The impoundments exist to attract and hold ducks at most of the 930 acres of the preserve's property.
The flood waters seem to go on forever, until you burst free of the swamps into an open, dry flat land.
Level agricultural fields are the hallmark of the South Carolina Lowcountry. But those who usually travel to nearby Myrtle Beach would have no idea such gorgeous hunting country even existed unless they navigated along the rural byways instead of the crowded highways leading the beach areas' many resorts.
Several pickup trucks parked at the rustic-themed-but-nearly brand-new hunting cabin and outbuildings located at the heart of the preserve. The crackling of frying of hog jowls wafted an irresistible, smoky scent through the screen door and the spattering of eggs oozing into a frying pan of the hot jowl grease was a sound any country hungry boy could appreciate.
"I hope you like jowls and fried eggs," said Jimmy Calder. "There's hot coffee or cold tea and soft drinks if you prefer."
Calder broke an eggshell open with one hand, sloshing its contents into the skillet. The day's hunters along with the hired help sat down to breakfast as Calder reviewed the safety rules posted on the wall. Release papers were passed around and signed during breakfast. Anticipation of the forthcoming upland game bird hunt had everyone chattering and telling hunting camp jokes.
Maidendown Bay Gun and Golf Hunting Preserve is owned by J.R. Management Corp. of Martinsville, Va. But Calder is the manager and sole proprietor of the preserve operation. He is now mostly the real-estate business but has been a farmer.
"I've farmed all of my life," he said. "I've been in the tobacco business and had warehouses in Mullins. I saw the decline of tobacco and so I learned about real estate. I did some development, too.
"When I listed Maidendown Bay and couldn't get the owners their asking price, I got the idea to put a conservation easement on the place with NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service). We did wetland restoration at 700 acres by filling in the old farm and timber ditches. That became the preserve's waterfowl hunting area. But we also have 230 acres of uplands. We hunt mallards at the wetlands and quail, chukar and pheasants at the upland sections."
As a complimentary business to the hunting preserve, Maidendown Bay Gun and Golf Hunting Preserve also offers RV camping, pond fishing, target shooting and golf. The golf packages are booked through the nearby True Blue and Caledonia Golf courses at Pawley's Island.
"When a group of people come to the beach for golf, they may also want to get out for a day of hunting," Calder said. "We can arrange transportation from one of the golf courses to and from the preserve. It can help to extend a vacation and to get the family away from all the busy beach traffic for a day or two of vacation."
Guests can choose to stay at the True Blue Condominiums, which have two- and three-bedroom units available or they can camp in an RV at the preserve and save some cash while reveling in the peaceful setting for a good night's sleep under the stars. They can also arrange accommodations at the Comfort Inn at Marion.
While the duck hunts begin at sunrise, Basil Watts and I had a leisurely morning, which is good considering the massive breakfast we had eaten.
Calder started Watts off with a few shots at the Wobble Trap. Shooting our .410 double-barrel shotguns made the target practice session interesting. T.J. Joye stood by, his dogs whining in their kennels to be released. He was wondering if a double-barrel .410 was the gun of choice for a combination upland game bird hunt.
The morning hunts start at 9 a.m. After the birds had been set out, we were driven in an ATV to the hunting area. The upland hunting area is mostly former farm fields along with some standing timber. While some strip crops are grown, most of the fields are left fallow and maintained by a mowing schedule.
The effect is an amazing duplication of a farm setting at any grain-producing state - gorgeous upland habitat. Under the conservation agreement, there can be no agricultural harvesting or housing development. However, wildlife enhancement is encouraged and 42 acres of food plots are planted each year under the terms of the agreement. One-third of the high ground also can be burned to keep vegetation in a state of primary-plant succession, which is perfect for walking behind bird dogs and hunting upland game birds.
While duck hunting has become self-supporting, the upland shooting has been slower to take wing. It's probably because most people haven't looked over the array of challenging upland settings the preserve has to offer. Calder has enough territory to conduct four hunts at one time with three hunters per party. He is at the preserve for every hunt to make sure everything goes smoothly and everyone has a good time.
"I need some notice if larger groups want to hunt," he said. "The reason I require a guide is so the hunters will know to stay inside their own territory and not interfere with the other hunts. I have three active guides, but I can get two more on a short notice if they're needed."
For duck hunts, there is a 20-duck limit per blind and only two boxes of shells are allowed per hunter. The shell limit helps prevent crippling of a finite number of pen-reared mallards at the preserve. The duck are feral ducks and fly just like wild ducks. The upland game birds come from a breeding operation at Rockingham, N.C.
T.J. Joye has been guiding for hunters for more than 15 years. He handles and trains pointers, shorthairs and English setters. But his main occupation is Commander of Troop 5, Post B of the South Carolina Highway Patrol.
Two other handlers, Barry Simms and Billy Benson, also work their dog for the preserve's clients. Hunters may bring along their own dogs if the prefer, but they still must be accompanied by a guide.
"We'll hunt Sally and Chief today," he said. "Sally is a pointer and Chief is a setter. Chief was also trained by Kevin White, a trainer near Kingstree."
While his attempts at wobble trap left some doubt about the small bore's effectiveness for clay targets, Watts made short work of the two chukars during the first flush, taking them with two quick shots.
"I can't hit a clay target like I can a bird," Watts said. "It's got to have feathers on it before I take it seriously."
Watts is a retired Cape Fear River Pilot from Southport and has been hunting game birds his entire life. During the course of the morning shoot, which lasted 3 hours, only one bird escaped the small charges of shot out of his Noble .410 double-barrel. Shooting No. 7 ½ shot in 3-inch loads, he killed everything from large pheasants to tiny bobwhite quail.
"It's faster to point so you can get on the birds quicker," he said. "That gives you some of an advantage. Anything less 30 yards away is a legitimate target with a .410 as long as you can shoot well. You have to hit the bird with the center of the pattern because the edges get thin mighty quick."
It started out as a cool morning. But by late morning the sun was hot and the air was humid. The dogs worked well despite the warm day, diving often into the water in the ditches surrounding the fields of standing corn and broom sedge.
Jeff Rogers followed along in a Gator model ATV. He had cold drinks and snack onboard. He also collected the mounting bag of game birds so the hunters would not have to tote them in the pockets of a game vest.
"I'm a forestry technician," Rogers said. "I help with the planting and the burning and also help with the hunts. Next season, we'll also have a dove hunt associated with the preserve; it'll be on a membership type of status."
Joye made sure the two hunters shot only the birds at their sides and allowed no shooting of low birds that flew in someone's direction. Other than that the birds were pen-raised, the hunt was conducted exactly like any upland game bird hunt available at any natural habitat.
After the hunt, Calder and Joye returned to the preserve's central headquarters and cleaned the birds. They skinned and gutted them, preparing them for our waiting ice chests. The preserve doesn't provide ice or coolers, so hunters must remember to bring their own - and they'd better be large ones.
"When you create a hunting preserve, it not only means you're preserving hunting, but also a place to have a hunt," Calder said. "If you can't preserve it with and for hunting and hunters, it'll all become a subdivision someday."
While the duck hunts are virtually a sellout every season, there's been room for upland hunters. But duck hunters can still ask if dates are available.
"A good way to get the most bang for your buck is to book a duck hunt in the morning, shoot wobble trap at lunchtime, then head out for an upland hunt in the afternoon," Calder said. "We can even host a barbecue for a large group.
"You can get in more shooting here in one day than you can while hunting wild birds all season. The bonus is you can also share the hunting with a bunch of your family and friends.
"Our campground is less than 45 minutes from Myrtle Beach, so anyone considering a beach trip can take a day, stop by and experience some of the finest hunting there is in a country setting they didn't even know existed."
A typical Sportsman's package for upland hunts is 30 quail, 10 chukar partridges, and 5 ring-necked pheasants and includes the guide and pointing dogs. The cost is $500. A quail and chukar package is 30 quail and 10 chukars plus a guide and dogs and costs $400. A pheasant package includes 10 pheasants plus a guide and dogs and costs $350. Duck hunts are $225 per person with a five-duck limit and not more than three guns per blind. Any ducks more than the limit of five costs $25 and not more than 20 ducks may be killed per blind. The standard practice is to tip the guides generously for working their dogs and making the day a pleasant experience.
Maidendown Bay Gun and Golf Hunting Preserve is betting its future that guns and golf are a good combination.
Hunters who like to participate in both sports,now can have it all. But the hunting still may be better than golf because you can eat what you shoot.