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Celebrity Quail Hunt set to kick off 26th year in Southwest Georgia

Quail Unlimited president Bill Bowles is ready to host the 26th annual Quail Unlimited Celebrity Quail Hunt, the festivities for which begin Thursday.

Quail Unlimited president Bill Bowles is ready to host the 26th annual Quail Unlimited Celebrity Quail Hunt, the festivities for which begin Thursday.

ALBANY — After a quarter century of the Quail Unlimited Celebrity Quail Hunt making its home in Albany, patrons of the event have come to expect an experience second to none.

But in Year 26, get ready for things to be taken to an entirely different level.

“In all the years of this event, we’ve never had anything remotely close to this level of entertainment, celebrity involvement from film, TV and sports stars, as well as support from everywhere,” said Bill Bowles, an Albany native and the former GM of Quail Country Plantation in Arlington who recently took over as president of QU. “Everyone who’s been involved with the organization over the years seems more excited than ever about what we have planned this year. They’re all aware of the trials and tribulations our conservation organization has been through, but now we’ve got a re-energized board of directors, combined with a level of energy from our celebrities, and when you put that stuff together, it makes for a recipe for success.”

The path to that success begins Thursday night with the largest field of hunters, celebrities and sponsors the event has seen in its 26 years of calling Southwest Georgia its home.

Schedule of events

THURSDAY

WHAT: The Bruners’ Landowners’ Appreciation Reception.

WHEN: 6:30-7 p.m. — Social;

7 p.m. — Welcoming, followed by hors’doeuvres and entertainment

WHERE: Albany Civic Center

(Dress attire — business casual; no jeans)

FRIDAY

WHAT: Hunting, Day One.

WHERE: Quail Country Plantation, Arlington.

WHEN: 7:30 a.m. — Hunters will depart; 5:30 p.m. return to Merry Acres Quality Inn in Albany; 6:30- 7 p.m. — Social; 7 p.m. — Conservation Dinner, live entertainment and live auction at the Albany Civic Center (Dress attire — business casual or coat & tie).

SATURDAY

WHAT: Hunting, Day Two.

WHERE: Quail Country Plantation, Arlington.

WHEN: 7:30 a.m. — Hunters will depart; 5:30 p.m. — Return to Merry Acres Quality Inn in Albany; 7 p.m. — The Covey Finale Event at the Albany Civic Center for dinner and a very special entertainment program (Dress attire — casual).

The three days of festivities kick off with the annual Bruners’ Landowners’ Appreciation Dinner, which will be held at the Albany Civic Center for the first time in two years after events were held at Darton College in 2009 and 2010.

“We couldn’t be more excited about being back at the Civic Center, which is where this event started 25 years ago,” said Bowles, who was named president of Quail Unlimited once the organization permanently moved its headquarters from South Carolina to Albany last July. “And with all that we have planned, it worked out really well that we’re going back this year.”

What’s planned Thursday, aside from the social hour, hors’doeuvres and dinner, is a performance by nationally renowned stand-up comedian Killer Beaz. The stand-up show is one that the event has never had, and it will be followed by a live performance by country music singer Jett Williams, daughter of legendary singer Hank Williams, and several of her friends from the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn.

“Killer Beaz is hilarious, and if you’ve never heard Jett Williams, you don’t know what you’re missing,” Bowles said. “We’ve never had a show like this.”

The hunt itself begins the following morning bright and early at 7 a.m. as a wide range of celebrities will get their first taste of quail hunting in Southwest Georgia, which is widely considered one of the best spots in the nation for the activity.

“The hunting is great right now, and we hope that this event will serve as a way for everyone to see just how good it can be in these parts,” said Benjie Deloach, general manager of Southern Woods Plantation in Sylvester, which will host many of this year’s celebrities for the hunt. “And when they leave, we hope they go back and tell someone else how great it is.”

Among those celebrities expected to attend this year include big name sports stars like NASCAR legend Richard Petty, Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann and former MLB star Will Clark, as well as country music stars Blake Shelton, John Anderson, Aaron Tippin and Travis Tritt. The film and TV industry will also be well-represented by General Hospital actor Gregory “Scott” Reeves, Dick Smothers, Frank Stallone former pro wrestling star “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Also, Albany native and former World Series MVP with the New York Mets, Ray Knight, is expected to be on hand, along with Braves assistant coach and Edison native Bobby Dews and former NFL star Bill Stanfill, a member of the 1972 Miami Dolphins Super Bowl team that is still the only unbeaten squad in league history.

“We’re extremely excited about all our celebrities who have chosen to get involved this year, and we can’t thank them enough, as well as those who continue to come back year after year, like (television’s) Patrick Kilpatrick, (former Braves star) Ryan Klesko,” Bowles said. “We feel blessed.”

Day 2 wraps up back at the Civic Center with the annual Conservation Dinner and live auction, which will be followed by another stellar round of live entertainment by music stars Bobby Pinson, Brett Jones and Rivers Rutherford singing original songs they wrote for the crowd. That will be followed by five more country music stars — Ashton Shepherd, Jones, Andy Griggs, Daryle Singletary, Eddy Raven and Anderson — taking the stage for a live performance Bowles was practically giddy about.

“I can’t imagine any other situation where you’d be able to get five performers like that in one place at one time,” he said.

Saturday is the final day, beginning with a morning hunt and ending with the annual Covey Finale back at the Civic Center, which will include a final dinner, night of entertainment and another auction that will feature artwork from James Parkeet Jr. and Michael Collins — two artists who have been commissioned to paint for the Queen of England later this year.

“It’s a great week that benefits our conservation organization, which is all about the preservation and protection of the beautiful birds from California all the way to Georgia,” Bowles said. “We have 117 chapters nationwide, and we hope this event can help raise awareness about what we do. It’s a week of fun, but it’s also a chance to spread our mission statement — one we’ll never lose sight of.”