Scarlett O'Hara may have been on to something. So what if her daughter died when that pony threw her? So what if Rhett Butler walked out on her, uttering motion pictures' first cuss word? So what if the Yankees burned Atlanta and her father died?

In the end, she still had her plantation, Tara, even if it wound up looking like Gen. Sherman's boys had given it a good going-over. The most important thing was the land. She still had the land.

I understand that now, because my most-favorite piece of land in this world has gone off my radar.

A lifetime of hunting on the family farm ended last November when a relative decided that with property taxes going up 20 percent and timber prices taking an opposite tack, he had no other choice than to lease out the hunting rights for those 640 sacred acres next year to make up for the financial hit.

So the day the Palmetto Sportsman's Classic ended, I got on the highway and drove "home" to take down some of the deer stands for transport to next year's hunting spot.

We got the job done in about four hours. Eleven stands down, two of them taken apart and packed in the bed of my little pickup truck - which was fitting.

My son's first deer rode out of the woods in the back of that truck. So did my father's best buck - a 140-inch 10-pointer - and dozens and dozens of other ones killed by family members and hunting buddies.

My best set of horns, from a 200-pound 8-pointer, rode home the other day in the front seat with me, along with a nice 10-pointer killed by one of my hunting buddies. It was pretty crowded in there, what with my suitcase, laptop and more memories than any truck could ever carry.

I killed my first quail and my first squirrel there. I killed the first deer anybody ever took on that farm, a couple of hours after a big Thanksgiving meal in 1976, before deer became so populous that many people consider them pests.

On my way out the lane, I slowed down when I passed the spot where that unlucky bobwhite busted out of the briars and ran into a 20-gauge load of No. 8 shot that accidentally got in its way. Burned into my memory is not only the puff of feathers 20 yards off the end of my grandmother's little double-barreled Foxx, but that my dad had gotten off two or three shots before I'd even gotten the gun to my shoulder. A few years later and 400 yards away, I saw him get the only double in the field on an opening-day dove shoot.

My grandfather taught me how to cast a fly-rod in the yard behind the old farmhouse. It's simple, he said, as he laid a glass Coke bottle about a foot beyond a barbed-wire fence. Just hit the bottle without getting the fly-line tangled in the bottom strand of wire. I've thought about that lesson a lot, usually when I've lucked up and threaded a dry fly under an overhanging limb and into the path of a foot-long brown trout.

I guess it was fitting that when I got to the end of the lane, I looked down the paved road to the pond and saw a majestic turkey gobbler cross that road. a paintbrush-thick beard bouncing on his belly. A wild sentinel to guard our hunting past. It's not really the dirt that makes the land special. It's what you have done with it.