South East Virginia Hunt / Review
John and I just returned from a six day hunt with Southampton Outfitters in south east Virginia, 15 miles east of Emporia Va.
Southampton Outfitters is owned and operated by Mark Pope on his family’s 5000 acre farm. The farm is a full time operation growing beans, cotton and peanuts; many of the peanuts being processed and marketed by the Popes themselves at their family owned facility. In addition to the crop business they also run about 400 head of hogs on the place. The farm is mostly cropland but is traversed by a swamp that meanders through the acreage creating several miles of hardwood bottoms. The number of White Oaks in the bottoms was impressive but there are also Live and Red Oaks, a lot of Poplar, River Birch, some Beech, and the abundant Holley make the bottoms just plain beautiful. Adding to the forested ground are numerous pine plantations grown for saw timber. Scattered around the farm are numerous food plots (as if those deer and turkeys don’t already have an abundance of food, LOL). Most stands are situated in the hardwood bottoms along the swamp, but there are also stands on many of the food plots and field edges as well.
The hunting operation is tucked away in an isolated corner of the farm with a nice pond on the grounds; there is also a large lake on the farm stocked with Large Mouth Bass and Crappies. Buildings include a small rustic cabin that includes a kitchenette, a den with a large TV with Sat service, and a gas fireplace. The cabin sleeps six in three bedrooms and has two baths. There is also a bunkhouse that sleeps about ten hunters but has no baths or lounge area. A large lodge building includes no sleeping facilities but houses the kitchen, dining room and serves as a gathering place with a large den area and a large screen TV with Sat service. There are also two full baths in the lodge for the hunters staying in the bunkhouse to use.
Conditions were rough for good deer hunting: it was the 4th week of firearms (shotgun) season which immediately followed the rut archery season, so Mark was booked up from about November 1st straight through December 1st. The area is also in the heart of deer hound hunting country, and even though Marks farm is off limits to the hunt clubs, hounds don’t heed property lines. Needless to say the farm had seen a lot of pressure. Additionally, the area was experiencing unseasonably warm weather for two weeks prior to our arrival which continued through the first half of our hunt. The deer were just not moving, particularly for the first four days, and since John and I were the only hunters we weren’t covering much ground.
The first morning, Monday, just prior to the 11am pickup time, I had a deer come running down the swamp bottom right to me. At about 15 feet I plugged it on the run and it fell at the base of my tree, a fat button buck. In the evening John had a small buck walk up to him at O-dark-30, which he let walk. Tuesday morning, late again, about 10am, I had a mature doe, two fawns and a yearling come trotting through with no shot opportunity. Wednesday and Thursday we saw nothing. The deer weren’t even coming out in the fields until about 10pm and we were seeing very few in the early mornings driving out to the stands. Friday morning John had a doe come barreling through with no chance for a shot, but saw five on a food plot in the evening and killed a doe with a 150 yard shotgun shot; great shot.
The deer had begun coming out to the fields earlier each night the past few days so that by Thursday evening we were seeing quite a few while driving back to camp from the stands just after dark. Saturday, our last, was to see the first morning in the thirty’s so we had high hopes, but again we saw nothing.
The farm is fantastic with an abundance of crops, food plots and a good mix of wooded cover. Even though we had an extremely slow hunt, I have absolutely no doubt that the place is crawling with deer, including some very large bucks due to the 14” minimum spread Mark imposes with a $300 fine for undersize bucks and a $50 fine for buttons. There are also lots of turkeys and Mark is definitely an extremely experienced turkey hunter.
It was a bit hard to gauge guides and service as John and I were the only hunters in camp, so of course we received the star treatment. Mark himself acted as guide, cook and companion since he only had two hunters and did a great job wearing all three hats. Mark was a great guy, an obviously experienced and knowledgeable hunter, and a fantastic cook (I understand he always does most of the cooking). There was plenty of food as well as sodas and tea always available. We did meet two of his regular helpers who were both nice guys and obviously knowledgeable hunters. I was impressed with Marks choice of stands in regard to wind direction; we always had the wind in our face. The stands were mostly man-and-a-half Gorilla Ladders and were comfortable enough and well placed.
If all you require in the way of accommodations reminds you of an old time Pa Deer Camp, you should not find the facilities uncomfortable, as for me, I like a little nicer place. The place was rather dirty and unkempt. The cabin and lodge would be very nice with a good top to bottom cleaning, but as it was both were dirty and the cabin was very musty due to lack of attention. There was quite a bit of “stuff” strewn around the grounds. The bunkhouse did not look very comfortable to me, not the kind of place I would like to be stuck in with a bunch of strangers. With just a little work and investment Mark could have a really first class operation; I know times are tough but an addition to the lodge with comfortable sleeping quarters and the engagement of a good cleaning service could put this operation on a par with the best. Mark is planning on adding a large pavilion/porch to the front of the lodge.
This may be a pro or a con depending on your point of view and sensibilities, but as Mark is sponsored by Wild Turkey Bourbon, there is no shortage of liquor in the place, LOL. Great thing if you like to drink; lots of variety and volume of booze free for the drinking after the hunt, but some may find it uncomfortable or offensive. Me and John? We gave the new Wild Turkey Honey a pretty good test in the evenings!
The stands were set up more for archery hunters than gun hunters, which is understandable as archery is the majority of Marks business. The stands could have used some attention to shooting lanes for gun hunters with some brushing done in the winter between seasons. The Gorilla stands have only a front drop down shooting rail; gun hunters of course benefit from full surround rails.
To sum it up:
We had a pretty crappy hunt on a very nice farm, with very nice and knowledgeable people, great food and adequate facilities. I have no doubt that if we’d been archery hunting in late Oct. or early Nov. we would have had a great hunt; same for the opening week or two of shotgun season. I am definitely planning on returning for one of those weeks in the future because the place has real potential.