Reflections of a Quail Hunter

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One hunter's journey into the upland lifestyle

By Laura McIver

The stars aligned that morning. Don’t ask me how or why, but they did.

The bird hunter’s dream of a “picture perfect” point-flush-shoot-retrieve scenario. All 3 dogs were locked and frozen solid on a covey of bobwhites buried inside a messy clump of little bluestem and sand plum thickets alongside a creek buried deep inside an Oklahoma Wildlife Management Area (WMA). The trio of striking orange and white Brittanys working splendidly together, and it was Annie who found them first, with Liberty and her pup Sadie honoring her point beautifully. 

That kick of adrenaline kicked in as I moved in to flush the covey, swung my Browning White Lightening 20 gauge to the right as the bob juggernauted over the soggy creek and with one pull of the trigger nailed him. All 3 dogs shot out after the falling bird as the rest of the covey scattered skyward in every direction, with Liberty making it across the creek to retrieve my bird first. Wow. 

These are the moments we live for as a bird hunter, to watch our beloved bird dogs work the terrain weaving back and forth to catch just one whiff of the elusive wild bird scent cone. But truthfully, oh so rare when it plays out to being able to harvest a wild bobwhite quail after great dog work.
 

This perfect day was the second Sunday after Quail Season opened in Oklahoma. We decided to take advantage of the time to go quail hunting on public lands before quail season temporarily closed for Deer Gun Season and it turned out to be a dandy day with the ever so rare perfect scenario playing out right before our eyes. The elation and quiet gratification of man and dog choreographing in perfect harmony is indeed satisfying.

But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, I wish I could say that I started out bird hunting as a young adult following in the footsteps of my dad, grandfather or aunts and uncles. I didn’t.

I grew up living in a number of states (due to my dad’s work). But my most formative years were in Montana when I received a .30-30 Winchester lever action rifle for my 12th birthday. After taking and passing my hunter’s education class, my dad bought me a hunting license and started taking me deer hunting. At times, it would be squirrel or rabbit hunting. Not birds. No pheasant, quail, grouse, chukar, or any other wild bird upland hunting. In fact, I never hunted birds until 2003 after moving to Oklahoma from Southern California.

Quite frankly it wasn’t a time period that readily accepted, let along encouraged, women to hunt. In fact, I would never introduce a new bird hunter with some of the experiences that I experienced as a novice bird hunter. I’m not sure that today’s younger generations would put up with it either. It’s a completely different world today. 
 

Looking back, I still shake my head at some of the uncomfortable memories. Most memorable: The time I walked through thickets higher than my head as I held my gun thinking, “How in the world would there be birds in here and even if a covey flushed, how in the heck would I even shoot?” 

Or the number of extraordinarily long excursions of walking to find birds that meant massive, painful blisters until I figured out that moleskin was a hunting girl’s best friend in the field. Or the number of times I had to “prove” to the other male hunters joining us that I was perfectly capable of completing a hunt with no complaints, no holding anyone back, and if I missed a bird, to take the non-stop teasing. None of which exactly enamored me to the whole bird hunting experience. 

That is, until I fell in love with my bird dogs: appreciation watching them work a field, and ultimately learning how to teach them to do what you want them to do in the field: find, point, retrieve.

My next evolutionary step to becoming a passionate conservationist who loves bird hunting on public lands was to help form the first Quail Forever chapter in Oklahoma. Being a volunteer for 10 years before ever working for this awesome organization gave me a perspective and appreciation for the land, soil, prairies and native habitat. I’m hooked. Now it’s my turn to give back, invite, teach and share with newbies of why I bird hunt.

Our love of bird hunting, the traditions, the habitat, the future of the birds themselves are threatened if we don’t get more folks out to learn, appreciate and eventually have a passion for what you and I love about bird hunting. We must stretch out of our comfort zone, give up our honeyholes, and take those steps to getting more future bird hunters into the field. So, I encourage you – ask your friends, neighbors, co-workers, and acquaintances to experience bird hunting firsthand. After all, the future of quail depends on it. 

Laura McIver has been a lifelong enthusiast of outdoor-related activities including hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and backpacking, and an ardent conservation advocate. Living all over the United States has given her the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors from coast to coast, including Alaska and Hawaii. Her professional background has traditionally been in business management and marketing, with experience in marketing for several magazines, as well as a manager for the original Price Club, Costco, Studio Productions and other companies.

Since relocating to Oklahoma City in 2003, she has enjoyed those same outdoor passions and was a founding member of the Central Oklahoma Quail Forever chapter in 2005. Because of her work for habitat and conservation for upland birds, she was nominated as one of 6 nationwide finalists in Field & Stream’s Heroes of Conservation; along with being featured in several TV shows like The Outdoor Channel’s
The Flush and Steve Scott’s Outdoor Guide, along with being a 2017 NBCI Fire Bird Conservation Award Recipient. She came on board to work for Pheasants Forever / Quail Forever in 2014 and is the Oklahoma (previously also for Texas) Regional Representative working actively to improve upland habitat.