By SHERRY LUCAS • Photography by AUSTIN BRITT
Family hunting lodge is full of memories with room to share
Every mount has a story at Bowman Delta Farm in Clarksdale, and the comfortably sprawling hunting lodge is the perfect place to share them (when family and friends aren’t outside, gathering more).
A recent design update makes the space even more cohesive and congenial, showcasing the property’s special gifts while never forgetting the casual, welcoming ease of its primary purpose—engaging family and entertaining guests amid the natural beauty and bounty of the Mississippi Delta.
Phillip Bowman, owner of Specialty Metals in Jackson, bought the property in 2006. Once part of a giant farm dating back to the 1800s, the spread had been sold off in pieces by subsequent generations and this last big chunk was perfect for his aim to secure a prime spot in the Delta.
“The whole farm was essentially a blank slate. It had not been developed for wildlife, or for any kind of enjoyment,” Bowman says. Overrun by beavers and rutted by loggers, it needed some conservation TLC. “We developed the agricultural side to mix and flow for wildlife. Not just to go kill a deer, not just to kill a duck or a turkey—but to blend in, benefiting wildlife across the board, from pollinators to bat habitat to, obviously, the main game species in Mississippi.”
Bowman situated the lodge on the eastern edge of a former ag field, placing its orientation to take in the prime beauty of its surroundings. “You walk around the front porch and see sunrises in the morning, and Delta sunsets in the afternoon. That’s what it was built for—I spent a lot of time to make sure that was perfect.” Its first half was built in 2006, and the family moved in that Thanksgiving weekend. He expanded it in 2016 to its current 10-bedroom count—five in the family wing and five in the guest wing.
“The hunting lodge needed the finishing touches,” says designer Jenny Dabbs of Philadelphia, Mississippi. She and Phillip Bowman connected through Instagram; she’d inquired about hunting for her family, and Clarksdale, where her husband Dr. Andy Dabbs was born and raised, beckoned. As it turned out, their social circles overlapped. Bowman followed her posts, liked the design work he saw, and tapped her skills and creativity to take his lodge to the next level.
Rather than impose a plan, “I want it to be not so predictable,” Dabbs says of her design work. “My biggest goal of most projects is for people to walk in, and say, ‘Omigosh, where did you think of that?’ It’s kind of that unexpected cool factor.
“Phillip is very open to ideas. I had free range to use anything where I wanted to use it,” she says. The standout is a massive, custom-made sinker cypress coffee table. Dabbs spotted the eleven-foot log, pulled from the Rice Brake some eight years prior, in Bowman’s garage the first day they met at the farm.
“We were talking about the scale of his house and what he needed, and I just said, ‘What about that piece of wood?” she recalls. “Can I use that?’” She sketched her idea on a piece of paper, and asked if Bowman knew an iron worker who could fashion a base. Within the hour, Mississippi Ornamental Iron’s Roland Wilkinson from the nearby Rena Lara community, was there to get the specifics. Sand-blasted, pressure-washed, rid of ants and trimmed to a bit more than eight feet long, the cypress remains as big as a dining table.
“Phillip wanted a low profile that would not detract from the beauty of the wood, and I agreed,” Wilkinson says. Sturdy, unobtrusive black iron brackets hold the cypress level and secure, and undermount framework supports the true profile of the cypress trunk, for an eye-catching focal point that suits the space and sparks conversation. Set atop an antique Oriental rug, it’s a look that spans centuries.
“It had been under the ground for hundreds of years. It was in the mud, covered, and by chance, I found it,” Bowman says. “Then, Jenny, of course, took what I knew was something cool, and turned it into something extremely unique. She’s just really talented at that.”
That “super fun” challenge remains Dabbs’ favorite part of the project. It’s a natural fit with the rest of the decor. Huge tree stumps serve as end tables. The lodge’s wood that wasn’t harvested onsite or salvaged from old buildings there, came from inside the levee. Five different types are represented in the walls and ceilings—old and new cypress, persimmon, ash, willow, and maple.
In Dabbs’ design, “Everything in that house that I did had to serve two purposes. It had to be functional, with lots of guys and hunting dogs, but he also wanted it handsome and good-looking and nice.” Durable, classic appeal and easy comfort were paramount.
The lodge’s great room and game room are prime gathering spots, where leather sofas and inviting chairs welcome visitors to hang out and socialize. Swivel chairs, slipcovered in washable silver linen, flank a nineteenth-century English sideboard.
“It’s eleven feet long, so it covered the wall, then I put some really humongous modern lamps on it, to liven it up just a little bit,” Dabbs says. The iron lamps’ forty-four-inch height and twenty-eight-inch diameter suit the scale of the lodge, and their open, clean-lines design, marble base, and linen shades add a look that’s both masculine and classic. In a serendipitous stroke, “I actually sell those at my store,” says Dabbs, who has both a studio and a warehouse shop, JDabbs Design in historic downtown Philadelphia. “Those instantly came to mind as something that would match the kind of vibe we were having.”
Amping up the visual interest is a giraffe skull nestled in a coyote skin atop the sideboard, with two long leg bones beside it. Along with impala skull mounts, impala and blue wildebeest hide rugs and more, the giraffe skull and bones are mementos from a South African safari, “the best family trip I’ve ever taken, no question,” Bowman says.
Rangers had wanted the giraffe, an old bull run out of the herd, taken for the health of the herd, and Bowman volunteered. He brought his own history to the task. “I got bit by a giraffe when I was four years old, at the Jackson Zoo. It was a huge ordeal. I was crying, screaming,” he says, laughing now to recall how the beast bit his finger in the early 1970s, before higher enclosures prevented such encounters.
“Payback took a while,” he chuckles about the forty-eight years in-between, “but I stayed focused and finally got it done.” The animal’s meat was destined for jerky, donated to poor miners in the area. Its hide covered a pair of ottomans made in Africa, with wood trim stained an orange hue by taxidermists there. Dabbs had them refinished in a lighter stain Bowman likes much better, and they now enjoy a spot by the fireplace.
Trophy mounts—deer, ducks, and turkeys—pull in a who’s who of Mississippi game animals at the lodge. Furs, including coyote, beaver, raccoon, and Mississippi River otter, have a presence, too. Antique watering troughs and big cotton baskets collect antlers and sheds. A pair of hide chairs Dabbs sourced at an Atlanta antique shop fit right in.
The game room’s black bear rug, souvenir of a New Mexico hunt with a buddy, stands out among the hide rugs—both for its looks and its reputation underfoot near the pool table. “It’s taken down a bunch of guys with a cocktail or two in them,” Bowman says, laughing.
Gray velvet armchairs, in a hue that complements the weathered wood, add necessary seating for the lodge’s frequent entertaining, which can top twenty for overnight stays. Their arrangement provides easy conversational pockets in the large open rooms.
A cross on the wall, made of two slim hickory sticks secured by strips of bark, is elegant in its simplicity. All three Bowman children—Blaine, Wesley and Amelia Dare—made crosses as kids, from materials onsite. Others probably unraveled over the years, Bowman says, but Blaine’s survived. “I wouldn’t part with it for anything.
“So many great memories,” he says of the lodge and its mounts, most of them harvested by his kids. “My focus, when the kids were little, was taking them, and giving them the tools they needed—the right gun that fit them, the hearing protection—things that made it fun for them, along with lots of snacks and whatever they needed to not be bored, even Brick Breaker on my old BlackBerry.”
Now that they’re grown (his youngest is a college freshman), his own hunting pursuits are back in the picture. “It’s not as much fun as taking them, but it’s a different kind of fun.”
Bowman boils down the look he wanted for his lodge to a single word: natural. “The farm is a place where everybody can relax and feel comfortable,” he says, and slipcovered chairs and concrete floors help accomplish that. “I don’t want people to worry about taking off their boots when they walk in, or if they’re dirty from hunting.” He’s got a nice bedspread in his room, with another that can be pulled on for hunting season. “If a wet black Lab like Delta Love or Ivy Love jump on it, it’s not the end of the world.”
He had told Dabbs, “It has to be where we can all gather and sit around and tell the story of the day, or the story of ten years ago when that crew was here, or twenty years ago. We wanted it to be where everyone felt comfortable and could sit around and face each other, and have cocktails or a glass of wine or Diet Coke or whatever, and talk! And, that’s what she created.
“It’s just easy. Jenny understands wet dogs. She understands hunting. She understands how things have to function, not only at a hunting camp, but particularly in the Mississippi Delta. She just did such an incredible job with that, making everything fit.”