Eighty miles west of Jacksonville, smack in the middle of the Florida pan handle, lies Bienville Plantation, a 15,000 acre sportsman’s paradise where one can fish for Largemouth Bass that grow to 15 pounds, and hunt alligators that attain the length of 12 feet or more. It’s a place where one can indulge in Southern-style quail and pheasant hunting; shoot trap, skeet and 5-Stand, and have access to rifle ranges from 100 to 1000 yards. And then there’s the duck hunting; Bienville attracts more than 15 species ranging from Blue and Green-winged Teal, to Wigeon, Pintails, and Canvasbacks.
The Bienville story is an interesting one. The property was purchased in 1990 by its current owner, Dock Glawson, whose family in the timber business, owning several pine forests across the southeast. The property was bought solely for its timber, but when the Florida resource people were consulted as to what other uses the huge tract could be used for, Dock was told he had a sportsmen’s paradise at his disposal. In additions to its vast tracts of timber, the property was riddled with 20 lakes ranging in size from 5 to 1000 acres, all the result of strip mining for phosphorous. A huge drag line, which still operates on the property, would mine the chemical to depths of up to 40 feet. When one deposit was played out, another pit was started, leaving the previous one to eventually fill with ground water and runoff. The phosphorous lakes that resulted are incredibly rich in nutrients. Contributing to this growth environment is the fact that these lakes are deeper than natural-occurring waters, and as such provide thermoclines that enables the fish to get to cooler depths when conditions warrant. Botton line is that Bienville — which incidentally translates to “good place” in French — produces tons of gigantic Largemouth bass, crappies and blue gills.
Once he realized the potential of his family’s newest acquisition, Dock planned accordingly. In 1996 the lodge and guest houses were constructed, and soon thereafter Bienville opened for business. There are five luxurious guest cabins, each with five bedrooms, five baths, a gathering room, and a fully equipped kitchen. Each cabin can accommodate 10 guests, and along with a slightly less fancy bunkhouse, a total of 60 guests can be housed. Each cabin is within a few yards of a lake and guests get around the property in golf carts.
My first visit to Bienville was in 2000 as an attendee to a Remington New Products Seminar. It has since become Remington’s favorite venue for this event, as it convened there again in 2003, 2007, and this year. Remington is but one of a dozen regional and national companies that regularly use Bienville for corporate events such as sales meetings, reward programs and seminars. In fact, about 20 weeks a year on average the venue is either partially or fully booked by corporations.
Quail hunting is done out of the coolest vehicles I’ve ever seen for the purpose. Steps on both sides of extensively modified Ford Broncos lead up to a high seat beneath which the dog pens are located. It is quail hunting in style! Naturally, crack dogs are provided, along with a guide/handler for each vehicle who knows the property blindfolded. It was still quite hot the first week of the season when we convened there in early October, and the dogs were changed out every 20 minutes or so. Despite less than ideal conditions for the dogs, the shooting was excellent.
What I found most interesting was the several ways ‘gators are hunted there. You can bait them by hanging treble-hooked chickens from shoreline trees ; snag `em with huge, weighted treble hooks and land them with multiple fishing rods. You can also harpoon them, use archery tackle, or stalk `em with a rifle. Personally, I prefer the latter; to my way of thinking it’s more like hunting, but I have to admit I would have given anything to see a 12-foot ‘gator landed with fishing rods! The day before our group arrived a couple of guys fought a 10-footer for 70 minutes to no avail. I can only imagine what’s it’s like to have a 1000-pound reptile on a fishing rod, even though there’s usually two or more guys involved once the critter is hooked. I’ll be the water is whipped to a constant froth!
Gators can be hunted year `round, but the best time of year is from May to October when the water temps are warm. It can get quite cold in the panhandle during the winter months, and with the gators in semi-hibernation, hunting is not very productive.
Deer and feral hog hunting are also conducted at Bienville, but it’s limited to some 20 groups who hold exclusive leases on the plantation. Twelve-month fishing leases, however, are available to anyone. Such leases allow unlimited fishing for the lessee and two guests using their own boat.
Aside from the obvious, the reason Bienville is such a popular venue for Remington is the readily available facilities for testing and evaluating rifles, shotguns and handguns. The 100-yard rifle range has 8 covered benches, which can also be use for the 25-yard pistol and air gun range that’s off to the side. To check out Remington’s new 20-20 Digital Optic System that was introduced this year we had access to a 400-yard range, but shooting distances up to 1500 yards can be set up if requested in advance. Shooting distances of that length are extremely rare anywhere east of the Mississippi.
With only one day to sample all the shooting opportunities available at Bienville, only the well-kept skeet range was open to us, and we took full advantage, testing new versions of Remington’s Versa Max shotguns featuring their Versa Port low recoil, self-compensating gas system that seamlessly handles all 2-3/4 and 3” loads.
Over the course of nearly 45 years in the writing business, I’ve been to many hunting/shooting venues from Washington to Florida, Maine to Arizona, and can recall less than a handful that can match Bienville.– Jon R. Sundra