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Quail Hunting - Then and Now

by Tony Kinton

Though quail hunting is becoming more difficult as the birds are disappearing from their original habitat, there are ways you can still enjoy this gentleman’s sport.
Few sounds are more haunting than the bobwhite’s call at sunset. Haunting, but endearing, comforting. These last two emotions are likely by-products of my childhood, when this grandest of all game birds could be heard with great frequency across the countryside that was home.

We were simple farm folk back then. Life was not nearly as rushed and cluttered as it is today, and it centered around a meager existence of crop growing and livestock tending in the red clay Mississippi hills. If wealth were measured in currency, we were poor. But if it were measured in assets such as contentment, love, tranquility and familial bonds, we were rich indeed.

Work was difficult. Nothing came easily from those fields and barn lots, but more than enough did come when adequate effort was exerted. And it was at the ends of those often-strenuous days that I recall sitting on the back porch or in the yard swing or out beside the old pond and listening to the plaintive whistle of quail. Particularly pronounced in spring, a quail’s sound could be heard year-round as these dainty and delightful birds coaxed each other to a mutually agreeable meeting place so they could gather and then huddle, tail feathers to tail feathers, through the night. Their call to sanctuary became mine as well, for like those birds, shortly after the calls were issued I went inside for the evening. There were no worries then -- at least not for my sister and me.

Those calls spoke to my dad and me of good times and full game bags come winter -- and to my mom as well, for what she could do with a pea-patch quail come suppertime has not been matched by anyone I know!

A Bygone Era
Quail were abundant then. On the ragged 80 acres we called home, there were consistently five coveys. Take in some neighboring property, and as many as 10 to 12 could be located on any given afternoon. Several of the men from the area hunted these birds, with each hunter and/or landowner having his particular core on which he focused his efforts. There was some overlap, and that was permitted. Very little of the land was posted. But most of us stayed within some scarcely defined parameters for our quail hunting, and seldom were we, or any of our guests, disappointed.

There were some excellent bird dogs around back then. These were working dogs, and most lounged around the farmyards when not hunting. I doubt there was much pedigree, but the dogs were hunters who knew their game. I must admit this is the area in which I most lacked. Oh, I had a dog, Lady. But she was suspect from the very beginning and did little the remainder of her life to prove otherwise. But she was my friend and my bird dog, and I took great pleasure in her. She could point a quail!

A great many of the hunts that we made in those days were after-school affairs, maybe a Saturday morning from time to time. But never were these extensive outings to exotic locations. More often than not, they consisted of stuffing some red paper-hull shells into a musty and worn vest, grabbing an old single- or double-barrel shotgun, and whistling the dog from under the doorsteps. Quail, you see, were just right out yonder -- there by the fencerow; down there along the ditch that separated the pasture from the cornfield; over the hill there in the broom sedge; out there behind the barn in the dried peas; or maybe just across the fence on the neighbor’s 40 in that little stand of oak trees. The birds were there, and they were always extraordinary, spectacular. Familiarity never made them common.
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