My First Wild Quail
On The Shoulders Of Giants With Andrew Curtis
Andrew Curtis | February 11, 2023
I have never read a description that fully conveys the feeling of witnessing a covey rise. How can anyone accurately describe such a scene? You must be present in the moment. It’s a feeling that should be experienced. The tense muscles as you quietly approach the thick cover. The pulse in your finger as it hovers over the safety. Your straining eyes trying to pick out the invisible birds. The quietness….
Then the explosion of wings into a world of chaos. Flapping feathers go every direction. You subconsciously flip the safety off, shoulder the gun and attempt to line up a darting bird. As you settle the barrel on one, another cuts across your line of sight. The temptation proves too great, and you swing wider to get a crack at the new target. You shoot once… twice… and no bird falls. The heart in your chest is thumping so hard that you can feel it in your ears.
That’s how most of my wild quail hunts go. I have to admit that I have not shot all the misses out of my gun yet. One thing I can do pretty well, probably better than most… is miss a quail!
I remember so vividly my first wild quail that I “killed.” It wasn’t that long ago. There were many coveys flushed before I got to hold my very own wild kill. My father-in-law, who loves quail hunting and dog training, took me to his property in Lax, Georgia and reported to me with high expectations that he knew for certain where a covey would be.
As I followed him, shotgun over my shoulder, through a very clean stand of longleaf pines, I shook my head to myself, thinking that there was not one bit of ground cover out there. Then we came to a half-acre spot of volunteer millet growing amongst a clump of fallen chinaberry trees completely surrounded by these open pines. We didn’t even have a dog with us. I must admit that my expectations were not high.
“You ready?” My father-in-law questioned me in a whisper. “Let’s just ease slowly forward. They are in there.”
I strained to see anything that looked like a quail but to no avail. I had my doubts that there were any quail at all. Even though I thought I was ready, I was not. The calm, quiet world in front of me changed in an instant as 20 fully charged wild quail burst forth from their cover and scattered toward the pines.
My over and under fired twice at the mass of birds. Not a feather was cut. My father-in-law was laughing. I looked over and asked, “Did you shoot, too?”
“I sure did. And I made the most common mistake a quail hunter could make… I tried to kill the whole covey in two shots.” He grinned, “You have to kill one before you can kill two.”
I shook my head in disbelief that we did not kill a single quail, but then my father-in-law motioned with his hand. “Come this way. I saw several go down in those young pines way over there.”
Following obediently, still unbelieving that I had missed, I replayed the scene in my head. I repeated to myself what I had just been told: “You have to kill one before you can kill two.” I made up my mind that I would pick out ONE bird only and ignore the rest, if multiple should get up.
Easing slowly along on the other end of the clean pines where the briars entwined with the thick brush, I suddenly heard the desperate beating of wings as a lone quail erupted from the cover. I shouldered my gun, put the barrel on the fleeing bird and pulled the trigger. Puff… a cloud of feathers and the quail fell dead.
“I got him! I got him! I got my first wild quail!” I screamed as I ran to the spot of the fallen bird. I searched the briars by a clump of young chinaberry trees that I had visually marked near the spot I last saw the quail plummet. I found it right where I thought. Picking up my prize, I peered over my shoulder at my father-in-law who grinned back at me with an amused expression.
“Boy, I sure am proud of this quail,” I said as I ejected the spent shell from my gun. I picked up the shell and admired it. “I’m going to save this as a souvenir for my first wild quail.” My smile widened from ear to ear.
Then I heard it.
I looked up at the sound that froze my celebration. An empty shotgun shell from my father-in-law’s gun ejected and summersaulted to the ground. I had never even heard his shot.
“So… so… you also shot?” I asked meekly, my self-confidence draining.
He grinned. Then he laughed and said “Don’t worry… I’m sure you hit that quail, too!”
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