Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Coveys of Seasons Past

For the quail opener I did as most of us would do: I went and looked for coveys I had found and documented over the last few seasons. In just a few pieces of public I hoped to find 11 coveys, all within a few miles of eachother. It wouldn't be easy, but if I found half of those it'd be a great day.

After a cold sleep in the truck I arrived at my first spot to see that the corn on the south side of the tree-filled draw had not yet been harvested. Better to leave those birds alone until after the harvest. Scratch two coveys from the list. Hit the next spot just down the road, again, corn still in. Scratch two more coveys.

Spot number three should at least yeild some hunting opportunity, as it was always wheat or beans, and lots of pasture ground. There had been as many as four coveys on this spot, but I had never found more than three in a day. I hunted what I call the lower part first, where I had once found three coveys in just an hour or so. Sage got the call, and despite a good run, we found no birds. Time to hunt the high side. It's basically a long walk through some rather unlikely pasture strip to get to this back corner that is packed with cedars, and is surrounded beans and CRP, with a nice little pond to boot. Sage winded and went on point just as we approached the back corner. He must have caught the birds on their way back from feeding, because they flushed from the sparse pasture grass before I could approach within gun range, despite Sage's flawless manners and long nose. I marked them down along the dam of the pond, and we got some good singles work. The wind took a toll on my shooting, but we did put a bird in the bag...a very small rooster bobwhite. That made the walk out seem a little shorter. So, one for eight so far, and Sage was hunting strong.

Spot number four has in the past held as many as three coveys. Unfotunately, a portion had been removed from the WIHA program, so we lost access to one, maybe two coveys that was usually found on the fringe. Sage ran again, and again, depite a thorough search, we found nothing. I was beginning to think the spring rains had taken a toll on my birds. Well, I was here, so I decided to hunt some new stuff across the road. I had never hunted it before for two reasons, 1) I never needed to, and 2) the bank of the road was very high and you couldn't see over it to examine the land. Silly, I know. But upon initial inspection it seemed potentially productive, a standing bean field meeting a picked corn field, with at least two tree-filled draws. We hunted all the way around, and on our final push back to the truck Sage went on point, then relocated 10 yards, and slammed into a (for him) very stylish point. The covey erupted straight up and headed over the trees. I managed a sluggish shot, and no birds dropped. I was beginning to feel the pressure of sliding into a shooting funk. We also failed to locate any singles, but the draw was thick with trees, underbrush, and thorns, so I didn't dwell on it too much.

I decided a relocation was in order. So I hustled an hour away to some other stuff I had hunted in the past; it was on my way to where I wanted to crash that night anyway. I picked an unlikely quarter section of cut milo and pulled in. I hadn't hunted it before as it was wheat stubble last year. I could see leaf-barren tips over the high center of the terraced field...a tree row bordering a milo field, which in my mind is quail paradise. It was Ike's turn, and deliver he would. In that half-mile of border, where trees and agriculture meet, Ike found and stood three healthy coveys of quail. The first came on his initial cast from one corner towards the other. Two hundred yards ahead the Astro called out what I believed to be an inevitability--Ike had found birds. After an attempt to fly directly up my nose (I missed two very close crossing shots) they glided to private CRP through the trees. At the end of the field where the milo gave way to harvested beans, Ike found covey number two, which we scattered into the milo and had some good singles work, and I took two birds for my freezer. I couldn't believe how far those birds were willing to run; Ike found one single more than 300 yards from the edge in the milo, he had run the whole way. I nearly stepped on one single and he flew back to near where we found the first covey, so I thought that would be a good training opportunity to further encourage Ike to run the edges in search of quail. He linked up with the edge beyond the single and made a nice cast backwards and went on point. Perhaps another single I missed? I stepped in and a dove flushed from heavy cover 15 yards ahead of his nose. I didn't think he pointed the dove, that's a long way. One more step and a single quail flushed, again too far from him. One more step and covey number three blew up, and I took a single going away.

Back at a friend's farm, I cleaned the birds and put them in a ziplock bag on a table outside. I knew the girls wouldn't want dead birds in their freezer, and it was cold enough. The next morning I discovered the family lab helped himself to my quail during the night. Dang.

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