t cost us dinner. That evening, Andrew Pierce (my boss at Orvis) and Brandon Boedecker (PRO Outfitters) arrived, and Dave joined them in a “mother-shucker” competition with a bucket of oysters.

We ate like royalty, especially after the oyster-shucking competition.
Photo by Phoebe Bean

The quail hunting from Monday through Thursday was unreal. Riding in the back of a mule-drawn wagon next to a bunch of southern men on horses felt like taking a step back in time. I was definitely called “Ma’am” and “Miss Phoebe” more in four days than I ever have in my life, and having grown up on a working ranch, the idea of someone else adjusting my stirrups every time I got on a horse was novel. The hunting itself was the most difficult I have experienced, in terms of shooting skills. I was trained to be a cautious shooter, so the quail (or “fighter jets” as I like to call them) would often disappear before I could get a shot off. I definitely appreciated a bird in the bag a lot more.

Jess retrieves a quail beautifully.
Photo by Phoebe Bean

The four men guiding us on our hunts were Mike Willis (the namesake for Nancy and Dave’s youngest setter), Brian Smith, Jason Willis, and Luck Bradley. Mike, who runs the plantation, is incredibly knowledgeable about the region’s history, and I loved listening to him recount old memories and his thoughts on how to improve the plantation. It was obvious to me that he truly cares. Brian is the head dog trainer for the plantation kennels, and he kindly answered all of my questions about his style of training. He also always had the group’s safety in mind at all times and made sure everyone had a great time. Jason, Mike’s son, is also a dog handler (he graciously put up with my questions, too) and I would often turn around to look for my horse after a covey rise and Jason would be right behind me with my steed, reins and stirrups all ready to go. The efficiency that those guys had in the field was outstanding!

Andrew walks up on a covey pointed by Mikey and backed by Luck (the dog).
Photo by Phoebe Bean

One of my favorite parts of the trip was riding in the wagon with Luck, the man who is the namesake for Nancy and Dave’s oldest setter. We all learned many valuable lessons from Luck, such as the necessity of first pot-boiling and then frying every type of food except wharf rats, which need to be cooked outside on a spit (duh). Luck also taught us how to kill three deer with one shot, the positive impact that chewing two bags of Red Man everyday has had on his life, and that doing nothing at all for your wife’s birthday is totally acceptable. I doubt I’ll ever forget his trademark “hehehe” giggle, which was usually followed by a grumpy comment about one mule letting the other do all the work. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much.

Luck (the person) was a font of wisdom and the source of much laughter.
Photo by Phoebe Bean

Along with a few stops at Bradley’s Country Store for some sausage dogs, Nancy’s cooking was fabulous. We ate like kings. Gulf shrimp risotto, grilled quail, spicy grits, local field peas (grown by Luck), roast duck, wild rice, the famous “streakers” oyster recipe… Needless to say, I should put myself on a diet now that we’re back. One night, Dave came in to the dining room carrying a platter of ducks and apologized profusely for overcooking them… Below is the photo Brandon took of the meat on his plate.

Does that duck look overdone to you?
Photo by Brandon Boedecker

Every aspect of the trip was amazing (except for the alligators and spiders the size of my face). I am so grateful and happy that I was able to go to such a special place with such extraordinary people.

Andrew and Brandon pose with their bag for the hunt.
Photo by Phoebe Bean

Phoebe Bean is an Intern for Orvis Adventures.

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