By Katy Fassler
Quail hunting is an art. Across America and in many other places in the world, hunting the small, delicate bird is a very popular pastime. Not only is the hunt exciting and fun, the bird is also delicious. Here in the Heartland, one man stands above the rest in the hunt for quail: Tomás Manuel Demaria Kayser. Tomás is known to many as the “Quail Whisperer.”
Tomás, from Buenos Aires Province, Argentina, spends the Florida quail season on Lightsey Family Ranch in Venus guiding hunters in their quest for quail. “That’s what they call me,” Tomás says, responding to the nickname. Tomás has been hunting for years but has only recently been traveling to Florida to lead guided hunts. “After two seasons with Quail Creek Plantation, a good friend of Lee Lightsey told him about me and here we are. Long story short.”
The Lightsey Family Ranch is a fully outfitted destination ready for your best hunting experience, wedding venue, or company retreat. Nestled in the pines, palmettos, and oaks of Venus, Florida is a 2,000- acre plus ranch, a hidden paradise, ready for you to experience nature at its finest. With a ten-bedroom, luxury lodge, an onsite chef, incredible vistas, and beautifully maintained grounds, this ranch turns Florida’s natural beauty into a completely immersive adventure.
Hunting with Tomás is part of that adventure. “I am a quail guide. I want to make the client feel comfortable; have a good experience. I want to help the client feel comfortable safety-wise, maybe coaching them a little bit, and help with the dogs. I think it is the whole combination that makes a good experience. It’s so much more than just finding the quail.”
“I remember the first boss I had, like 17 years ago. Before I was a hunting guide I was a horseback riding guide, and he used to tell us, ‘Make sure the client feels at home.’ I always keep that in my mind when I am taking a client out. I just treat people the way I like to be treated when we go out.”
“I grew up hunting. As I always say, I was on horseback before I could walk, and I was shooting a gun before I could read and write. My dad had a bunch of property back home and we were always hunting with dogs, tracking deer, or fishing.”
Quail hunting is set apart for Tomás. “Running two dogs at a time–I love it. I trained my dogs in Argentina and want to hunt them right.” Dogs used in quail hunting make the experience all the more exciting. Dogs are trained to find the birds, flush them out of hiding, and retrieve them after they are shot.
Many different kinds of dogs are used. The most popular dogs are English Pointers, Weimaraners, Brittany or English Springer Spaniels, and even Standard Poodles. The Lightsey Ranch has a total of 33 dogs.
Safety is the priority for Tomás. “When hunting, a lot of things can go wrong. I make sure my client is familiar with gun safety and swinging the gun to aim at the bird. We will practice several times to make sure your muscle memory is ready. When there are dogs on the ground and guys behind you, you have to feel ready and safe. Safety first and then everything after.
Tomás has a favorite recipe to prepare quail. “In Argentina, we don’t have quail but have something similar and we use this same recipe. To start, I make an appetizer. You will make it cold, not hot. It is like La Confit. You take one part vinegar, two parts oil, and cook the bird super low for two hours. Add onion, cracked pepper, red pepper flake, bay leaf, garlic, and cook for another two to three hours until the bone comes off the meat. Then you let it sit and cool down. Then put it in the refrigerator and let it sit there for a couple of weeks. Then eat it cold. It’s called ‘Escabeche’. It’s really good.”
Yes, he really did say a couple of weeks. Tomás also adds, “I love the quail they cook here at the Ranch. They fry it. They brine it so it will be cooked but not dry, and that’s hard to do.”
“I have a great time out there and get to be paid for doing it. I always tell the client, ‘This is my office – being out here with you and the dogs. I try to have as much fun as I can. This is what I know how to do the best.”
The main attraction at the Lightsey Family Ranch is hunting. With nature-rich grounds, the Ranch is the perfect location to make a “once in a lifetime” score. Guided hunts of hogs, alligator, whitetail deer, quail, and turkey are offered year-round. You can stay overnight in the lodge, eat well, and experience an all-inclusive hunting adventure.
“We currently hatch, on an average year, 22,000 alligators from eggs,” says Lee Lightsey. “ This is possibly one of the highlights of our facility during August and September as people are so intrigued by a hatchling popping out of an egg and immediately trying to bite you! After the hatchlings fade away, we go right into deer season which runs from September until March first. We stay steady with deer until Christmas. After Christmas, our quail hunting really picks up and it runs until March 6th. We hunt hogs and alligators year-round except May and June. In July we start collecting the alligator eggs off private ranches and fill the incubator, to start the process all over again.”
For an example of how a guided hunt works, an overnight quail hunt begins with an evening of shooting skeet, a fully catered dinner, a tour of the grounds and chatting around a fire. Rest in one of the ten guest rooms of the lodge and wake up to breakfast. Gather your gear, find your quail, and when you return with your prized birds, enjoy a fantastic lunch. Each hunt is catered to your desire. The Lightsey family prides themselves on making your hunting dream a reality.
If hunting isn’t your cup of tea, but you desire to experience time in Florida’s natural country, guests are invited for tours. Visit the ranch to see the flora and fauna of beautiful Venus. See the deer and other wildlife and explore the stunning grounds of the ranch. The lodge is the perfect venue for your wedding, reception, or retreat.
“Come stay overnight. Take advantage of getting away from work,” says Lee Lightsey. “Our passion is with sharing God’s love through what he has blessed our family with! Our dreams for the future include being able to take kids on a three- to four-day summer camp where we can mentor less fortunate kids and encourage kids that may need encouragement through the outdoors.”
There is still time left in the quail season if you would like to book a hunt.
For more information on Lightsey Family Ranch or to participate in a guided hunt, contact www.FloridaHuntingOutfitter.com.