I am certainly at the beginning stages of learning to be an effective quail hunter so I am not qualified to talk on the subject in terms of instruction. I do feel however that I have a pretty good understanding why we enjoy doing it so much and how that ties directly to the type of fishing most of my clients want to do.
In late November I had a good friend and client in my boat with me, we caught tons of fish on a spinning rod, enough that we broke my personal record in my boat that day in around 3 hours. We then fished in early December and were only interested in sight casting with the fly. Both of these days were a blast, the first ended with him sending pictures to his son and a buddy telling them the crazy numbers of redfish we were catching and the other ended with me getting one of the best compliments I have ever gotten as a guide from a guy that wouldn’t waste time complimenting unless he really meant it.
The following day he had invited me to come on a quail hunt with him and two others at Turkey Hill Plantation in Ridgeland, SC. For those of you who have not been on a quail hunt the basic outline is as follows:
1. Stand around and rib each other and talk about whatever things come to mind over a cup of coffee. (Examples of this I can remember range from things like, “your barrel here looks a little bent to the left” to someone telling a history lesson of Robert LeRoy Parker aka Butch Cassidy.)
2. Listen to safety procedures no matter how many times you have heard them. If for no other reason than to make the guy to your left more comfortable that you will not accidentally shoot him.
3. Grab all your gear, put on your blaze orange hat and vest and head to the meeting point where you will leave in a wagon, on a horse, or on foot to hunt.
4. Dogs are released to find the birds and everyone sets off for the hunt.
5. As you travel along more ribbing, storytelling, and other talk will ensue. The fact here is that you will learn a lot from your fellow hunters, and herein lies the first reason we love to go do this so much.
6. Dog(s) point and two of the hunters grab their respective gun as one heads to one side of the point and the other to the other side of the point, flanking the dog.
7. The guide (if there is one) in the middle moves forward with the two hunters walking just ahead of his pace.
8. The birds flush…
I was watching from the wagon while two of the other hunters were just at that point of the birds starting to flush and as one of them mounted his gun my mind went to something that happened on that fishing trip the day before… A shot, as we poled down a flat, popped up. My angler had done his part to get ready; he had line lying in the bottom of the boat stacked in the correct way and was waiting for instruction from me. A bulge in the water raised ever so slightly, the type that shows up just before fish spook and close the door to the shot we momentarily had. Without question of if he saw it or if he was ready I said, 9 o’clock, forty feet NOW, he made one back cast and laid it out perfect. By the time his left hand went to strip the fly he was already hooked in. We went on to get many more shots some we missed and 6 we capitalized on. None of the other shots were as exciting as that first one though.
The next thing I remember I was one of the two hunters up moving forward. “Bird, left” I hear from the guide as I see a single bird come from over my left shoulder and move out in front of me. Already about to close the door on my shot that I momentarily had…I cover him up and pull, he collapses and falls. I had plenty of other shots, most of which I missed, but all of which will keep me wanting one more redemption shot. Herein lies reason number 2, and it is a huge one, for why we hunt quail (as well as want to sight cast to fish).
9. A dog heads in to find and pick up the downed bird(s). This completes reason number three, watching the dogs locate and point birds and then getting to watch a little bolt of lighting zip around through the brush to locate something there isn’t a chance in hell any human is going to find; it feels like an honor for being witness to such a dramatic show.
The shot, the chance, the moment…where a certain amount of skill is required to capitalize before it is too late is like a drug to many of us. Add in the comradery, and the power of nature like those dogs or a tailing tide and it is easy to understand why so many great memories stem from these experiences.