Old Timers and Quail part II

by david on June 7, 2012

More often than not, the old timer’s years of practice and muscle memory developed years ago do their job and he will connect with the quail as it heads towards freedom.  Before the report has completely faded, the bird falls to the ground in front of the hunters.  A few moments later Piper will deposit the bird into my outstretched hand.  As I walk to the shooter to hand him the bird, I never take my eyes from his face.  The closer I become, the wider his eyes get.  As I hand him the bird, a transformation takes place.  It is as if time has suddenly melted away and forty years have vanished at the blink of an eye.  The hunter is back in his prime and young again, if only at heart.  He flips the bird over in his hand and gives a quick nod of acknowledgement as someone says, “Damn fine shootin”.  The bird is gingerly slid into the game pouch of his vest.  He is momentarily lost in his thoughts when the words “we’ve got another point” bring us all back to reality and we start off across the field once more.  The only difference this time is there is a renewed purpose and vigor in his each and every step.

The rest of the first hunt follows along pretty much as the first flush, except everyone is more animated and alive.  After Piper has found and delivered the birds to hand us, it is time for a short break.  Depending on how long the hunt took, there might be time for another hunt before lunch, or it could be time for lunch.  There is no set rule.  My hunts have no schedule.  Breaks and lunch are left to the whim of my guest.  Each group of hunters is different.  However, when lunch time comes around, everyone is hungry.

Depending on who is along, my lunch menu varies.  Most of the time we grill some spicy Italian sausages and have them on hotdog buns with grilled peppers and onions as it is a favorite.  On special occasions, I will grill some quail on the grill for lunch.  The recipe is simple and quick, and, if you add a couple of foil packs of potatoes, a wedge of cheese and some fruit you have a feast fit for a king.  The best thing about lunch, though, is the conversations.  I first fell in love with bird hunting because of the social aspect — team hunting I call it.  Walking in nature, watching a good dog work, and swapping stories with friends, both old and brand-new is a fine and pleasant experience.  To me, it just doesn’t get much better.  Lunch at the quail shelter is exceptional because it concentrates everything into a central location.  As the delightful aromas waft from the grill, everyone is seated around a well-worn picnic table or in chairs around the periphery.  The conversations range from favorite shotguns and loads, to secret hunting places, to favorite quarry, and just about anything else that tickles a hunter’s fancy.  My favorites are the opinions and stories told by the old timers that I have had the pleasure to host over the years.  I believe that sometimes we get caught up in modern things and tend to forget what we already know simply to learn something new.  Stories from previous generations and the way things used to be done are pleasant reminders of a simpler and slower way of life and, to me, a reminder that newer is not necessarily better.

If (as often is the case) we only complete one hunt before lunch, two more are slated for the afternoon.  I do not have to sneak away to place the birds in the field as I did earlier.  The knowledge we are practicing put-and-take hunting no longer matters to the newcomers.  We are quail hunting.  Hunters watching a prized bird dog do her job, enjoying each other’s company, and on occasion adding a bird to the bag.  These last two hunts never cease to amaze me as it seems they have the ability to affect time.  What I mean by this is time seems to move at least double speed.  The first hunt in the morning seems to ease along at its own pace, while the afternoon hunts seem to be over before they have even gotten started.  Before you know it, Piper has fetched the last bird and it is time to call it a day.

After the guns are all cased and gear is stored, those who wish may partake of a little social libation.  Whether it is a cold 12-oz. beverage or a few fingers worth of liquid from a bottle, all are allowed in moderation.  Before the first round is gone, I remind the hunters we have one final chore to do; we need to dress the birds.  Something about having a great day afield and having your favorite beverage close by seems to make cleaning the birds go a little easier.  The way I do it is sort of an assembly line.  Person one removes the all of the external appendages, person two removes the skin and feathers, (if you have extra people you can double up on one and two), and person three snips away the backbone and removes the viscera.  All of the removed parts are deposited in recycled grocery bags.  The dressed birds are divvied up among the guests and placed on ice.  Throw in some more stories or relive the day’s events; it doesn’t really matter as the work goes quickly.  All in all, it takes about 20 minutes to dress 18 to 24 quail or a bit longer if you throw in a few chukar or pheasant.

All too soon, it is over.  My old hunter feels younger simply by enjoying and remembering things he did in his youth.  Everyone is tired but happy.  The day is done but that is o.k.  too.  There are seven more days next week, and I am up for hunting six of them.

See you out hunting,

David B


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