ground and made frequent stops to search methodically with her nose, my spine tingled. This movement told us that she was close to birds. When she came to a screeching halt, Dad would order her to "Whoa," to keep her from busting the covey.
My job was to kick the brush in front of Bell. As Dad continued to keep the dog on point, I stepped forward to flush the quail hiding in the brush. My first kick produced nothing, but when I turned to kick another spot, a rush of wing beats exploded as 20 or more birds took to the air.
Dad fired both barrels and downed two birds. I kept an eye on the rest of the birds and watched them fly toward the end of the fence row and land near some hedge trees. Dad told me to mark the spot, so we could follow them after Bell retrieved the dead birds.
Dad took two more quail from that covey and another two from another covey later that afternoon. He always told me never to overpursue one covey and to try to shoot roosters, because killing hens was like killing a clutch. Dad said he always tried to pick out the black and white striped heads of roosters as a covey rose. At my age and ever since, this has made all the sense in the world.
My dad and I watched the setting sun paint the sky over the McNabb farm with shades of red, orange, pink and purple. We sat and listened to the quail calling out to others who had been separated from the covey. The lost birds would return a call of "bob-white" as they regrouped.
"Quail need each other," Dad said. "They depend on one another to survive." He told me how the warmth of several quail together kept the covey from freezing overnight in cold temperatures. "That's teamwork, Son," he said. "It's like family taking care of family."
Bell sat next to us, licking her paws, which the miles of ground she had covered had made tender. Later we would feed her well and tend to her scratches and cuts.
I looked closely at one of the birds Dad had shot and was amazed by the colors that allowed it to blend perfectly with its natural surroundings. Dad would clean and dress the birds when we got home, and I would have bet my piggybank that these quail would be on the family dinner table Thanksgiving Day.
Bell died before I was old enough to hunt quail behind her, but my dad and I shared many other hunts behind other bird dogs. That special day, however, stands out. Whatever else happened in the world in 1974, my memories of that year will always be of our Thanksgiving quail hunt.
I thank that hunt and similar ones for instilling values in me that would shape my future. The days spent with my father and Bell in the field and the early exposure to hunting and conservation launched me into a career as a conservation agent. I now believe that in the performance of my duties I am helping ensure that other families can grow closer together and build their own treasure of outdoor memories.