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Love of the Land

Prairie Wildlife is a treasured bit of acreage hidden inside West Point.

Written by Leslie Criss | Photographed by The Confluence Group

Travelers passing through West Point, Mississippi, on U.S. Highway 45 Alternate — no matter the direction — likely notice two things: The speed limit drops to 45 miles per hour, and, depending on the time of day, the four lanes are likely fairly congested. Unless the county seat of Clay County is your destination, you’ll probably zip through on your way somewhere else.

Sadly, we do it all the time. We pass through small Southern towns and maintain the mistaken idea they are all alike. And we completely miss a plethora of treasures not too far from the road more traveled.

Prairie Wildlife is one such treasure, not only for its natural beauty but also for its mission of conservation and stewardship. The land speaks for itself; the only visual of boastfulness appears on the entrance arch: Prairie Wildlife was the Orvis-endorsed Wingshooting Lodge of the Year in 2020. The nearly 6,000 acres of land that make up Prairie Wildlife belong to Jimmy Bryan who has always called Mississippi home.

Billed as a premier conservation-driven sporting estate, Prairie Wildlife is much more than a business to Bryan. It’s a way of life, and Bryan works without ceasing to restore the land and the wildlife back to how it used to be before the population of the Bobwhite quail diminished.

In the past 20 years, Bryan has come to realize the disappearance of quail can be tied to decades of practices designed to make agriculture more efficient. Yet rather than sit with this knowledge, Bryan opted to actively seek change. With help from Mississippi State University wildlife ecology professor Dr. Wes Burger, Bryan has practiced comprehensive conservation that has brought more quail back to his family land. And he did not stop there.

The Bryan Endowment for Bobwhite Habitat Restoration has helped MSU continue this comprehensive conservation on other family farms.

As the quail population grows, Prairie Wildlife continues to offer days or weekends of sportsmanship, fun, fabulous food and more to individuals or groups, corporate or otherwise.

Bryan’s staff at Prairie Wildlife will even host a wedding, as long as it doesn’t fall in the middle of bird season.

Whether you’re an excellent shooter or have a lot to learn, there’s a place for you at Prairie Wildlife. Xavier Fairley has been the shooting instructor for 11 years, and he can have you ready for the hunt in no time.

“What I do is so fulfilling,” Fairley said. “I can teach anyone to feel confident, even first-time shooters. The fastest growing demographic in the shooting world is novices and women.”

Some of the different hunts offered at Prairie Wildlife include quail and pheasant field shooting run by guides and trained bird dogs; tower shoots; clay shoots; and even rabbit and deer hunting. And Prairie Wildlife is one of the premier helice centers in the country. In fact, they served as host of the 2020 United States Helice Association National Championship. And there’s a helice tournament the first Saturday of each month that’s open to anyone.

Helice, popular in Europe since the 1960s, might be described as a marriage of live bird shooting and wild, out-of-control skeet shooting. The targets are pieces of plastic attached to a propeller. At Prairie Wildlife, the targets come from five different traps and are voice activated.

“The hunter has no idea from where they are coming,” said McKensie Wedel. “People seem to love it.”

If you’re not a hunter, there are peaceful pastoral places on porches and beyond for reading or pensive meditation.

At Kathy’s Hill, named after one of Bryan’s daughters who was killed in an automobile accident, there’s a pavilion that features a view overlooking the tower out back and, in the summertime, a massive field of sunflowers in front.

In Bryan Lodge, visitors are greeted by Gabe and Turbo, the resident black Labs. There are overnight accommodations, and the downstairs dining area is where three meals a day are served, after being prepared by two on-staff chefs. An addition to the lodge that will offer more guest rooms is near completion.

Other on-site accommodations include Magnolia House and the historic and more rustic Pleasant Home, a cabin built in 1845 and later moved to Prairie Wildlife.

There are also several ponds on the acreage, and soon a brand-new, state-of-the-art kennel will be built to replace the existing one.

Tack Robinson, originally from West Point, grew up with an awareness of the Bryan name. Now living in Louisiana, Robinson, who created The Confluence Group in 2016, works closely with Bryan and Prairie Wildlife to help share its brand and story with others.

“This place is Jimmy’s way of paying homage to his childhood,” Robinson said. “He’s an incredible entrepreneur who listens to his own drummer, and, at 84, he has the spirit of a child. He also sets the tone for his business and has a very hands-on approach. He’s here every day.

“What he’s done here is amazing. But what he’s trying to do ultimately is make this land better than he found it.”

It’s a truth Bryan will tell you himself.

“My entire life I have enjoyed hunting and fishing in this area of the Black Prairie. I spent many hours riding horseback over this land and learned to appreciate the beauty of the area,” Bryan said. “I would ride with my father almost daily as he toured the farm, and I learned from him the love of the land.

“I was taught that you needed to care for the land and leave it better than what it was when you got it. I have tried to do that with Prairie Wildlife and have plans for many more improvements. I want to pass from this earth knowing that I was responsible for creating a haven for wing shooters and conservationists.”

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