To keep up with Thanksgiving tradition, I managed to squeeze in a half a day of chasing quail. It was a far cry from the four day weekend spent following birds dogs in quail country that I was hoping for. If nothing else, this season is teaching me, that we don’t always get what we want. I grew up in pheasant country and Thanksgiving meant several days of chasing tail. Times change. Family move. Decisions have to be made. So, my options were limited. I could hunt a half a day before going to visit the family or I could not hunt at all. Take what you can and give nothing back.
It was a pretty good half day for local standards on public ground. As luck would have it I flushed a covey while driving to the spot I planned on starting at. I let the birds settle down for a bit and then turned the dogs loose not far away. It wasn’t long before both dogs were standing motionless with the wind in their face. I took a few quick pictures (which look like crap) and then moved in to flush.
Quail exploded and I picked out a bird. A simple left to right crossing shot. I fired and the bird started to fall. I instinctively glanced back left for late flushers, but there were no more birds coming up. Just as quickly and instinctively, I looked back to the right only to see a poorly flying and clearly hit quail struggling to make it over the first stand of trees at the creek bed’s edge. I stood there wondering what the hell just happened as I watched feathers drift to the ground. I thought I had hammered that bird. I looked and had the dogs search for the bird that should have been dead on the ground, but we finally gave up. We looked all over the creek bottom but found nothing. I hate losing birds. Killing birds never makes me feel bad, except for the times when we know we killed it and can’t find it. It really bothers me.
After a long search for singles on the other side of the creek that came up empty we moved to a different location. I turned the dogs loose at the end of a fence line that is home to the Old Faithful covey. They may need a new name, as we came up empty there as well. We covered some ground and poked around some likely cover on the way back to the vehicle. I saw a few hawks soaring over a particular area and decided to check it out. I have often found birds by targeting areas that the hawks seem fixated on. The hawks moved off as I started to approach. The cover on both sides of a wide mowed grass strip looked great. Hip to head high ragweed with a bunch of warm season grasses mixed in, dotted with a handful of plum thickets. I wanted to check the thickets on the other side of the mowed strip and started heading to the downwind edge. Dogs were out front, almost to the first thicket. I was watching the hawks again, gliding on the wind in the distance. I wondered if I was fooling myself, by thinking the hawks were hunting quail too. My eyes fixed on the raptors in the distance, my gun on my shoulder with my hand on the end of the stock, the ground erupted in every direction. Oh shit, birds, bang, dead bird. The dogs clearly missed this covey, in ankle high grass no less. Oh well, it happens. I never claimed to only shoot pointed birds, and the dogs didn’t miss handle them. They were just off hunting more likely cover. We searched for the singles in the head high ragweed but that only produced one bird that offered no shot. The ragweed was about as good of quail cover as there is. Bare ground that allows birds to run and five to six foot tall dried stems so thick that its hard to see more than 20 yards.
After making it back to the vehicle I had time for one more walk. I pulled into an area that I hadn’t hunted in several years. The cover looked great everywhere so I stuck to the fence row of a ragweed choked, year old corn stubble field, next to some crp grass. We covered a multitude of excellent looking cover, bouncing from field edge to fence row, to thickets, to brush piles. Nothing. I was getting discouraged and tired. It was time to give in and head for home. I swung back around to the original fence row I had started walking and headed for the car. The dogs out front and to my right and my mind wandering. The covey blew up right in front of me. Boiling out from under a small, waist high thicket split by the fence. As snapped to the right, I saw him standing there in a low spot on the other side of the fence, tail straight in the air, staunch. How long had he been there? I don’t know. I pulled up to shoot but I couldn’t get on a bird that offered a safe shot, as they flushed low and on the other side of the dog. Finally a late riser busted out and quartered to my left. About as easy as it gets. I fire. I miss. Frustrated, at my shooting, actually at the whole fiasco, we set out tsearched on for singles. I didn’t see where the bulk of the birds went as I was too busy missing the one bird that went left. I kept the dogs close and handled them to where I thought the birds would have went to. I kept loosing sight of the dogs in the tall cover, but I trusted they would be working in the right direction. I topped over a small terrace in the old corn field, which obviously hadn’t been farmed at all this year, and Bell crossed right in front of me. She slammed on the breaks and froze.
I started digging the camera out of its case. As I was doing this, I noticed that Hide was on point about 20 yards ahead. They were obviously pointing different birds. They were facing opposite directions and couldn’t see each other. I took a few pictures and then moved in to flush.
I didn’t know what to expect as Bella was pointing in the wrong direction for the wind. I thought she may have run past a bird and didn’t want to move, but she was starring straight ahead, as if she knew was right there. I flushed for her and produced nothing. I released her and hustled over to Hide, who hadn’t moved a muscle. I was sure he had a bird pinned down. I readied the gun and flushed in front of the motionless dog. Nothing. “Little bastards are running on us” I said out loud. I figured I had just sacrificed a shooting opportunity to get some pictures. I released Hide and Bella, who was now backing, with the whistle. Hide took the lead and hit a deer trail with his nose on the ground. I followed and watched him slam to a stop. A stop to flush. Too much pressure. A single male bob was in the air and I swung and missed. Five more birds flushed at the shot and I missed again.
Shooting slump continues….
Frustration has set in.