A Last Goodbye

Thirteen mature bucks hang from the bragging board. During the rut in mid-January, most hunters could count on getting a shot at a nice wallhanger. Consequently, it was difficult to book an opening at White Oak after the first of the year.

After 27 years of hosting thousands of deer and turkey hunters, White Oak Plantation in Macon County, Alabama has closed its doors for good. The owners, Robert and Hilda Pitman, are selling the property and plan to retire after the sale. White Oak opened for business in 1983 after the Pitmans purchased it and their son, Bo, moved there with his wife Tooie to manage it. During the intervening years, White Oak became one of the most famous hunting lodges in the country. Spring, fall and winter, it was the site of numerous hunts sponsored by shooting sports and hunting equipment companies. Some of the most famous outdoor writers and editors passed through its gates, as well as hunters from throughout the country drawn to its bountiful fields and forests. When Robert and Hilda assumed management of the lodge in 1989, their marketing efforts saw White Oak grow into a thriving business. During the '90s, White Oak was perhaps the best place in the country to hunt Eastern wild turkeys, and though its whitetails would never score as high as the bucks of the Midwest or Texas, dozens of 150-inch-class trophies eventually wound up on the lodge's Braggin' Board. The last hunt at White Oak Plantation occurred January 8-11, and 10 hunters who regularly hunted there participated. One of them, Colin Moore, took photos and borrowed others from the Pitmans' photo archives to compile this look at White Oak through the years. The late Dave Harbour (shown here), author of Hunting the American Wild Turkey, was the first outdoor writer to harvest a wild turkey at White Oak Plantation.
Atlanta TV show host Orlando Wilson took this gobbler during a hunt sponsored by Realtree in the mid-80s. Note the first-generation Realtree camo he's wearing.
The rustic, wood-paneled rooms at White Oak Plantation were named for birds or animals, and always had artwork and prints that reflected their namesake wildlife.
In the early days, store-bought shooting houses, or homemade ladder stands or box blinds, sufficed for concealment.
At first, harvest limits corresponded with Alabama seasonal limits. Hunters such as Butch Meyer of Memphis, shown here with Robert Pitman, broke the Pitmans of such generosity. After Meyer took five gobblers during a week of hunting, Robert reduced the limit to two birds per hunt.
Tennessee writer John Sloan took the biggest bow-killed buck at White Oak Plantation. It was he and Robert Pitman who developed the idea behind a series of Does 'N Bows archery hunts for women at White Oak.
Guides Scotty Dillon, left, and Brian Ross, right, flank Ohio hunter Joe Erba, a regular at White Oak during the 90s. Because of his religious beliefs, Erba, a Mennoite, didn't drive a modern vehicle and had another person transport him to and from Alabama each hunting season.
After settling their business affairs in the orange grove country of the Sunshine State, Florida natives Hilda and Robert Pitman migrated to Macon County, Alabama in 1989 to manage the hunting lodge business that their son, Bo, had trailblazed with his wife, Tooie, beginning in 1983.
Once fully developed, White Oak Plantation featured spacious accommodations, clubrooms, a well-stocked shooting sports shop and a lake teeming with stocked bass, bluegills and shellcrackers.
Some of the best-known names in the outdoor media regularly partook of White Oak's bountiful hunting opportunities. This group includes, left to right, Bob Sarber (formerly of Petersen's Hunting), Nino Boaz (Harris Publications), freelancer Dave Henderson, Jay Langston (formerly of Turkey Call magazine), Bill Miller of North American Hunter, Vin Sparano (former editor-in-chief of Outdoor Life), Bob Knopf (Federal Ammo publicist at the time) and freelancer Nick Sisley. Everybody got his gobbler except Sisley, who had to settle for a coyote on this day.
Bo Pitman with a couple of the ladies who participated in a Does 'N Bows event. During its heyday, the hunt attracted dozens of accomplished bowhunters, including Tess Randle Jolly, who's standing to Pitman's left.
Brian Ross, shown here, and Scotty Dillon were two of White Oak's most seasoned and well-liked guides. Ross, of Louisiana, eventually went to work as a game manager on a private ranch, while Dillon eventually went home to southern Ohio because of health issues.
White Oak Plantation’s Does ’N Bows was so wildly successful that it gained the support of some of some of the biggest names in the archery industry.
Soon after White Oak opened for business, it had earned a reputation for the number and quality of bucks that it produced each hunting season. The Pitmans followed quality deer management practices long before they became popular elsewhere.
The original gathering room was ground central for tall tales, stories of the ones that got away, and cutthroat poker games. It also features memorabilia and sporting collectibles that marked White Oak Plantation as a hunting lodge of distinction.
Trucks equipped with rickety passenger shells with bench seats in their beds served to take hunters to and from their stands for morning and evening hunts. The luckiest passengers got to ride in the cab; the rest had to wedge themselves into the back as best they could.
Nobody worked harder than Robert Pitman to keep White Oak Plantation and its hunting programs fresh and attractive to sportsmen throughout the eastern U.S. At 74, Pitman and his wife Hilda have decided it's time to go.
Many a tall tale was told on the long porch at White Oak. On hot spring days, the rocking chairs would get a workout from hunters waiting for their chance at
Not all the bucks that roamed White Oak property fell to hunters, as these skulls attest. The outside walls of the main clubhouse was festooned with racks of all sizes, gathered over the years by guides and their customers.
Hunters were assigned stands through a drawing system that incorporated numbered poker chips. Draw a lucky number, and a hunter could wind up with a bruiser Alabama buck.
The Pitmans firstborn grandson, John Scott, eventually went to work as a guide at White Oak. Like Bo Pitman, John became adept at cleaning and cutting up a deer to the point that he could have one skinned and deboned in less than 10 minutes.
Meals in the dining hall were always served buffet style. Dinner menus typically revolved around down-home cooking that featured such culinary delights as fried catfish and beef short ribs. Lunches usually involved sandwiches and soup, and were often followed by a nap before setting out for the afternoon hunt.
Hilda Pitman ran the kitchen and the dining room, developing meal plans that always drew oohs and aahs from hungry hunters. Luscious desserts always capped off a meal.
Hilda and Robert Pitman bid a customer farewell after the final White Oak hunt. During the 27 years that the hunting lodge kept its gates open, the Pitmans developed many longstanding friendships with their customers.
Whether patterning a shotgun or sighting-in a rifle, every White Oak hunt began with a session at the targetrange. Inevitably, group sight-in gatherings led to long conversations about the best loads and guns for various game, and gave participants a measure of confidence that, if they missed, it wasn't the guns' fault. And the came White Oak's final kill.

One of the country’s finest hunting lodges closes its doors forever. Outdoor Life is on hand for the very last hunt.