By Jason Frye | Photography courtesy of Esperanza Outdoors
The dogs are eager in the pre-dawn dark of the Mississippi Delta. Another day of their favorite thing, their lifeblood — retrieving — is here. As Cameron Dinkins entices the hunting party from plush beds with the smell of strong, fresh coffee, the dogs are still, but on the edge of vibrating with energy. Everyone is. The dogs will save it for later, when they dash out from the blind to retrieve ducks or geese; the hunters try to shake it off so that first shot of the day doesn’t go wild.
Everyone performs a last-minute check of pockets — shells, hand warmers, license and duck stamp, more shells, binoculars. Finally, they zip up jackets that look like winder-dormant reeds and wetland grasses. They are ready. Let the hunt begin.
Welcome to Linden Plantation in Washington County, Mississippi, nestled between Lake Washington and the Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge. For four generations, land here has been in the Dinkins family, but only since 2008 have more than a few family friends had the pleasure to hunt here. Dinkins — the same one rousting hunters from their slumber every morning — opened a private hunting club but after a few years, he was ready for a change.
“We went from leasing land to hunters to starting our own hunt club,” Dinkins said. “That’s when I met Stewart [Robinson]. We had similar backgrounds, loved this land and hunting, and formed a partnership. In 2012 we decided it was time to improve the club so we began doing guided hunts.”
By 2013 they were convinced to close the hunt club, focus on guided waterfowl hunts, and commit themselves to providing what Dinkins calls “an experience around the house and table that is at least as good as what we deliver in the field.” And the current iteration of Esperanza Outdoors was born.
Today, Dinkins and Robinson manage 1,700 acres, guide hunts 35-40 days each duck season, and entertain guests staying in Linden Plantation, all while scouting the right place for blinds and decoys and doing a little hunting themselves. And that says nothing of the pre-season (read: year-round) prep to make next year’s hunt better than the last.
But it pays off with an experience combining luxury (remember those plush beds?) with duck, goose and dove hunting. Linden Plantation — near Glen Allen, Mississippi — is the perfect spot, with the surrounding property abutting the Wildlife Refuge and Lake Washington. You’ll find hunters relaxing in the hot tub or saltwater pool on warm days or gathered around the fire pit, toddies in hand, recounting the morning’s hunt and making plans for tomorrow. You’ll also find the table graced with speckled belly geese, ducks and deer, all harvested on site.
Todd Paden, from Memphis, Tennessee, has been hunting with Esperanza for years. He’s come here on his own and to entertain corporate clients, booking weekends to get everyone out of meeting rooms and around a common table to loosen their ties and just be.
“You won’t find a better place to hunt,” he says. “Linden Plantation is a five-star experience from the start. The cabins and main house are impeccable, the food is over the top good, and by the time you leave, you’re saying goodbye to friends, to family.
“A lot of guides you meet don’t have the same bedside manner as Cameron and Stewart,” said Paden. “Other guides will take you out to a blind and wish you good luck, then you don’t see them for hours. Not Esperanza. They’re hunting with you. They stay in the blind, help you call in ducks, do what you’d expect a professional guide to do. But they still feel like they’re friends.”
The passion for the land, for the hunt, and for making people feel welcome is paying off. Dinkins and Robinson love this land and have ties to it — from deep family roots to their own personal experiences.
“I’ve seen more than a few hunting groups go ahead and book their weekend for next year while we’re all sitting around the dinner table, and if that doesn’t tell you something about how special Linden Plantation is to many of us, I don’t know what will,” said Paden.
Learn more about Linden Plantation at espoutdoors.com.