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BayBears' Ward Adjusts to Flushing Quail

November 10, 2011
 
By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
 
Although 10 years removed from the big leagues, it’s quickly obvious that Turner Ward’s hand-eye coordination remains amazingly sharp. But on this day in north Baldwin County, Ward wasn’t trying to hit a 95-mph fastball; he was swinging his trusty Browning on the whirring balls of feathers attached to a bobwhite quail.

Turner Ward, former Major League outfielder who played with six teams during his 12-year career, returned to the outdoors for a morning of quail hunting at Circle B Quail Farm near Stockton after a stunningly successful season as manager of the Mobile BayBears, the Double-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The BayBears recently claimed the Southern League championship, winning the title in four games against the Tennessee Smokies. Ward was named Southern League manager of the year.

“It was an unbelievable season,” he said. “We had a great bunch of guys. We were playing to win the championship. If you’re not playing to win, why play. Development is a big part of what we do – develop these guys to get to the big leagues. The way these guys turned the season around was something. I knew we had a lot of talent, but talent doesn’t always translate to winning. We fell to second place the first half of the season. We were kind of scratching our heads.

“Then the unit came together and set a common goal. Baseball can be a very individual situation. You know the pitcher is facing the hitter, and the hitter is facing the pitcher. It can become an individual sport. But these guys really bought into that the guys hitting in front of them and behind them make them better. I think that’s what made the difference. You can’t have a good season if the guy in front of you doesn’t get on base and you have the chance to drive him in. We developed a smart, aggressive style of play, and it just showed throughout the rest of the season, all the way through the championship.”

Four BayBears were called up to the Arizona Diamondbacks – first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, relief pitchers Bryan Shaw and Ryan Cook, and pitcher Jarrod Parker.

“Mobile was well represented with talent that moved up to the Major League level,” Ward said.

Although baseball is his career, Ward said he has never been far from the outdoors. 

“My dad had us always involved in the outdoors,” said Ward, who graduated from Satsuma High School. “He was a veterinarian, graduated from Auburn, and we raised a lot of animals. We raised quail, pheasant, chukar, turkeys.

“We had an atrium in our house with a glass enclosure. We would have anything from alligators to snakes to birds. We just grew up around all types of animals. That was part of our lifestyle growing up. My [three] kids love being part of the outdoors. Growing up, we mostly deer hunted around the state. We raised birds, but we didn’t hunt them much.”

Ward, who was a standout on the diamond at Faulkner State Community College and the University of South Alabama, said the morning of quail hunting on historic land near Stockton was a welcome distraction from the uncertain world of minor league baseball.

“It definitely takes your mind away from what you have going on,” he said. “As we were walking around, I was kind of thinking about how it related to my faith. If I had just walked around, I might have killed one or two. But my faith was in the dogs and how they were trained. And how they could hunt and put you on those birds. Without the dogs, I wouldn’t have been able to do much.

“I kind of look at that as being similar to my faith. I trust in the Lord to lead me in the right direction.”

Ward said most of his bird shooting has been with his former major league buddies, who hunt pheasant in the Midwest. Similar to adjusting to a certain pitcher, Ward had to adjust to the speed and size of the quail. After a short while, he was knocking the birds down with regularity with the first shot.

“That was a blast,” he said.

The Circle B Quail Farm is a member of the Alabama Quail Trail and offers a variety of opportunities for pen-raised quail on the 500 acres that have been in one family for more than two centuries.

“The property has been in our family since 1792,” said Col. Tiger Smith, (Air Force, ret.). “My great, great, great uncle got leave from General Washington’s Continental Army and rode down with his family after the American Revolution and staked it off from the Joshua Tract. And it’s been in the family ever since.

“The house I live in now was built in 1867. The first house was burned down during the Civil War. The family lived in Mobile at the time because it was the only place they could get work. But they would ride over on Friday and work on this house during the weekend, bury their tools and then ride back to Mobile on Monday.”

Kenny Bryant runs the quail operation, while Smith concentrates on property management and restoring to viability as forest land suitable for quail hunting.

“We put out 20 birds per gun,” Bryant said. “We can’t guarantee you’re going to kill that many, but we’ll guarantee you’ll see that many. The price is $175 per gun, up to four guns. The minimum is two guns per hunt. That includes cleaning the birds and packing them on ice. We’ve got good dogs and guides. We do it all. All you have to do is show up with your shotgun and shells.”

The Alabama Quail Trail (AQT) is a statewide organization set up to promote research into the reasons for the decline in wild quail populations, as well as what landowners can do to improve habitat for quail and other ground-nesting birds. The AQT’s goal is to raise the awareness of quail hunting throughout the state and promote the quail hunting industry in Alabama. Alabama Quail Trail hunting preserves are scattered throughout Alabama with hunts available from October 1 through March 31.

Visit www.alabamaquailtrail.com/ for more information or to book a hunt. Call 251-937-0870 or 251-454-0066 to book a hunt at Circle B Quail Farm.

PHOTOS: Turner Ward, Southern League manager of the year, reflects on a morning of quail hunting at Circle B Quail Farm near Stockton. After a brief warmup, Ward was consistently downing birds with a single shot. Watching quality bird dogs, like Pearl, work in the field adds another dimension to the outing.

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