15-acre woods that borders to the west, which was logged heavily three or four years ago. The woods floor is a tangle of downed and decaying treetops, overgrown with weeds— a perfect place for quail to hide and find food. It’s so thick I’ve found no way to walk through it.
A draw, more than 40 yards wide and grown up in trees and thick brush, splits the cornfield on the east side and offers another place for quail to find refuge. An overgrown fencerow forms the border of the property to the south. Though my dogs have pointed the big covey in this area several times, I’ve only managed to take two quail out of it. We cover the ground carefully but find no quail—not even tracks. I do find one fresh roost—a circular pile of quail droppings at the edge of the draw. My guess is the covey is in the woodlot that’s too thick to walk through.
I put the dogs at heel, and Mark and I cross the statehighway to hunt another promising section of the farm. As we walk, we comment how people who know little about hunting often assume that it is easy. Hunters know better. The quail we are hunting today are masters of survival. They face the threat of predation 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and they are highly skilled at avoiding being killed and eaten.
So far today, Mark and I have walked for more than two hours, with mature dogs that have been specifically trained to find quail, over ground that I know holds quail, and we’ve seen not one. Even if we find quail at this last spot, bagging a few is anything but guaranteed. Quail flush with tremendous speed and often quickly get brush between them and hunters. Cooper’s hawks—masters at hunting birds—don’t kill every quail they chase. And we don’t hit every quail we shoot at.
This last spot offers two cut soybean fields with several thickets and a railroad track on the east side flanked by trees and thick brush. At the north edge of one of the bean fields, I finally find fresh quail tracks in the snow. The tracks wander here and there, not far from the thicket, and I can see where, in search of beans, the quail picked at stubble. I whistle the dogs in and tell them “birds!” They put their noses to the ground, then head to the thicket and hunt thoroughly—with no luck. Where did these birds go? I look at my watch. It’s closing in on noon and time to head home.
Again, I walk the dogs at heel as we cross the highway on the way back to my truck. As a last effort, I let the dogs run through the north woods patch that they just edged at the beginning of the hunt. They find no quail.
Back home I kennel and feed my dogs, then warm up leftover lasagna and rolls. I mix up a little coleslaw, and Mark and I enjoy these along with strawberry-rhubarb pie for dessert. As we eat and chat we review the hunt.
What a morning! It would have been nice to bring home a few quail. But, hey, we were outdoors on a crisp winter day, and it’s not over. Tomorrow, Mark and I will hunt ducks at Ten Mile Pond Conservation Area. The next day, the last day of quail season, we plan to quail hunt in Scott County with another good friend—making the most of every moment as we live and enjoy the challenge of the hunt.