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Winding 'er Up

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Published on: Jan. 2, 1997

I gave it up four days before the quail season ended. I came home after the fourth straight hunt where I hadn't fired a shot.

I wrote in my diary that the season was over, that I'd gotten the message, that if they didn't want me to find them or shoot them, I understood.

I cleaned the gun and stuck it away, a light coat of oil protecting it from the rust that never sleeps. I explained to the dogs (who have a calendar tacked up inside the doghouses so they know when Jan. 15 comes as well as I do) that we'd been dealt a bum hand and were folding it.

It wasn't a popular decision. The dogs looked at me as if I were threatening to sell them to people who play golf for an outdoor experience. Quit before the last day? Had I gone mad? Grown old? Metamorphosed into a dude?

"You gotta know when to fold 'em," I sang. They milled uneasily in the kennel and looked at each other. They already knew I was crazy, else why would I spend five or six hours walking through sleet storms to bring home a couple of eight-ounce birds?

But that was understandable madness. Not walking in the sleet storm was incomprehensible.

However, when Dave Mackey, Spence Turner and I spent two days in my favorite north Missouri county, which ranks among the best quail hunting counties in the state, we found eight coveys...and killed just one bird, I knew there was something seriously wrong.

Some of it was bad shooting, especially in my case, but Mackey and Spence tend to hit what they shoot at. Quail in a bum season do abnormal things.

Lay it to genetic impulse, the survival of the species. Lay it to gremlins or exotic curses. Lay it to the kind of luck that they sing about on TV: "If it wasn't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all."

As far as I know there are no studies on what keeps quail from vanishing entirely when things are tough. Maybe quail really don't change their habits but there simply are so few of them that hunters relax, lose their edge and miss the few chances they get.

When things are good, perhaps hunters unconsciously improve their shooting, taking easy shots rather than firing frustration salutes at birds already out of range or flying at tough angles.

It's probably imagination, but bad-season birds seem

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