Outdoors in the Sun: Quail, the ultimate definition of what hunting really means
Coming back from Oklahoma, I had plenty of time to think about a career of outdoor experiences. I remembered old hunting and fishing trips dating back to the age of three. That’s right, three years. As I got older, I was able to accomplish more and more in the swamps and on the ridges. Like anything else, practice makes perfect. I thought about the different game species and the pursuit of each and what the hunt really means. There is much more to this wonderful sport than just a play vest with a full bag limit. If that is his ultimate goal, unfortunately, you fail to understand what hunting really means.
As I traveled the I-40 corridor, I contemplated the many seasons and opportunities we have in the great outdoors. I have consciously tried to clarify which hunting activity brings the most nostalgia, even romanticism, to the hunting world. Of course, there is no right answer, so I will reveal my personal opinions on the subject.
Dove hunting does what it does for the introduction of seasonal openings each fall. Squirrel hunting, while less popular than before, also does what it does for notoriety in the hunting world. These activities are usually some sort of one-time event meaning an opening day or a weekend flurry and then off to bigger and better things. Remember, these are my thoughts, and keep in mind that I love nothing more than an old fashioned winter dove shoot, but let’s move on. While there are many seasons, including, but not limited to, rabbit, gallinules, snipe, woodcock, and more, I will focus on what I consider the “big four” and explain to everyone what they mean to me. Again, my thoughts only.
I am probably more consumed by legendary males than by any other species that I pursue. Whether I’m in the mid-west with a pair of rattling ‘horns’ or perched on a limb in October with a twine stick, or on the edge of a cypress swamp during peak rutting season, I’m fully engaged when it is. it comes to white tails. However, I am by no means placing my obsession at the top of the list. I will explain why.
Most deer hunts take place with groups of fellow hunters in some sort of “camp”. Some of these camps are very large, made up of large areas and even more hunters. The activity can be non-stop, with people being, and most of the time there is “drama” associated with deer hunting. Someone always gets out of the woods too early, or doesn’t get there early enough. Often there are too many rules to follow and sometimes a mediator is needed to keep the peace. I’m sure many of you are nodding your head in agreement with me.
Going back to what I said earlier, even with drama and conflict, there’s nothing quite like watching a mature male in his domain walk through an impenetrable swamp doing his thing. I love it. Leave the huge number of hunters behind, crush the drama and sit in your favorite lair, alone, and there is nothing better, but when it comes to what poets write, deer hunting. is not at the top of the list.
Imagine mallards circling above your head with the sound of wings cutting through the air. Capture the image of blue specula and green heads as the sun reflects the iridescence of all the colors of the spectrum of cross-sectional birds with dangling red legs. Under the spectacle above, hunters dressed in natural patterns of grass and bark await their prey. Back then, these were Model 12 pump pistols, powered by true high-speed blues, in the hands of waterfowl. The blinds sometimes contained eight to ten hunters depending on the size of the structure. Between flights there were thermos of rich coffee and shared country cookies and ham while waiting for the next opportunity. Stories and laughter could be heard through the brakes and flooded wood.
Many books have been written about the “golden ages” of waterfowl and what they were. Leaning against an oak tree and “chuckling” mallards on your spread brings a sense of satisfaction and reward hard to beat. In the minds of many, this is what makes life worth living. I don’t totally disagree, because I’ve been there and hope to be there again. We will continue.
It can be a holy time when you watch the day come to life. Slowly, and I mean very slowly, the darkness of the night gives way to a gray tint as the morning sunlight awakens the Earth as gently as a mother awakens her newborn baby. The sounds of the Brown Thrasher, Cardinal, and Barred Owl are pale in comparison to the prickly goblet of the wild turkey when the outstretched neck breaks the stillness of a spring morning. The hunter, seated alone at the foot of the mammoth oak draped in Spanish moss, slightly adjusts his seat and prepares for battle.
One on one, the two enemies meet in an arena of a forest floor covered with apple trees and ferns with redbuds and vibrant dogwoods above. The outcome is uncertain. Every opponent is worthy of the competition. Invisible perils play a role in every aspect of the game. Sometimes the hunt is a manual and a subject to write about. Other times, rather most of the time, the hunter wonders what went wrong. Failure is not the word to describe the result when the hunter slowly returns home. I prefer to call it a learning experience, as it will surely be necessary to remember the mistakes made in the hope of not repeating them.
The spring turkey hunt can be close to what a real hunt means. In fact, some argue that there is no other sport that can even come close to what real hunting is. I don’t disagree, however, there is another one we need to visit before we can draw any conclusions.
The old man sips his coffee from a saucer. Methodically, each tablespoon is gently removed from the cup and allowed to cool in the flat container. Sometimes a slice of sharp cheddar cheese is dipped in the steaming infusion to soften before being placed on its cookie. While two cookies rest on his plate, only one will be served for now.
His tools of the trade, the worn field jacket, the hunting vest and the Belgium Browning lie in the corner where they settle throughout the fall and winter. As he steps out of the back porch of his quaint country home, a high-pitched but brief whistle brings his partner to him. Names like Sally or Polly can represent a shy but capable Llewellin. In contrast, Buck, or Sport, can represent a firm and nervous pointer. Either, or both, is up to the task.
Shells are slipped into the magazine as the duo make their way to the old forest path. It may not take long for the dog to become a “bird”. Many times the frame can almost predict where the covey resides. Is it next to an abandoned cemetery where tufts of lespedeza create a border next to the fence surrounding the homes of those who left this world decades, if not centuries ago? This may be the home of the former sharecropper, with remnants of the old pea plot or cornfield still barely visible that contain the feather bombs. The passer can crawl almost in a serpentine fashion before drawing a line in the sand and taking a step too far.
The pointer can go from a full gallop to a sudden stop when its piercing nose picks up the faintest odor molecule in the hidden crowd. The hunter, gently reassuring his dogs, slowly approaches. The gun is mounted in a smooth motion as the exploding flush rises. A single bird is picked up outside the covey. If all goes as planned, the faithful companion will hand over the prize not to its owner, but to his lifelong companion. The encouragement and gentle hugs can end with a snout of affection or maybe a raised paw to get even closer to your best friend. The bird is delivered to the bag and leaves to find singles or maybe another covey.
To me, this is the ultimate definition of what a hunt really means. I know I’m repeating myself, but how romantic is this scenario? I dream of those days, although here at home most of them are just memories. Quail hunting, or more aptly described, bird hunting, prompts me to come back to my grandfather’s farm when it was the hake mecca. Although the farm is now covered with gum and pine groves and the birds have left with the mules, the gardens and the farmer, the ghosts of each remain. Maybe that’s why I have such great esteem for bird hunting and all that goes with it. We still have the hunts described earlier, but this sport, for the most part, is lost. You know, a lot of times we don’t miss something until it’s gone. Either way, I’ve placed them in order from start to finish throughout my writing, so the birds have it.
What does hunting mean to you? Which sport do you prefer? Remember, there is no wrong answer. Hope I made you think and bring back great memories of what so many of us live for. Think about the true meaning of what we are lucky enough to enjoy. If you have any other ideas on what could be your favorite, you know I’d love to listen. Call me every now and then, it would be nice to catch up with me. Until next time, enjoy our woods and our waters and remember, let’s leave them better than we found.