November 11, 2013
When you hear the phrase Deer Camp, any number of memories, smells or feelings come to mind. Maybe it’s a trailer in the woods with a fire blazing in a pit and a deer strung up on a pole surrounded by unshaved plaid- and orange-clad guys drinking beer.
Or, it may be a high-dollar, pay-to-play outfitter in Saskatchewan, Canada where elk- and moose-antler chandeliers light up a richly appointed great hall in a lodge. Both of these fit the term Deer Camp. But, neither of these places can take you back in time. There’s a place in middle Georgia called Fort Creek Farm that does just that as well as offer outstanding hunting.
Fort Creek Farm might also be called Rives (pronounces “reeves”) Plantation, after the family who has owned it for generations. It began as a plantation in the 1800s, much like many of the acreages in the area.
Most of the others, however, have been split up and sold off. To this day the Rives family still owns the place (“the farm” as it’s known to those familiar with it), and Rives relatives Bob and Susan Woodall live there with manager Chris Jackson and his wife.
And rather than cotton, the farm is now home to dozens of head of cattle and chickens, all of which are grass-fed and free range. The beef is sold under the Fort Creek Farms label.
Besides the central heating and air, satellite TV and WiFi, Rives Plantation looks much like it did in the 1800s. It’s the most complete antebellum residence in Georgia that’s still in private hands.
Many of the outbuildings around the main house still stand. A gin house with a gin still stand, a store, well, jail, outhouse and servants’ quarters are also in good shape. Two of the three quarters have been converted into functioning homes, both of which are occupied when hunting season rolls around.
Each spring and fall, friends of the Rives family descend on the farm in pursuit of the abundant turkeys and deer that call the plantation home. There are green fields that Jackson keeps up year-round, pastureland and lots of hardwood bottomland.
With Jackson’s intimate knowledge of the terrain, there’s a stand in just about every hotspot, and proof of that is in the animals harvested each year. In a two-week period this season, three hunters killed five deer in just three days. And that was before the rut.
Sightings are regular and most every buck is a solid shooter 8-point, though there are giants lurking. The author shanked a 10-pointer last year that was 5 inches outside his ears. Whoops. The biggest deer killed from the premises is a 148-inch bruiser, a veritable giant for this part of the world.
But, deer in the “one-teens” are commonplace. But, like in many camps, the excellent hunting is just a part of the reason friends gather at the farm each season.
The Land of No Rules
Practices and customs vary from deer camp to camp, and Fort Creek Farm enjoys about the most relaxed atmosphere imaginable. Everyone’s mindful of safety and respectful to the premises, but beyond that it’s wide open.
When Syd Rives was growing up, he and his friends frequented the farm and dubbed it “the land of no rules” simply because nobody complained when they shot guns, went mud riding or generally caused a stir.
Though the camp’s members have slowed down as marriage and children came along, there’s still a party atmosphere at the place, especially when the Dawgs are playing – that’s Georgia Bulldogs.
The best part? You’re standing in the 1800s in one of the most historically complete and functional places in the South. It’s a true treasure and everyone who visits Fort Creek comes away amazed at how thoughtfully and faithfully the grounds have been restored and maintained.
Upkeep of the many buildings isn’t cheap, and it’s funded largely by the sales of the cattle that call Fort Creek home.
Sitting in a stand at Fort Creek is as thrilling as anywhere, but taking in the Old South ambiance and sharing frosty beverages with friends around a fire make it just like your Deer Camp: the greatest one in the world.