Quail Hunting Without Dogs

My father hunted birds from horseback with English pointers in the rural Mississippi Delta in the years before the Second World War. "Birds" were quail. I suppose that no other upland species was as sought after or deserving of the generic term "bird."That was in the days when quail were larger, flew straighter and never entertained the notion of landing in a tree or on a wire. My father always had bird dogs then. It's hard to find a family photo from that period that doesn't include at least some portion of one or more liver-spotted pointers.

By the time I came along we were a post-war suburban family living in a small house on a small lot surrounded by hundreds of other small houses on small lots. We never had bird dogs. I think that my father had given up the idea of doing much hunting when he moved to the city, and he didn't like the idea of keeping dogs confined.

We were lucky to have a place to hunt and fish on a friend's 100 acres. On our frequent Saturday trips, my father usually fished, even during the winter; but I would switch over to hunting each fall. I learned to wing-shoot by breaking clay pigeons that he threw with a hand trap inherited from my uncle. The only problem with applying that to quail hunting was that the pigeons decelerated while the quail accelerated, and the pigeons never once dodged a tree. I blame the latter shortcoming for the fact that I still hit more tree trunks and branches in the woods than I do quail.

But I got where I could occasionally bag a few birds from the couple of coveys that stayed on that hundred acres of pasture and woodland. I wasn't so single-minded then, pursuing squirrels, rabbits, and quail all at the same time. This slow-moving, quiet, stalking type of hunting taught me that I could occasionally find quail before they exploded from under my feet.

I learned to listen for the soft crunching sound of coveys moving through dry leaves, for those peeping alarm cries when they sensed my presence and for the distant covey rise that I wouldn't hear at all if I was making too much noise.

I shot few quail in those days but, nevertheless, I developed a love for the bird, its habits and its flavor. Since then I've continued to hunt mostly without