On the hunt: Experiencing a Northern Neck pastime
by Renss Greene
The Northern Neck’s abundance of woodlands, marshes and wildlife beckons hunters. For those without a weekend hunting lodge or hunting buddies to bunk with, several overnight and weekend accommodations are available. Litwalton Lodge and Belle Isle State Park in Lancaster County and Mt. Airy in Richmond County all offer packages.
The age-old naval adage means it’s okay to relax and kick back. And it’s impossible not to relax a little looking out over the marshlands a short walk from Litwalton Lodge.
No matter your preferred pastime for relaxation outdoors, Litwalton Lodge probably has it. From October to April, depending on the month, you can find yourself hunting ducks and geese, hunting upland birds, catching oysters, gill netting, crabbing, kayaking or canoeing, cruising on the pontoon boat, hunting wild turkey, or learning waterman work and safety from Hyde.
“The name of the game is to have as many options available to you as possible,” Hyde said. If the hunting isn’t so good in the morning, he offers a hot meal at lunchtime and maybe oystering in the afternoon. The land and wetlands around Litwalton Lodge are bountiful and varied enough that there’s something to do in any weather.
Depending on the weather, Hyde might even take you up for an aerial tour in his six-passenger twin-engine Cessna 337 Skymaster. Litwalton Lodge has a 4,000-foot grass runway well away from any treelines. Visitors can get advance permission to fly in.
Hyde doesn’t advertise Litwalton Lodge much. So far, news of the lodge has spread mostly by word of mouth.
“Every year, virtually everybody who’s come the year before comes back,” Hyde said.
The lodge itself has enough bed space to comfortably sleep and feed eight. The three-story structure has all the amenities including a poker room and a fantastic view of the forests overlooking the marshlands. It’s steeped in tradition. The walls are decorated with antique waterman’s gear and photos, some of which chronicle Hyde’s grandfather, who chased Pancho Villa across Mexico and Texas with Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing.
“What they like is, as we say in the Marines, just a place where they can take their pack off,” said Hyde. Litwalton Lodge offers a place to relax and sample everything the Northern Neck’s great outdoors has to offer.
The full package runs $400 per person per day, and includes three square meals, room and board, guided activities and game cleaned. You can even take home the seafood you harvest. There’s also a modified package which includes only breakfast and no guided activities which costs $200. There’s also a wounded warrior package, which is only $300, with a wheelchair-accessible dock and blind. To make a reservation or get more information, call (804) 462-9973 or visit http://www.LitwaltonLodge.com.
Mt. Airy is a genuine piece of Virginian and American history. It was built in 1758 for Colonel John Tayloe II, a member of the House of Burgesses and one of the richest plantation owners in Virginia. It has remained in the family since then. Francis Lightfoot Lee, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, is buried on the estate. The walls are adorned with an historic collection of portraits and paintings, and the house is richly furnished and decorated with antiques. The house itself is, not surprisingly, listed as a National Historic Landmark.
Today, John Tayloe Emery and his family reside there and manage the estate. Hunting at Mt. Airy is not altogether different from how it was when the Founding Fathers walked the grounds. Emery does not stock fish or wildlife, and if you come to Mt. Airy to hunt, expect to hunt the old-fashioned way, without gimmicks.
“We keep things sporting,” Emery said. The Emerys and the garden staff they employ manage the grounds to encourage wildlife to use the area, and they are mindful not to stress the population with too much hunting.
“It’s not about the kill rates here, it’s about ‘did you take the bird on the wing, did you make a good shot? When you’re turkey hunting was your calling so good that it resulted in a kill?’ that kind of stuff,” Emery said.
Emery is also a television and movie producer, and says the Mt. Airy experience is different from the hunting culture portrayed on television.
“I know a lot about hunting television and where it’s going,” Emery said. “Most of the shows you see on TV now [include] fast, speed-metal [music] with birds falling out of the air and guys talking about how they’re going to go kill all these birds, and we’re the exact opposite of that.”
Indeed, although Emery himself bustles around busily, time seems to move slowly around Mt. Airy. The estate is 1,400 acres of sunny hollows, rich wetlands, and old-growth forests.
Hunting at Mt. Airy is about the experience. When you go to Mt. Airy, your group is the only group there. You stay in the manor house as a guest of the family, which provides all your meals and lodging. You are even welcome to bring your own gun dog or borrow one of the resident dogs. You’re not going to get a guarantee of shooting any number of fowl, but when you do bring one down, you’ll know you’ve earned it with your huntsmanship.
Whether hunting duck, goose, quail, turkey, or fishing for bass, you’ll have the personal guidance of Emery and his brother Geoff, both of whom are accomplished hunters who have been hunting since they could lift a gun.
Emery said experienced hunters enjoy the challenge and sportsmanship of hunting at Mt. Airy, while beginners benefit from the experience and guidance Emery and his brother provide.
“You just have to have a passion for hunting and a willingness to learn,” Emery says.
A premium experience at Mt. Airy comes with a premium price. The cheapest way to see it (besides the $20 tour of the house) is the $350 half-day guided goose hunt, which also includes coffee and a light meal before or after the hunt. On the other end of pricing, a two-day guided duck hunt with a two-night stay at Mt. Airy, all meals included, and an open bar, preparing the birds, and even gun dogs (if you want) will run $1250 per person. To make a reservation or find out more, call (804) 333-4930 or visit http://www.MountAiryPlantation.com.
|A meadow and equipment shed along one of the convenient trails grants access to much of Belle Isle State Park.|
The park in Lancaster County offers hundreds of acres of wooded and marsh land and there are two ways to get in on the hunts there: make a reservation or show up early the morning of a hunt to enter into a standby lottery to fill any reservations that didn’t show up. Once you’re in, you’ll get a safety briefing from the staff, and then go to it. Hunters are allowed to move within certain zones, but there are no designated tree stands like some other parks. Hunters are also issued two tags for antlerless deer in addition to their annual bag.
“It’s fairly easy terrain, because the park is relatively flat,” said Chief Ranger Sean Dixon. The terrain is level with a mixture of wide-open farmland, pasture, forest, and waterfront. Wildlife of all kinds can be seen throughout the park. Hunting at Belle Isle is truly an experience for anybody. There’s even handicap accessibility.
A hunter in the field can choose his or her own difficulty. Some areas are next to a road; others require a little trekking.
“There are some areas that may be better for a more experienced hunter. There are lots of opportunities,” Dixon said.
There are plenty of deer roaming through the area, as might be expected of the lush, relatively quiet acreage of the park. Park rangers advise hunters where they might have the most success.
Reservations for this year’s hunts opened September 20 and are now being accepted. Muzzleloader hunts are November 13-14 and general firearms hunts are December 16-17. Reservations can be made by calling the State Parks Reservation Center at 1-800-933-PARK (7275). The reservation fee of $15 includes the day’s hunt, two DMAP tags, and a safety briefing by park rangers. Reservations are limited to two per phone call, either one hunter for two days or two hunters for one day.