My three pointers, Scout, Sal and Schug, were locked on quail. The moment before hunters press the birds to flush is magical. To me, there’s nothing like the explosive escape of bobwhites. I hoped my sons-in-law, Shane and Jeremy, would feel the same.
“Shane, get ready,” I whispered. “The birds could explode into the air any moment. Keep the safety on until you’re ready to shoot at a bird.”
Although my dogs didn’t know it, their performance this day was helping to pave the way for another generation of hunting.
A decade earlier a previous generation of hunting dogs had led my daughters, Camela and Susanna, on their first hunting trip. Sandy, my wife, was pleased because it freed her from having to go on such adventures anymore.
Of the three women in my life, Camela liked hunting most. She hunted with me for bobwhites, pheasants and prairie chickens. She even developed notoriety as a hunter, appearing on television and in print. As a dad and a hunter, I was pleased that she was carrying on our hunting tradition.
Somewhere among her experiences, college, living in Chicago skyscrapers and moving among several states, however, she gave up hunting. I was disappointed. There’s nothing worse than losing a hunting buddy, especially one who represents the future.
I did convince her to hunt one more time in 2001. That was when her picture was on the cover of the 2001 Missouri Hunting & Trapping Regulations booklet. Given that unusual circumstance, she agreed to hunt one more time. Her sister also decided to go, and we all headed to a shooting preserve.
Susanna carried her gun, but she never loaded it. Camela killed a pheasant and practically cried at the sight of seeing it dead. I figured it was time for stubborn old dad to close the chapter in the book, Passing on a Family Quail Hunting Tradition.
My hopes revived as our family grew. Susanna married Jeremy, Camela married Shane, and children—Austin, Makenna and Zealand—followed. I was hopeful I could rekindle the hunting tradition passed on to me by my dad.
Quail hunting, however, is not an easy sport for beginners. It is best practiced with trained dogs, and shooting quail takes skill. Shane needed more training because he’d never fired a shotgun. After a couple of hours at the shooting range, he was repeatedly powdering the clay pigeons. Jeremy had recently bought his own shotgun and had a fair amount of confidence in his aim.
The next step was getting the guys into birds. I believed that if Jeremy and Shane experienced the thrill of following dogs on the trail of wild quail and, perhaps, shooting a few, they would be as hooked on quail hunting as I am.
As the Conservation Department’s quail biologist, I know plenty of good quail hunting places, many on conservation areas. I was fortunate, however, in that I was one of the winners in the Department’s annual lottery for special quail hunts on the Dan and Maureen Cover Prairie Conservation Area, which is near Koshkonong, south of West Plains.
The late Dan Cover created a 745-acre quail haven that he and his wife, Maureen, donated to the Conservation Department in 1999. Dan had encouraged the Department to create opportunities like the special quail hunts for the public to enjoy one of the best pieces of quail real estate in Missouri.
After my name was drawn, I was allowed to pick one day for hunting. I chose Jan. 2. That’s the day we were all in the field with the dogs on point.
As we waded slowly into the native grass, a single bird erupted. The dogs lunged forward, and the boys raised their shotguns. Jeremy, with lightning-fast reflexes, shot twice as the bird rocketed out of sight into the brush. Shane never got his gun fully mounted. He said the flushing bird took him totally by surprise. I guess it would have been nearly miraculous if he would have taken the first quail he’d ever flushed.
Although neither Shane nor Jeremy downed any birds, we had a great day in the field. We averaged a covey every 1.5 hours, plus a pointed turkey that gave us all a surprise. It was enough to implant the quail hunting bug in both of them.
Jeremy later told me that he liked bird hunting better than deer hunting because he didn’t have to sit around and wait for the game to come to him. Shane said he also planned to include quail hunting in his future and to introduce his children to the sport.
Those were just the kind of reactions I was hoping for! More importantly, Jeremy’s 4-year-old son, Austin, asked if he could go quail hunting.
With these new recruits, I’m fairly certain our family quail hunting tradition will continue. Year after year, I’ll be out in the fields with my sons-in-law and grandchildren. We’ll cover lots of miles toting shotguns behind the dogs, and we’ll certainly harvest more than a few quail.
We’ll make memories, have fun and spend lots of time together outdoors. Although it’s a lot of effort, creating a family quail hunting tradition in Missouri doesn’t really seem like work at all.
Many Missouri conservation areas have excellent habitat and lots of quail. When I’m planning a family quail hunt, I look for areas where hunting pressure is light. Quail become more difficult to find and flush as they experience more hunting pressure.
I have studied quail outfitted with radio transmitters and watched as hunters and their dogs walked right past them. Some quail hold tight in heavy grass, some run at the sound of approaching dogs or hunters, and some head deep into woody thickets that dogs seldom penetrate. Other birds flush “wild” as soon as they sense danger, and the hunters miss all the action.
It’s not impossible to harvest quail on heavily hunted areas, it just takes a little more time—and different strategies—to locate coveys.
For information about quail hunting in your area, call your regional office at the phone number listed on this magazine’s “Contents” page or visit the Conservation Department’s Web site at www.missouriconservation.org.
Each October, the Ozark Regional Office conducts a drawing for 18 hunts on the Dan and Maureen Cover Prairie Conservation Area. Each hunt is limited to four hunters, and the total bag limit is four quail. Call (417) 256-7161 for more information.
Editor in Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair
Art Director - Cliff White
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Writer/editor - Tom Cwynar
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Designer - Susan Fine
Circulation - Laura Scheuler