Hunting,Hunting & Heritage  |  11/14/2016

Becoming a Quail Hunter

Growing up as a kid in Minnesota, wild quail hunting wasn’t even on my radar. My fall hunting seasons transitioned from grouse to ducks to pheasants to deer. There wasn’t room for anything more. Of course that’s before I knew how much I’d love quail hunting.
I have always been interested in the quail culture and the various ways people hunt these crafty birds across our country’s south and west. From the plantations of the southeast to the arid landscape of the southwest, the diverse landscape I’d seen in photos often reminded me of the wide range of duck hunting regions, cultures, and tactics used from the potholes of North Dakota to the flooded timber of Arkansas. The culture and history of quail and duck hunting share that commonality in their traditions being passed down from generations.
Heading south from Minnesota for the Rooster Road Trip, my anticipation began to build as Minnesota’s cattails gave way to Iowa’s CRP fields which were soon replaced by the rolling hills of Kansas and Oklahoma. I think Bob, my car pooling partner, could tell I was jittery with excitement as each mile took us further south. I talked his ear off with questions about what to expect, quail habitat, dog work, picking a bird out of a covey on the rise. He explained how deceptively hard these birds can be, especially at first. I would soon find out for myself. 
As I awoke to a cool crisp morning of my first hunt, I was trembling with excitement. We met up with Laura McIver, James Dietsch, and their Brittany “Libby.” This morning we were running all pointers, which was in and of itself something very different from my Labrador retriever roots. Once the hunt was underway, we weren’t very far along when Bob and his shorthair “Esky” encountered the first covey of the trip. I was a good distance away, but I could still tell how lightning fast these birds were as they exploded from the cover away from our group. From a distance, I watched Bob pull up and a bird fall and then the delayed sound of a gunshot returned to my ears. I then heard Laura yelling “quail coming at you. I have to admit that I froze. I was vapor-locked into amazement as I watched this hockey puck-sized bird cruising by me like an Ovechkin slap shot.  I thought to myself, “there was my chance and I didn’t even shoot.” Kicking myself about it, I trudged on thru the sage and plum thickets hoping for another opportunity.
About half an hour later and watching others from the party on the far end get some action, I crested the top of a hill. The view was absolutely breath-taking. The sheer size and expansiveness of the tough arid country was spectacular. I stopped and thought to myself, “I need to remember this moment. Right now. I am standing in God’s country. Watching my friends and colleagues below doing what we love, on land anyone can hunt.”  It was one of those moments that I felt part of something larger than myself. A very humbling feeling and a memory I’ll take with me forever. 
Snapping out of my moment I realized I needed to stay with the group. At about this time Bob’s bird dog Esky had made her way from the far end up to me. I proceeded off my perch on top the hill. That’s when Esky dropped her head and her little docked tail wagged back-and-forth so fast that her entire rump shook with excitement.
I yelled over to Bob, “I think she’s on something.” The wind was in her favor and she began to air track the scent. A few more yards and she locked up into a staunch point. I approached and BOOM! A covey exploded around me. I raised my Browning 725 feather and picked out a bird amidst the chaos. I gave it a generous lead and squeezed the trigger. To my delight, the bobwhite crumpled in flight. On my right, Jared Wiklund yelled “great shot!  Those birds were moving pretty good.” 
Esky went over to where the bird’s flight ended and began to search. She emerged with a male bobwhite and delivered it to Bob who handed it to me. With the bird held high and an ear-to-ear grin, I walked down off the hill where the entire group congratulated me on a hard shot.
As the miles on this year’s Rooster Road Trip bring me closer to home, that memory of my first quail – every sequence of the point, the flush, the shot, and my delight – keeps me smiling. Now I know why so many people are in love with these little birds and the places where they live across this country’s south and west. Now I know, because now I am one of them. I am now a quail hunter.
- Josh Dahlstrom, Rooster Road Trip 2016
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