Breaktime

You wouldn't build a house without mortar between the bricks...

And you shouldn't charge through the outdoors without taking a break, smelling the roses (or the wet dogs). Breaks are the mortar that hold a quail hunt together.

This is break time after a difficult march through a sprout-tangled covert on the back side of a north Missouri farm.

It's an old farm with a once-stately house gone to creepers and squirrels and groundhogs. No one has lived here for decades. The pump handle is disconnected and flops like a broken arm. A shutter hangs disconsolately by one rusty hinge.

It's a place to take a breather, reflect on what once was.

I'm at the edge of a green field of close-cropped grass. The sun shoves aside the early morning chill. I choose a soft-looking stump for a pillow and sprawl. The dogs putter around, finally realize it is break time and curl up for a quick nap.

I call them over and check for burrs in their armpits and weed shards in their eyes. No fence rips,

so everything is good. I serve each a packet of dog food and peel a granola bar for myself.

I clean my shooting glasses of sweat streaks and dust. Down the hill, a quail from a broken covey whistles to round up his flustered covey mates. The countryside is golden with dried grasses and fallen leaves.

I feel the looseness of my body after two hours of exercise. It's easier to call a break when you're by yourself; tougher when in a hunting party. No one wants to confess fatigue, but it isn't being wimpy to call a halt. It's an important part of the hunt.

I once had a poster which read, "Sometimes I sits and thinks ... and sometimes I just sits." That could have been designed for bird hunters.

Sometimes during a break, the landowner shows up to see how we're doing, and we get to hear about the health of his livestock and how well the crops did.

Breaks are always a good time to trot out stories. One hunter recalled being host to a church school group. "Took all those little kids to a neighbor's dairy barn," he says.

"They went running down the center aisle screaming and shouting and about halfway down, a cow lifted her tail and just coated one little kid from head to foot. You ever try to tell a five-year-old covered with cow manure that it'll