North Carolina’s Willow Oaks Plantation makes first run at NRA’s Great American
Historic southern outfitter offers hunters duck, deer and upland bird hunts along with retreats
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – The Maclay Street entrance of the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center opens to the Great American Outdoor Show’s Outfitters Hall. There you’ll find lions attacking wildebeest, bears battling wolves and an odd looking pair of baboons playing poker. That’s how outfitters draw potential customers into the booth — promises of what you can take home.
Hidden amongst the show’s veteran safari guides and Alaskan outfitters is a booth decorated with turkeys, ducks and photos of an old Southern home. Those are the newcomers from Eden, North Carolina. The men from Willow Oaks Plantation.
A 2,000 acre plantation that reaches as far as the Dan River, Willow Oaks is more than a hunting lodge. It’s a destination.
“We’ve only been open to the public for three years,” said Marketing Director Mke Helsabeck. “There’s an infinite upside to what you can experience back there at Willow Oaks.”
Named Best of the Sporting South for Rabbit Hunts by Garden & Gun Magazine, Willow Oaks offers everything today’s hunter could hunt. There’s quail and pheasants for the upland birders, ducks aplenty for the waterfowl crowd, turkeys for the taking and deer for the tracking. But it’s not just about hunting down there in Eden.
“For the anglers, we’ve got two fully stocked bass ponds on the property and trout running in the mountains a couple of hours away,” property manager Tommy Kirby told us. “If that’s not your pleasure, we can arrange for horseback riding, kayaking, canoeing or shuttle you down to Greensboro for a day on the town.”
Helsabeck is new on the job. With the plantain since August of 2013, he brings years of experience as a Mossy Oak Pro-Staffer and the official artist for Duck Commander to the table. Finding a place at Willow Oaks could be seen as a culmination of an outdoor passion that started back in high school.
“My dad taught me how to shoot but he never took me hunting,” he said with a chuckle. "That distinction goes to my high school girlfriend’s dad. He’s the first one who took me hunting. A good recipe for making a relationship last.”
Since then he’s hosted radio shows, stood as featured artist for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and been named North Carolina’s Ducks Unlimited Artist of the Year four times. Now with Willow Oaks, he has the opportunity to bring the rest of America to this historically recognized Eden.
“You’re never going to believe who use to own this place."
None other than Virginia’s favorite revolutionary firebrand Patrick Henry. Back then, the plantation now known as Willow Oaks was nothing more than open land. It wasn’t until Robert Brodnax built the dairy farm back in 1815 that the area earned its name. The main house, which people can still visit today, was finished in 1818. Overlooking the Dan River basin and valley below, Willow Oaks is an ideal location for corporate retreats, your ultimate predator hunt or your daughter's wedding.
Talk about diversity.
But that's one of the driving forces behind the Great American Outdoor Show. Diversity in vendors, patrons and opportunities. From the greenhorns to the grizzled veterans, the anglers to the shooters and the local shops to the national brands, the Great American Outdoor Show has a little bit of something for everybody. Just like Willow Oaks Plantation.
"As we like to say, its our history, your story."
For more on the Great American Outdoor Show, visit their website at www.greatamericanoutdoorshow.org