When Jackie McCaskill was a youngster growing up in Camden, his dad would come home from bird hunting and leave the quail he and his buddy had shot for Jackie to clean.

"It seemed like they would bring them in by the tubs full," McCaskill, 54, said. "I told myself then I would make up for cleaning all those birds by bird hunting myself when I grew up."

McCaskill actually got to quail hunt with his dad a few times before his father died when McCaskill was 10 years old.

As he was growing up he worked for a local farmer who combined beans for other farmers, baled their hay and combined their wheat.

"I was out there in the summer and during the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks and I'd see beaucoups of birds during harvest time," he said. "I said then that I was going to become a bird hunter."

McCaskill inherited a single-barrel full-choke, 16-gauge shotgun from his father, which he often used to hunt squirrels. One day, he was toting the 16-gauge down a fairly narrow trail when a covey of quail flushed right in front of him. He threw the shotgun up and squeezed the trigger. Seven quail fell to the ground.

"Now I'm a bird hunter," he recalled saying to himself. "But I knew it was pure luck."

McCaskill today operates a unique quail-hunting guide service, perhaps the only one like it in the state. Instead of developing and maintaining his own hunting preserve property, McCaskill will come to a landowner's place and guide the owner and his friends on a quail hunt there, providing the birds and top-notch bird dogs for a traditional-style quail hunt.

"We cater to land-owners, to members of dove and deer clubs once those seasons are over, and to farmers who remember good old-time bird hunting," McCaskill said. "Hunt-club members have two more months of hunting with quail season. They've paid their dues and still have access to the land."

For a bird hunt, McCaskill recommends having at least 50 to 60 acres of huntable land and his rates, which are available by phone, are based on a 50-mile radius of Camden.

"An ideal situation is land with a broom straw field, some pines or a cutdown area to put the birds out in," he said. "Old corn fields or bean fields that have some cover around the edges are good, too."

For a half-day, 30-bird hunt, McCaskill likes to arrive about 1 p.m. and go over the land with the owner. After seeing the layout, he places the birds in groups of three or four or in six five-bird coveys. For a 40-bird hunt, he arrives at midday to assure there will be plenty of time to complete the hunt.

"I like to give the birds about half an hour to settle down before we start the hunt," he said. "That gives them time to move around and put out some scent for the dogs to find them."

McCaskill provides the dogs, drinks, water and snacks, and even a utility vehicle for elderly or physically-challenged hunters. A group can book the hunt and share expenses, but he allows only three shooters at a time.

"They can order additional birds, and we can take more hunters, but they have to rotate in and out to shoot," he said.

"For a full-day package, usually 50 birds, I get there early and usually put out half the birds in the morning and the other half in the afternoon. If they want to we can go to a different location for the afternoon hunt."

McCaskill brings a variety of bird dogs so rested dogs are available throughout the hunt.

"If some of the birds get away we get a fresh dog and go back through the area combing for singles as long as there is daylight to hunt," he said. "We keep going back as long as they want to hunt to try to get every one of them."

And if some of the birds do escape, they can easily provide for a second day hunt, McCaskill noted.

"Those birds will survive for a day or two, so you can take a Lab and walk them up the next day," he said. "Or you can do like I did as a young boy and just go walking. I walked up quite a few birds by myself before I got a dog."

The key to the entire operation, he said, is he takes his time while guiding so everybody can enjoy the experience.

"We don't rush through it, like you sometimes do on a shooting preserve," he said. "We take breaks during the hunt when they want to and that gives the dogs a break, too. Even though it's winter, it gets hot during the day. In fact, a hunting party on an all-day hunt can go to lunch and rest up while I am putting the birds out for the afternoon hunt."

McCaskill's unique guide service is an outgrowth of his passion for quail hunting, fostered through a lifetime of following dogs he trained and enjoying the hunting experience at private and public lands.

After high school he went into the service and all he could think of was that when he got out he would get a bird dog. He started with a little setter and later acquired another bird dog. Soon he began breeding and training bird dogs.

For 14 years he ran the Lugoff Bait and Tackle Store at U.S. 601 in front of the DuPont Plant. When business was slow, he'd take one of his young dogs and go behind the store for a training session.

"I did some club hunting back then," he said. "We had a few more birds than we do now. But club dues kept getting so high, and they were concentrating more on deer and turkeys. They didn't emphasize birds, so I started doing a lot of public-land hunting."

McCaskill said he has hunted just about all the lands managed by the S.C. DNR, "every WMA from the central part of the state down to the coast and some in the northern part of the state."

The key to hunting those areas, he said, is to find the right habitat - and have some good walking boots.

"I've had good results on some areas and some were not so good," he said. "It's a matter of having a willing heart, some willing dogs and being strong enough to go out and cover some ground."

One of his favorite public hunting areas is the Sandhills State Forest in Chesterfield County, not only because it's convenient, but because some locations hold good quail populations.

"They do a lot of timber harvests, so there are always new cutdowns and a lot of natural feed in there for the birds," he said. "They also put in food plots, and you'll find birds there, too. But when they get a little pressure, you have to hunt them down in the woods.

"Some of the areas up there border farm lands, and I have permission to hunt the edges of the fields. There are also places that are not near any farm lands but have longleaf pines that hold birds. You can take a limit up there, but they don't come quick. If you pack a lunch and hunt, you can find them."

When McCaskill scouts a public-hunting area, the first thing he does is check it out by vehicle, looking for tall timber and food sources for the quail.

"I like tall trees, longleaf pines, and some scrub oaks around them to put off some acorns," he said. "If the pines are thinned, they'll hold some birds. A lot of public lands don't have a lot of longleaf pines, but there are a lot in the lower part of the state."

If there is a cutdown area adjacent to the pines, it's even better, he said. A cutover is an excellent place for the hen quail to raise her brood because of the insects that hatch there.

"The first six months a young quail eats bugs," he said. "The mama quail shows it how to eat them. Feeding on seed comes later."

Once he's located areas that look like they hold quail, he hits the ground with multiple dogs and sometimes multiple hunters to increase chances of finding the quail.

"If you've got four or five buddies, you can cover a lot of ground," McCaskill said, noting sometimes that leads to some exciting and impressive bird hunting. "More people and more dogs can help you locate them.

"I've had people with me and I've had 10 dogs out at one time - and had them pointing and backing. People see that and say it's unbelievable, but it does happen on occasion."

McCaskill said he has heard many times that a man only gets one really good bird dog in his lifetime, but his own experience leads him to disagree.

"I've had 30 to 35 personal dogs over the years, and I think 80 percent of them were top-notch bird dogs," he said. "I put in a lot of time with them, in season and out of season, and they did a beautiful job for me.

"That's the most enjoyment in bird hunting, seeing two or three good dogs on point and backing each other. Some of the old timers get a real thrill when they see that, especially in the wild. I know that as long as I'm living, I want to be able to see a good dog on point and another good dog backing him."

McCaskill long ago set aside that 16-gauge with the long barrel in favor of a more suitable bird gun, but he has hopes it'll be used again.

"My son is not a hunter, he fishes, so that gun is sitting in a corner gathering dust now," he said. "But we've got a grandson coming along so maybe I can groom him to be a bird hunter one day."