First Bird!

You may follow blogs written by experts, sharing helpful information to increase a particular competency you aspire to master.

This is not that blog.

This is a blog written by a nincompoop, with no skills or insights about hunting or dogs.  This is a selfish blog.  My goal is for people to read it, be mildly amused by my incompetence, and then offer advice on how to do things more sensibly.   Thus spoke Rookiebird.

This first entry relates my first quail hunt of the season, which was Pup’s first real hunting experience, and the random thoughts that occurred to me while out walking the Earth like Cane.

I live in Sacramento, and I can “get into birds” within the hour in the Coastal Range.  As usual I was accompanied on this hunt by another experience-challenged quail hunter, who specializes in shooting at birds that aren’t quail.  We’ll call him “Yankee”.

The first place we went was along a creek in a wilderness area.  This is a place I hunted last year with success (one bird taken over 4 trips) with plenty of birds to be found, if you worked for them.  The terrain is hilly and not the casual gentlemanly walk some folks think of when conjuring quail hunting, which is why I like it.

Two weeks prior I had gone scouting along the creek before the season opened with my sons and nephew, and literally we busted two good-sized coveys not 100 yards from the car.  Within the next mile we busted two more big coveys.  Opening day held great promise.

The night before opening day I eagerly pulled together my gear, re-checking zips and clothing in my backpack– I’m sure you know the feeling!  I got 4 hours of sleep but that was enough because the adrenaline was pumping.  I packed the dog, kissed the wife, and pulled out before dawn.

Yankee and I coffeed up and talked excitedly on the drive about hunting strategies, and caught up on life in general.  Pup detected our excitement and was crawling through the car, barking at birds he saw out the window.

We arrived with wisps of fog being torn by the hills, with elk barely visible along the way, like ghosts posted to welcome us back to the kingdom wilderness.  We tugged on our gloves, strapped up the packs, let Pup relieve himself, and chambered.  We crept down to an overlook that framed the creek, scoped, and began our descent into the rocks and reeds.

Readers you will not be surprised to learn we heard not a peep from a quail in the 5 hours we spent along that creek opening day.  Despite being the first ones on that creek, we saw not a feather.  I was astounded.  I swore to Yankee I had seen quail in good numbers just two weeks before.  I’m not sure he believed me.

After one last pass we decided to hit another area we had hunted previously, although it was a bit of a drive away.  It was a good decision.

Fifteen minutes later we were parked, and in opening car doors we heard the name of the City of Big Shoulders called out in the brush above.  Down below the car was a meadow with a trickle of water, closed around by a steep pitch of hills on three sides, one of them being a highway berm.  Yankee walked towards a group of manzanita and pine that emptied the stream running through the meadow, and I took the side closest to the berm 100 yards away.

We could not see anything but sparrows dancing around the meadow as we walked down.  Pup and I hit some high reeds (I wish I knew the species) as we got closer to the bottom of the meadow.  Pup was porpoising through the reeds, leaping high to push through the vegetation, when the sharp WHOMPING of a dozen quail popped out of these high reeds 10 feet in front of us.  I was caught totally unawares– I had read that quail do not like high vegetation, and did not expect them to be in  chest-high grass.

They flew towards the berm and I hesitated, as I did not want to shoot towards the highway.  As they turned and swept lower I took a shot– missed.  But that shot prompted several other quail to jump from the reeds, and these took a more direct route up the hill to the woods on my left, away from the highway berm.  I tracked one, pulled the trigger, it tumbled in air and fell.

I looked around quickly, waiting for more to bolt over the next few seconds.  Nothing.  Not wanting the downed quail to crawl somewhere I couldn’t find it, I started up the hill towards where it went down.  There was a barbed wire fence between us; I hadn’t even seen it, buried as it was in the tall grass.

Pup was jumping at me.  While the birds were flying I was focused on the quail, and hadn’t noticed how he reacted.  With him jumping at me I now realized he was a little scared.  He hadn’t detected the quail, and their quick jump and my shots caught him off-guard.

I quickly gave him some treats from my pocket (trying to create positive association), and then encouraged him to get through the fence so we could track down that bird.

The quail was right where I’d seen it go down, eyes closed, dead, and warm.  I called to Pup, encouraging him to sniff the ground to find the bird.

He sniffed, nosed, and mouthed the bird softly, picked it up and immediately started waggling his entire rear end, with his tail cantilevering the other way.  Pride in a puppy is not hard to interpret.

I took a photo of him with bird in mouth, and he released the bird to me without a fuss.  Success.

The quail was a female, and heavier than the bird I got last year.  Beautiful and speckled on the breast, I marveled over the intricate design and structure of its feathers and wings.  Imagine killing such a perfect thing.

We eat.  We live.  We must have things die so we can live.  My sons and I ate the bird that night after plucking and gutting it, again marveling over its intricate machined insides.

That was the only bird we got that day.  Yankee was skunked and Pup was bone-tired.

On the drive back I pondered many things.  As a big game hunter for some time now, I’ve had those internal conversations probing the morality of hunting, those questions Ortega y Gassett played with.

I’ve gotten to the point where there is no self-incrimination, but only questions thrown about in the mind.  I figure if I stop asking them I should stop hunting.

Other questions, though, about strategy and training will be prosecuted.  I’ll need to continue better acclimating Pup to the shotgun blast.  Also, should I focus on locking in his pointing first, and then start training retrieval (he’s naturally doing a bit of both now)?  Is it possible to work on them both without one coming at the expense of the other?  If you have answers, I’m anxious to hear them!

Until then, more questions and more adventures, in the next episode of… Rookiebird!

Thanks for reading!

Pup's first bird!

Pup’s first bird!

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Across Misty Mountain hops.

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Pup is ready!

The cleaned bird and the shot that got'em.  Anybody know what plant those seeds are from?

The cleaned bird and the shot that got’em. Anybody know what plant those seeds are from?

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