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Winding 'er Up

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Published on: Jan. 2, 1997

to fly quicker and be out of range faster than the complacent birds of the lush years. There is a covey roar and all of a sudden the hunters stand in silence, wondering where everybody went.

I didn't fire a shot at one covey, dutifully pointed by three dogs in a thin screen of brush, flanked by open pasture.

Now, this was at the end of a long, long day and I was tired and didn't react with the reflexes that let me survive burnout baseball as a kid (in burnout you stand 20 feet apart and throw a baseball back and forth as hard as you can - miss one and your nose will look like a fried egg covered with salsa).

The dogs patiently waited for me to stumble up. I knew the birds were in the brush and would flush to the far side, but I couldn't be on both sides of the brush patch at once. I walked in obliquely, hoping to flush them parallel with the brush so perhaps a few would fly out on my side.

The covey went up in a confusion of crossing birds. I'd pick a bird and it would flicker through the screen of trees or cross paths with another bird. I waved the gun barrel back and forth as if conducting a symphony composed by a kindergarten class.

Finally there was deep silence and I removed my finger from the unused trigger.

Some quail bury themselves in the far reaches of hunting areas where they aren't discovered. But the reaches have to be far indeed to be out of touch for me. I inherited an oversupply of the Vance family trait, stubbornness, and always figure it isn't over until it's over.

Quail hunting tends to be self-limiting. All but the hard-core hunters quit the field for the couch long before the season ends. I hunted four days in early January on a popular public area. Those also were the four days I didn't see a quail in the bag. I was missing half the equation as a hunter gatherer.

Missouri suffered through a lousy 1993 nesting season. Heavy rains coincided with the season's peak hatch and that is disastrous to little birds. I hunted one area where, on a memorable hunt several years before, I'd found ten coveys. This time I found only one, naturally at the far end of the hunting orbit.

I killed one bird on

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