Old Timers and Quail

by david on June 4, 2012

This is not really an African thing but I thought I would share a story I want to put in my second book.  If you want the second half of the story hit the “Like” button in the top left corner.

 

Old Timers and Quail

            One of my favorite things in the whole world is reintroducing old timers (I’m not too far away from being an old timer myself) to quail.  What I mean is taking someone who grew up in the heyday of southern quail hunting out to my preserve.  These southern gentlemen, farmers mostly, have not been hunting quail in decades because the wild birds are not around anymore.  They have heard of “shooting preserves” but have never visited one and they are skeptical of the quality of hunting there.  Since most of them grew up on the heels of the Great Depression, the thought of paying to hunt birds is not very high on their list of things to do.  I gave up a long time ago trying to make money by operating a shooting preserve.  Now I operate one just for fun and I am blessed enough not have to charging anyone.  It makes me feel good to introduce youngsters and their dads to the sport and when a granddad comes along, it is just that much better.  My favorite hunts however are when I get an old timer to come over for a hunt.  It goes something like this …

We meet about 9:30 or 10:00 for some breakfast and coffee.  I typically try to get my senior-most hunter to tell me some stories of his hunting days and any favorite hunts he can remember.  I like hearing the stories, and I love to see their face light up as he tells the stories.  I have an ulterior motive for getting him to tell the stories; it gives me information to plan the hunt, making it as close as possible to the way he used to hunt.  After breakfast, we head over to the field and set up for the day’s activities.  I pour some more coffee as we uncase the shotguns and fill our vest with shells.  If I am fortunate, some more stories will be told, or scatter guns admired, as we all get to know each other even better.  Sometime around now, I slip off to the truck, grab a bag of birds, and head out into the field.  I ease along, putting the first hunt’s worth of birds out in singles and doubles.  I purposely choose places that will provide easier shots to give my guests an opportunity to warm up, since the old timer may not have swung on a quail for many years.  If all goes well, I can sneak back to the table and finish my cup of coffee before anyone notices I am gone.  If anyone does notice, I will try to change the subject with one of my own stories to divert attention from what I was doing, and, before long, no one remembers I was missing.

When I ask if anyone is ready to turn the dog loose, ease out, and see if we can find any birds, it brings everyone’s mind back to the day’s purpose, hunting quail.  Before the question fades and another conversation has a chance to start, shotguns are picked up, breaches are opened, and the guns are cradled in the cook of an elbow or over the shoulder.  I refresh everyone’s memory as to my safety rules and ask them to ease on out into the field.  After my guests have a 50-yard head start, I walk over to Piper and unhook her from her lead.  I “whoa” her just to remind her who is boss, making her sit in place waiting for the command to hunt.  I then start out into the field and, after three or four paces, I release her from her unnatural stillness and she races out into the field like a rocket.  Somehow, she knows to slow down a bit as she passes my guest in the field.  She is somehow able to acknowledge that they are part of the hunt as much as she is.  Next, she makes one large loop around the field and then starts earning her keep by looking for birds.

As she starts hunting in earnest, I try to position myself so I can see the faces of my guests.  If the old timer has ever hunted over pointing dogs, I can see the memories start to return.  As Piper quarters back and forth across the field, he gets a look, a look that tells me that memories long ago forgotten are starting to work their way back to the surface.  The more Piper works the field, the more his eyes start to focus on the dog.  His brow becomes slightly furrowed and his jaw is set in concentration.  All too soon, the magic of that moment is broken as he is always the first to say, “We got a point up ahead”.  With those words so special to a bird hunter’s heart, everyone’s feet, as if by their own volition, start moving towards Piper.  As we move closer, her point becomes even stauncher, as if suddenly frozen by some unknown force.  I know better.  I know that, deep down inside; she is so excited she can’t stand it.  Her only tell is the last two inches of her tail will seem to involuntary vibrate.  Even that movement ceases as I slowly move past her to prepare for the flush.  When all of the hunters are in a line so we can see each other, I start to methodically work the toe of my boot under the cover toward which Piper is staring so intently.  After a quick glance over each shoulder to confirm everyone is where they are supposed to be, I ease my boot that last few inches forward.  There is suddenly an explosion of feathers as fluttering wings propel the birds skyward.  I have secretly instructed the younger members of the group to hold their shots as long as possible to allow the most senior member the first shot.  A split second later, a shot rings out and the first flush is over.

See you out hunting,

David B

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