By Jeffrey Cheatham


Located on U.S. Highway 1 in North Carolina, south of Pine Bluff and north of Hoffman, the J. Robert Gordon Field Trial Area is a popular entrance point to the Sandhills game lands. Turning onto Derby Road in front of the sign leads visitors to the Block A section. Several rows of dog kennels and corrals for horseback riders are available for public use on these grounds.

McKinney Lake is situated just west of Marston and offers excellent fishing opportunities. It’s also home to one of six cold water fish hatcheries in North Carolina. Over 150,000 catfish fingerlings are raised here in 24 retention ponds. When they reach the right age and length, they are used to stock the majority of lakes in the central Piedmont region.

The double orange line and North Carolina Wildlife Commission “Diamond” badge are shown on the boundary markers found in the game lands.

Explore this intact long-leaf pine ecosystem. Dense forest is found throughout its 63,000 acres.

The Sandhills game lands include eight different ponds for fishing. Visitors wishing to drop a line in the water are advised to obtain a game land fishing permit in addition to a state permit. The nominal extra cost is worth the price of near absolute solitude.

A shy denizen of the Sandhills game land is the box turtle. They are quite commonly found in any of the waterways, sunning themselves though the whispering pine canopy. Don’t disturb them, but enjoy watching them.

One of the eight pond locations in this conservation area captures the raw beauty of the land. Plan your visit, soon.

The Sandhills game land is located in south-central North Carolina, just above the South Carolina border in an area known as the Sandhills—hence the name. The area is markedly different from the Piedmont or Coastal regions of North Carolina, with its gentle rolling hills and sandy soil composition. It’s an ideal habitat for pines and makes a picturesque setting suitable for any trip, vacation or afternoon picnic. It offers untold adventures in hiking, mountain biking, bird watching, horseback riding, camping, hunting and fishing. Managed by the North Carolina Wildlife Commission and open year round, the area makes for an ideal day trip.

The Sandhills game land may be one of the most overlooked conservation areas of North Carolina. Spanning more than 63,000 acres, this wildlife habitat is primarily located in Richmond County, but also stretches into Scotland and Moore Counties. The Sandhills game land has been described as one of the best remaining examples of a long-leaf pine habitat, now down to just three percent of its historic range in the United States.

Visitors choosing to spend a day in this particular wildlife area can expect to find both natural beauty and solitude. The Sandhills game land boundaries are clearly marked on trees with two orange strips on the trunk, as well as a North Carolina Wildlife Commission diamond-shaped sign.


“The Sandhills game land is one of the hidden gems in North Carolina,” according to North Carolina Wildlife Commission Biologist, Jeffrey Marcus. “It’s one of the few publicly accessible places in the state to see an intact long-leaf pine ecosystem, including most of the unique plant and animal species associated with the habitat,” he added. Mr. Marcus supervises several wildlife biologists while conducting field surveys and research. Some of these projects include forestry operations, planting fields, maintaining roads and conducting controlled burns in sections of the forest.

One of the most celebrated aspects of the Sandhills game land is the diversity of endangered wildlife and plants which thrive in this long-leaf pine habitat. Some wildlife examples include the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, Bachman’s Sparrow, Gopher Frog, Tiger Salamander and Chicken Turtle. On the plant side, the rare Michaux Sumac and Sandhills Lily grow exclusively in this ecosystem. In addition to endangered species, the Sandhills is also home to other common wildlife, such as fox squirrels, deer, quail, rabbits, turkeys, doves and wood ducks.

“One of the most fascinating wildlife experiences is to be near an isolated wetland on a warm rainy night in the late winter,” says Mr. Marcus. “A great variety and number of salamanders, frogs and toads come out from underground and travel to these pools of water and make an amazing ruckus of noise. Even though all of these animals live primarily underground, somehow they all know where to go and when to get there, with many species all arriving to breed on the same night,” he added.


There are eight separate ponds to fish and hunters may utilize the J. Robert Gordon Field Trial Area to hunt with canines. The field trial area has abundant rows of dog kennels and a barn with horse corrals for public use.

In season, hunting in the Sandhills game land is allowed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays only. According to Bryan Land, Public Works Director of Richmond County, there is no need for visitors to take any extra precautions during these times. “If a person visits during a hunting time, I would definitely advise being cautious and remembering safety rules, but it’s not likely you’re going to run into many people on all this land. It’s wide open and pristine country.”


Another North Carolina Wildlife Biologist, Bill Parsons, is also heavily involved in protecting the Sandhills habitat. He has worked at this location since 1975 as a technician, forester and now biologist. “What many people may not know about this area is its age,” stated Mr. Parsons. “The long-leaf pine forest found in the tracts of the Sandhills game land is on average over 100 years old.”

There are miles and miles of interior roads, some paved and some packed sand. He advises that visitors need to remain aware of their surroundings as not all of the interior roads or trails are marked.

Mr. Parsons agrees that the entire area of the Sandhills game land can be an enchanting experience for first time visitors. “Some of the best experiences I have had in the Sandhills occur early in the morning at sunrise when the birds start moving and calling to one another,” he says. “The spring and fall are the best times to explore, as most of the wild flowers are at their peak during those times. There are numerous old cemeteries, old tar kilns and charcoal pits scattered across the area. Old turpentine trees are still visible, which are remnants of the naval stores of the 19th and early 20th century. There is plenty to explore whether you are a naturalist, historian, hunter, birder or hiker,” he adds.


The entire Sandhills game land area runs both east and west of U.S. Highway 1, ten miles east of Rockingham, NC or 15 miles south of Southern Pines, N.C. Visitors should reference the Sandhills game land digital map book, available on the North Carolina Wildlife Commission website and take a GPS locator before venturing into the area.

The nearest town to the Sandhills game land is Hoffman, NC, located on the very eastern edge of Richmond County. However, getting to the area can be accomplished in two ways, as the Sandhills game land is divided into two large block sections, A and B.


For those wishing to gain access to Block A, visitors should turn west onto Thunder Road from U.S. Highway 1 at the wastewater treatment plant just south of Pine Bluff. Proceed 5.8 miles to the double bridges. Where Thunder Road comes to a close, turn left onto Derby Road and you will be entering Block A. The J. Robert Gordon Field Trial Area, with frequently burned longleaf pine stands, fields and hedgerows, lie on the west side of the road.
Click here for a detailed map of this area.


Block B is most easily accessed from U.S. Highway 1 East onto Old Laurel Hill Road near Marston, NC
Click here for a detailed map of this area.

Related Reading

Copyright 2016, Center for Carolina Living