A season of milestones: 2015 Spring Turkey Season Summary

In the state of Virginia, the spring turkey season ran from April 11 to May 16 and Southampton Outfitters added a quality season to its record.

“We had nine hunters,” Mark commented. Of the nine hunters, a total of five birds were harvested. “Being that some of the hunters were hunting with their sons, that’s a pretty decent ratio.”

“One of the birds the clients killed was actually a jake—a one year-old bird—but, he had five beards,” Mark said. “That is very rare. It looked like he may have broken into seven or eight beards next year.”

Southampton Outfitter's 5-bearded turkey: killed during the 2015 spring turkey season.

Southampton Outfitter’s 5-bearded turkey: killed during the 2015 spring turkey season.

Mark noted there wasn’t a day this season that his hunters didn’t hear or see birds.

“Just getting on them early in the season is kind of tough. They were henned-up a little bit, but we always heard and saw birds. Usually after 10 o’clock you can kill a bird, but they weren’t coming to the fields.”

With the 2015 spring turkey season, Southampton Outfitters snagged the oldest, the biggest and the most unique birds they have ever killed.

“The oldest bird was probably a 15-pound gobbler. He was the dominant bird in that area and he looked like Yoda,” Mark joked. The bird was gray, scaly and had the longest toenails Mark had ever seen. “There’s no telling how many years I’ve been hunting him.”

The biggest bird had inch and a half spurs and weighted 22-pounds with a 10 and three-quarter inch beard.

The most unique bird was the aforementioned 5-bearded jake.

“We had some new hunters in the first part of the season,” Mark said. Mark’s 16-year old niece, Mason, also ventured into the woods for her first turkey hunt. “She liked it, but I don’t think she liked getting up that early.”

The fall turkey season begins in October.


Strong Start to Deer Season

On par with most 2014 deer hunting organizations, Southampton Outfitter’s season began quite strong but has struggled to finish at the same rate.

“Bow season started seeing a lot of deer and had a pretty good bow season,” owner Mark Pope said. “The first part of November we hit a little rut. We thought that was a little flurry that was going to kick things off, but I think actually that was the whole rut.”

Bow Kill 2014

Bow Kill 2014

“After the acorns fell, the deer really stopped coming to the fields. We didn’t see the number of deer because there was so much food in the woods out of the oak trees. They were just using that food source instead of coming to the fields.”

Bow season did end strong for S.O. as father-son duo killed three bucks and two brothers killed a buck apiece. Overall, bow season ended with the harvest of seven decent bucks out of a total of 15 deer.

Hokie comes through on a December 2 deer hunt.

Hokie comes through on a December 2 deer hunt.

November rang in the 2014 gun season.

“Gun season came in with one of my largest crowds on opening day,” Mark explained. “We had 20-plus (hunters), and it was actually one of the quietest days over the last seven years. I think we had two or three people kill some deer opening day because deer didn’t really move that much.”

“We didn’t plant as many food plots this year. We didn’t think that we would need them and with all the acorns this year it showed that we didn’t. We put more of our money this past year into the facilities.”

Reference link for details on S.O facility upgrades!

Not only did deer rely more on natural food sources, which limited their presences in the fields, but Mark also mentioned the HD virus, or Hemorrhagic Disease. HD is a natural, unpreventable virus that can kill off large portions of the deer population.

“It’s passed on to them by biting gnats,” Mark explained. “The deer will get a fever and their hooves will split. Even some of the bucks we killed looked like they were getting over the sickness. Now, there is nothing wrong with the meat and there is nothing wrong with eating the meat of a deer that has it.”

Humans cannot contract the HD virus but the disease is more prone in the eastern portion of the United States. Southampton Outfitters has found three or four deer on their property this year. Mark noted that 2005 was the largest outbreak of the virus.

Gun season for Southampton Outfitters ends January 3.

Southampton Outfitters is now planting ten food winter plots followed by the addition of minerals during the spring and summer months. The winter food plots ensure the deer will have something to eat over the hard months.

The Big Face Lift

Prior the kick-off of fall hunting, Southampton Outfitters is bustling to install improvements throughout their living and leisure quarters.

Mark plans to install two new bathrooms to the rear of the bunkhouse and, as his wife has instructed, a thorough “cleaning house” in other areas.

“We have just finished putting down a fresh coat of paint on the floors of the kitchen and main room, and we are upgrading the T.V.,” Mark explains.

The freshly painted floor in the laundry room.

The freshly painted floor in the laundry room.

The main room currently houses two large sofas, two sitting chairs and will soon feature a 65-inch flat-screen T.V. on the wall. Along with the added home-like amenities, there are also two large tables for guests to congregate.



“The main room allows guests to eat dinner comfortably, kick-back and tell their lies about their day,” Mark says.

“We will finish the upstairs above the kitchen, which is our ‘honeymoon suite,’” Mark jokes. “It has its own bathroom and personal bed.”

The “honey room suite” is also connected to the main cabin through a separate entrance. This allows for convenience and privacy for any hunting couples, as well as for hunters visiting Southampton Outfitters without a friend or group.

In the log cabin adjacent from the main cabin, Mark will be replacing the floors in the upstairs bathroom and will be adding a vanity in the downstairs bathroom. This will add comfort to both male and female hunters that frequent Southampton Outfitters.

“We want to make the hunting experience the most comfortable experience we can make,” Mark says. “It’s their home away from home, without any nagging others.”

Bathrooms to be added to the rear of the bunk house.

Bathrooms to be added to the rear of the bunkhouse.


Plotting for the big ones

Planting food plots is a necessary and unseen preparation that takes place long before the purchasing of shells, the unpacking of camouflage, and the loading of a gun. Along with natural-edible plots, about one percent of the Pope’s acreage is used for food plots.

When considering hunters who frequent Southampton Outfitters hold the opportunity to hunt over 5,000 acres, this isn’t a very large percentage. However, it’s just the right amount to ensure healthy, hunt-worthy deer for every customer of Southampton Outfitters.

“There are different types of food plots,” Mark says. “There are plots you do in the spring and there are plots you do in the fall. But really, you don’t need a food plot for the springtime of the year because we already grow 150 acres of corn and 300 acres of peanuts. They are munching all of our row crops.”

Different plots are due to what deer prefer eating—green, leafy vegetation. In the early summer months, soybeans and corn are planted in order to ensure the deer have something to eat early in November.

“Then you would come back maybe in October and plant some stuff that will be green throughout the winter,” Mark explains. “Maybe not so much as what they call a kill plot, but a food plot to get them through the hard months of winter.”

In October, Southampton Outfitters plants winter wheat, oats, and turnips to maintain the deer population’s health and nutrition.

Mark recently purchased a new Woods Precision Super Seeder: Hunting Edition to help with the preparation and plotting process.

“I try to work around the edges of fields,” Mark says. “That’s why I got the food plotter for my small tractor. I can get in the woods and do a few in there.”

Small Tractor with Plotter

Because of its versatility, the planter can be used for both spring and fall plotting.

“The planter has a disc in front that you can angle to be more aggressive and less aggressive,” he explains. The different angles allow Mark to choose between two different depths when he discs and plants.

“Then you have two boxes on it. You have a box that will sow your soybeans and your corn,” Mark continues. “Then you have a grass box for your oats and your sorghum—your small seeded stuff.”


Before using the plotter, Mark administers roundup to the chosen area and pre-discs the land before returning with the Super Seeder.

“What the plotter does is it’ll disc another time and then it has a roller,” Mark explains. “It will throw the seed in front of that roller and you have a cultipack on the back, so it’s pressing the seed in to make sure it has seed-to-soil contact.”

While food plots help to maintain the health of deer, they also help to concentrate the population within a specific area.

“You always want the deer as close to the hunters as you can possibility get them,” Mark says.

For Southampton Outfitters, food plots do not necessarily function to ensure hunters will kill a deer during every outing, but they do function to ensure the potential opportunity to see and kill a deer.

Turkey Wrap

The spring turkey season for Southampton Outfitters saw a lot of action but had few kills.

“To be quite honest, I thought it was one of the toughest seasons we’d ever had, as far as gobbling,” said owner Mark Pope. According to Mark, the birds would gobble slightly on the roast but would then become silent.

“Once they hit the ground, they wouldn’t gobble,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s more so from coyotes or if they were henned up.”

Mark noted that he did see five coyotes this year and acknowledged they are becoming more of a problem for hunters. The best solution is to hunt the coyote and Southampton Outfitters recently received inquires to do so.

As a result of possible coyote interference, Southampton Outfitter hunters killed three turkeys and missed 11—each miss was within 35 yards.

“That’s 14 birds that we should have killed and that puts us a little above our average,” said Mark.

Southampton Outfitters hosted 12 hunters this spring. Of the 12 clients, only two did not get a shot on a turkey.

“Everybody that came down had a hunt,” Mark said. “I had a wife and her husband down and they didn’t get a shot, but they could have shot jakes. They had plenty of opportunity. They saw birds. It’s just we were doing a lot of filming that week and to get a kill on film is not quite as easy than just going and killing a bird.”

On a repeat customer that did not kill a bird last year, Mark stated that the hunter also had a turkey fly down 15 yards in front of him, but he still could not get a shot on the bird because of a tree.

“We had kind of gotten in too close to it on the roost,” Mark said. “When he flew down, he was fifteen steps from the guy and he couldn’t shoot him. The bird just walked straight away from us.”

The weather was also a factor in the lack of kills this season. March was cold and caused hit and miss days. “I think the first week this year was tough because it was probably the first week of breeding season,” Mark said.

“All-in-all, it was a good year,” Mark explained. “But to see how many opportunities we had doesn’t say that.”

Turkey Talk

Part Two

In “Turkey Talk: Part One,” Southampton Outfitters asked Kelly and Rich Musser of Lock Haven, Pennsylvania why they enjoy hunting with us in Virginia. Both Kelly and Rich hold grand slams, meaning they have killed all four species of turkey. To complete their grand slams, the two have traveled to thirteen states, including Arizona, South Dakota, Texas, Wyoming, Ohio, Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York. For “Turkey Talk: Part Two,” Southampton Outfitters asked them to recall their best Virginia hunts…

What’s your most memorable hunt with Southampton Outfitters?

Rich: “I was roosting (a bird) at the Fox Farm the evening before, and we had a bird roosted. Mark and Kelly and I went in after it the next day and we literally set up on it four or five times. Every time we set up, it’d move farther back and move farther back.

It was just neat because of the way Mark worked the terrain and property. When we finally killed the bird, it took all three of us to call the bird in. So, it shows the flexibility of the way (Mark) hunts. He has flexibility in the sense that allows you do to your own calling, but if you need help or need support he will support that.

Actually, Kelly called it in for me and I shot it.“

Kelly: “It was my last day here. In fact, I think (Rich) was staying down and I had to head back to Lancaster because I was teaching at the time. We just happened to hear a bird gobble way out in the field.

It was far. It was one of those things where you could barely hear, but you could see the gobble and his head move. So, you knew he was gobbling. We Just sat down and Rich turned the camera on and was calling.

It slowly worked its way all the way through the field. It was just exciting because you had a long time to watch it and it came within range.”

Turkey Talk

Part One

Kelly and Rich Musser of Lock Haven, Pennsylvania first visited Southampton Outfitters nine years ago. At the onset of the 2014 spring Turkey season, Southampton Outfitters interviewed Kelly and Rich on why they choose to return each year. Here’s what they had to say…

Why do you enjoy hunting with Southampton Outfitters?

Rich: “It’s the setting that Mark sets. It’s a relaxed time. A lot of times when you’ve been on hunts before your initial hunt it is somewhat uptight because you don’t know the people. Mark makes you feel very welcome from the get go.”

Kelly: “I like the camaraderie. You develop friendships year-after-year. We look forward to coming down and seeing everybody. It’s just a good time.”

Rich: “That fact that there are 5,000 private acres and you don’t have to worry about any other competition. For turkey hunting, you need that space. If you go out in 400 acres you’re going to burn that up in no time. Here with 5,000 acres you can roost birds and not have to feel pressured to get on them right away.”

Kelly: “We don’t see other hunters unless their Mark’s hunters. Whereas in back in Pennsylvania, there are lots of people.”

Rich: “You feel like you become part of the family down here. That’s what is neat about coming down here.”

How is it being a husband/wife hunting team?

Rich: “Kelly has hunted since she was twelve, as I have. We have become a team. We do, typically, hunt very well together—complimenting one another’s calls. It’s just nice having that she understands the value of a hunt.

The value of a hunt meaning the freedom to come down here and do that, and that’s what Mark has been able to give us. Prior to coming here, our mission was to kill a bird in every state. I’ve enjoyed the people and the property so much that I have stopped that mission now for nine years and have come down here. I think I’ve killed in thirteen different states, but I enjoy this setting.”

What are other benefits of hunting with Southampton Outfitters?

Rich: “Not only do you just hunt down here, but you’ll learn the proper ways of turkey hunting. When you put this turkey hunting experience together, you definitely learn more about the hunt.

You leave here with not just a kill; you leave here with an experience, and then you leave here with friendship. That is what builds on this location. That, to me, is what Mark brings to the table.”

Tracking Game: A One-dog Job

“Kill,” says Mark Pope, owner of Southampton Outfitters, as he points to a small puddle of blood on a single browned leaf. He looks to his left and finds a small drop five yards beyond the first and another drop thirty yards beyond that. Hokie, Pope’s male chocolate Labrador, quickly smells the first, second and third drop before racing forward, visibly dragging Pope to the deer’s final resting place. This same tracking routine helped to locate 13 kills during the 2013-2014 hunting season–several of which would have remained unrecovered without Hokie’s help.


While Southampton Outfitters does not hunt using dogs, Hokie does help to track game quickly, ensuring the humane harvest of every kill. Hokie’s purpose at Southampton Outfitters originated with Mark Pope and was implemented by Jack Bunn IV of Newsoms, Virginia. Jack recently agreed to answer some questions regarding the use of Labradors to track game, and their training process:

Southampton Outfitters: How is having a Labrador different than having “hunting dogs”?

Jack: “I feel that a Labrador is different than a ‘hunting dog’ because of the connection you form with a Lab. Of course, you love all of your dogs, but during training you have your Lab out every day, multiple times and it definitely becomes man’s best friend. Training is not exclusive to Labs either, lots of dogs can be trained, but Labradors are the only dogs I have ever worked with.”

SO: What are the positives of having a Lab to track game?

J: “To me, the positive is simple. Any deer hunter who has ever had the blessing of pulling the trigger or letting an arrow fly on a trophy buck and later, after countless hours in the dark with a flashlight, had to give up your search and call it a miss, would give their left arm to have that tracking dog for one more chance at finding the deer. A dog’s sense of smell is far greater than that of a human’s visual sense, so the dog definitely has the better chance.”

SO: What were the challenges you faced when training Hokie? How did you overcome them?

J: “Labradors have a natural instinct and love for retrieving, so normally you would use this to your advantage when training tracking dogs. The dog would run the track to the end and you would throw a bumper for the dog as a reward. But Hokie was lazy. He had no retrieving drive, so he didn’t work the track because he didn’t care about the reward. So with Hokie I had to train him with food. The only time he got to eat was when he was tracking deer blood. I placed food along the track until he made the association that the smell of deer blood meant food. After that, his expectation of eating was the drive needed for him to track successfully.”

SO: Is this the first Lab you have trained for deer hunting? Do you consider Hokie a success?

J: Yes, Hokie was my first blood tracking Lab, but with a little training of my own from experts on the subject, I was able to learn the techniques required for this type of training. I do call Hokie a success, considering the transformation he went through during his training and his success in finding deer when he returned to Mark’s care.”

SO: How is the training different for Labs when training for deer versus water fowl?

J: Training Labradors for retrieving game or tracking blood is a completely different training process, but is rooted on the same basis. For retrieving, you teach your dog to mark and retrieve all of the downed birds so you conserve game (ducks, doves, or whatever you are hunting) while deer tracking dogs are schooled in finding and following a trail of blood all the way to the deer, again conserving game. In both cases, these Labs are taught a conditioned response through the time and effort of quality training.”

SO: About how many Labs have you trained? Have you had any requests for training tracking dogs?

J: “For as long as I have been able, I have assisted in the training of many dogs that my father has trained for other people and himself, but only recently have I been taking on the full responsibility. On my own, I have trained five Labradors and so far everything has gone pretty well. I enjoyed training every one of them and I am always looking forward to my next opportunity.”

 “Just recently I talked to a man with a six-week old female Lab who would like to turn her into a tracking dog. I have to consult with an expert again to see what age is best to start her, but usually seven months is the desired age to start training. Seven months is old enough for a dog to learn the skills you are teaching and young enough that the dog hasn’t developed any undesirable habits.”

SO: Finally, would you advocate having a Lab for deer hunting?

J: Yes, having a dog that can quickly run down a trail of blood and find a deer makes the job of finding your kill a lot easier. Although it is not a necessity, if you have the means and desire for a tracking dog I would recommend its extra help. It was hard work and required a lot of patience, but it was fun training Hokie into a reliable tracker. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Jack can be contacted for training inquires at jackbunn1996@yahoo.com.



Let’s start something new!

Welcome to Southampton Outfitters’ blog!

 This blog serves to provide quality, dependable reviews of hunting accessories and entertaining portrayals of successful hunts throughout the hunting seasons of southeast Virginia.

Southampton Outfitters is located in Southampton County, Virginia and is surrounded by 5,000 acres of land owned by the Pope family. The Pope’s have farmed and managed their land for its wildlife, timber and crops for over 100 years. Their agricultural tradition is rich and so are the hunting opportunities the Popes and Southampton Outfitters offers their clients during deer, turkey, waterfowl and dove season.

As Southampton County produces one of the highest amounts of harvested deer per square mile in the entire southeast, a hunt with Southampton Outfitters almost guarantees a post on this blog as you share elaborate hunting tales—and hopefully your tale is void of poor aim or “jammed guns”.

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