Talkin' Outdoors

Pam Swanner gets calls like this all the time…“Is this where I sign up for a karate class?”

Swanner, Project Director for Alabama Black Belt Adventures (ABBA), is accustomed to such calls. In the gracious and genteel manner of the southern lady she is, Swanner explains that her organization has nothing to do with, according to Webster, “karate - the Japanese system of unarmed self-defense that stresses efficiently struck blows.” The Black Belt Adventures she promotes is something different and its participants are usually appropriately armed; you don’t do hand-to-hand combat with a deer, turkey, hog or quail.

“Through ABBA, we promote what this 23 county portion of Alabama has to offer, especially to outdoorsmen and women. Because of the dark rich soil often called some of the richest on Earth that is characteristic to this area, we have an abundance of wildlife here,” said Swanner.

Eons ago, this portion of southern Alabama was part of the sea, according to Swanner. Even today, fossilized oyster shells can be found in the dark soil.

“Once the water receded, some 50 million years ago, a rich soil was left, leaving  plants that grow here chock full of nutrients providing what wildlife living off the land needs to reach maximum potential.

As a result,” she continued, “the quality and abundance of wildlife here is outstanding.”

I was one of the fortunate members of the media invited to attend a “Cast and Blast South” event held last week in the heart of the Black Belt region. Our group of writers/broadcasters was headquartered at Water Valley Lodge near Gilbertown in the southwest corner of Alabama.

“We believe that the best way to demonstrate what a special place this is for the outdoors-person is to have members of the media give it the hands-on test,” Swanner added.

What a fun hands-on event it was. During the two-day event, we were exposed to everything from quail hunting to hog hunting to turkey hunting to fishing.

“Not only do we cater to hunters and anglers, we promote ‘passive’ recreation as well, including hiking, horseback riding, golf, canoeing and birding,” Swanner explained.

Hunters and anglers can find their appetites whetted by scanning the list of lodges and outfitters located within the Black Belt, 45 of them to be precise, that are set up to provide everything from hunting deer, dove, duck, quail, feral hogs, wild turkeys, small game as well as opportunities for sporting clays and quality fishing. These lodge owners/outfitters must know something because 80% of Alabama’s commercial outfitters have their headquarters right here in the Black Belt region.  

Twenty-one years ago, I was initiated into the world of hunting wild turkeys and it took place within Alabama’s Black Belt region. On my first turkey hunt ever, my guide enticed a mature long-bearded gobbler to strut in front of my gun and from that moment on, I was addicted. Return trips to the Black Belt produced several more beards to hang on my office wall and as a result, it is with confidence that I can boldly sing the praises of this part of the world, especially when it comes to hunting wild turkeys.

“A national survey recently revealed that Alabama has the largest population of wild turkeys per square mile that any state in the nation,” Swanner said to validate my point.   

To put the karate chop on some amazing critters calling the Alabama Black Belt home, check out