A Quail Hunt To Remember by Ken McBroom
I remember well the days of old when there was heavy frost in November and still enough Bobwhite Quail to stumble upon a covey while walking the woods in search of deer or squirrels. I remember, many times as a youngster, nearly jumping out of my boots as a large covey exploded around me. Those were the days.
I was thirteen when my cousin Tommy and his wife Wilma invited me to live with them in Lynchburg Tennessee. It was there that I developed a passion for the outdoors that lives and grows stronger everyday. Tommy was well known in the area for training bird dogs. He really enjoyed training the culls that seemed un-trainable. Needless to say I followed many dogs many miles along bean fields and creek bottoms.
Some dogs did alright some not so well but the great part of it all was there were enough birds around that with enough patience and guidance the un-trainable could be trained. I must admit that some of the dogs may have had a few quirks but in the end could locate enough birds for us to get a few shots a day between us and that was enough as it was just being out there that mattered. Or so I thought.
I was sixteen when we were beginning to notice fewer and fewer quail in the places we had always found birds. Finally Tommy purchased two top-notch bird dogs that we had hunted over on previous hunts with their owner. Their names were Rusty and Sally and I remember the setters well. Alone Rusty hunted a perfect distance checking back and staying within sight the whole day. Sally on the other hand hunted wide, too wide really for the many hills and hollers found throughout Tennessee but in the end her technique helped locate coveys that had grown few and far between. She could cover an entire farm in no time and would even remember coveys on certain farms and leave the dog box like a streak of lightning. When she did this we would hold Rusty in his box until Sally was out of sight that way we were able to keep Rusty close to hunt the areas Sally missed as she made a beeline for the covey she had found the weekend before. Sally would hold until we got there and sometimes it was more than an hour as we could see her pointed atop a hillside away as we covered the rest of the farm.
I can remember my last quail hunt like it was yesterday. Sally had run off on a familiar farm and we kept Rusty close. We hunted up to where Sally was pointed. Rusty backed Sally while we jumped a huge covey. Tommy and I both missed easy shots and watched as the covey glided off the hill and into the nastiest looking part of the farm. We knew the shooting would be tough and were not real confident after blowing such an easy shot on the rise.
Rusty and Sally watched as all the singles settled into the cedars and briars and then looked back at us as if to asked “what happened boys” before loping off the sage covered hillside and out of sight inside the thick steep woods below. The air was cool and the sun was setting. It was going to be our last hunt of the season and little did I know, as I trudged into that thicket that day, it would become my favorite quail hunt ever and ranks right up there with the greatest outdoor experiences of my life, unfortunately it would also be the end to my quail hunting days as I knew them. Miles of walking with not a single point while deer and squirrels were calling my name everywhere I turned. It was no wonder I finally called it quits to pursue other game.
We entered the cedar thicket as Rusty and Sally worked the briars and cedar tops scattered throughout the rocky slope. Tommy was toting a 12-gauge Browning automatic while my vest was filled with 16-gauge number eights for my Winchester single shot. The dogs worked the singles perfectly. Sally stayed in because she knew the birds were close and Rusty stayed in because Sally did. Before we were out of the cedar thicket we each had four quail apiece. Jokes were made about me killing as many with my single shot as Tommy had with his automatic. Tommy mentioned that the sun was going down and we had better call it a day. I replied that he just wanted to get out of the woods before I topped his four birds.
We were making our way to the truck, happy with our bird heavy vests, when I jumped a single. Swinging to my right I took a quick shot just as the bird went into the top of a cedar tree. Tommy and I both saw the shot part the cedar boughs. Of course I announced that I had made the shot even though I knew that the cedar had probably took the brunt of the shot and the quail was gliding safely to a brush pile somewhere along the creek below. Tommy was sure I had missed and probably secretly prayed that I had, as I was prone to “rubbing it in” back then.
We were both laughing as I told him I hit the bird and we would find him just the other side of the cedar. He assured me I had missed and I honestly thought I had as well, that is until I spotted Rusty trotting up the hill, head held high, with a fat Tennessee Bobwhite in his mouth. I laughed as I bent down and took the bird from Rusty’s mouth and slid it inside my vest with the others. Tommy just shook his head.
We made it back to the truck just as the sun was setting and popped the top on a cold Coca Cola and stood at the tailgate. Shedding our vest and unloading our shotguns we relived the events of the hunt while Rusty and Sally drank from the creek and hunted halfheartedly around the truck. I knew and I believe Tommy did as well, that this was one of those special moments that deserved a little time to allow it to soak in and make sure every moment of that day was committed to that place reserved in our minds for special moments in our lives.
We finished our cokes and commended the dogs on a great day afield as the sun sank lower and the air grew colder. Finally we loaded the dogs and eased the old Chevy down the gravel road on our way home. I can still hear the gravels popping underneath the tires. It is hunts like this that need to be remembered. I am sure that our recollections vary and maybe some memories of the hunt have become a bit fuzzy, as many hunts have come and gone but this one tends to rise to the top when I reminisce of the days of the Bobwhite Quail.