Friday, January 13, 2012

Damn Dog, Damn Quail, Damn Gun! : A Southern Virginia Quail Hunt

There are a lot of ways to hunt bobwhite quail in Virginia.  All are designed to exhaust either your legs, your dog, your wallet, or some combination of the three.  But each of those tribulations can teach you a lot about silence, solitude, and humility. Still a bit shifty from my overnight ride down the fall line, and our early duck hunt, Tug, Whitey and I rode out to a managed quail preserve on the Virginia - North Carolina border.

Now, to say this hunt did not go to plan just would not do justice to the debacle that unfolded.  But I'll get to that.

What I'll truly remember about this hunt is the near perfect silence.  Despite the close quarters with my two brothers, a noisy ass useless dog, that odd south wind, and the constant chatter of quail and other birds in the pines, what I remember is the sound of my own deliberate, slow breathing as my boots snapped through piles of quail cover, pine needles, and little branches. Looking to either side and seeing my brothers walk with me - the first time we've all spent outdoors together since March, 2011.  

Breathe in, breathe out.  Listen for wing beats.  Look for flushing birds.  Listen for the dog.  Watch the other hunters. Eyes open. Ears open. Mouth shut.

That silence was punctuated, rarely, by a deadly shot on a flying bird.  And we did kill several. More often, though, that quiet serenity was punctuated by our cursing, when the dog (a guide's dog, mind you) ran ahead of us and flushed quail at 100, then 200, then 250 yards. Or by our guide's explanation that "she's gonna do a partial retrieve on this one," and as if on command, the stupid dog spit out the quail 25 feet in front of me, and the dog stared at me as the quail hauled ass out of there, behind her, so I couldn't shoot.

After some chiding from the guide for missing shots on birds, finally Whitey asked me, "doesn't it seem like the dog is chasing the bird right after the flush, and running like 1 foot under the bird in the middle of our shooting lanes?"  And I laughed, because, yes, that's what was happening, and it was the reason I shot about a third of the ammo I usually do on this type of endeavor.   There is no way I'm accidentally shooting a dog.  Not gonna happen.

The hunt became an exercise in keeping my mouth shut, my temper in check, and trying to pay close attention to any possible wild birds that had not been spooked by the dumb ass dog. It was a good exercise.
Such a nice dog!  Useless.  But nice.

The dog refused to go in the briars, but
Tug wanted that bird.
It's been awhile since I complained about guides and guiding on the blog, but I've gotta tell you, when our guide stated, "Y'all's gonna be okay, because y'all's got tha attitude of true bud hunnahs, not a bunch of yankeh shootahs," I knew we were screwed.  I sighed and shook my head.  Insert other classic guide quotes like "I take you fishing - not catching" and "You're paying for the experience - not a bag limit."

If we were Yankee Shooters, could he have at least run out there and put some dumb farm raised quail around for us, instead of these busted up, mega-spooky wild birds that have obviously had some kind of past dust-up with the guide's busted ass bird dog?   Yeah - in that case I definitely want the Yankee Shooter package! 

Yankeh Shootah Package includes Pro Staff gear
and 100 deaf, blind quail

I mean, let's go double down on this Yankee Shooter thing. Perhaps our guide could have had pen-raised quail with tiny confederate flags bombard us with tiny cannons in our sleep, and then as they tried to retreat across a tiny quail bridge, we could have blown it up and slaughtered them mercilessly.  Our guide's dog could have played the role of General Sherman, just tearing through the whole damn setup and leveling it without doing any good in the process.

At any rate, when it was all said and done, it sure was a fun way to spend a balmy afternoon.  Loblollies, millet, sorghum, and acre upon acre of CREP buffers, funded by your support of the USDA Farm Bill.  Great bird habitat, and a great place to be, and ten times out of ten, I still wouldn't trade the experience.
Go, Dumbass, Go!


Alex said...

Well, at least you got some birds. Shame you had to pay for the guide though.

Seems all too often that the customer is the one who gets to pull the boat anchor up from 200ft, churn the chum, or in ya'll's case, retrieve your own bird. Then turn around and pay someone for allowing you to work.

Thanks for the laugh though. It's good to see I'm not the only one that this sort of thing happens to.

Tim Borkert said...

I’ve never had a monumentally successful guided fishing or hunting trip. I think they are often a disappointment because I get my hopes up too high. “I’m paying a ton of money, so my chances of killing something must be higher.” It’s never the case.

I do like using a guide. I usually learn a ton. If nothing else I usually learn that I’m as good of a hunter as the guide!

If you get a chance email me the name of the preserve. My dad loves bird hunting, but I can’t find a place around here to do it. I haven’t gone hunting with him in 14 years.

Kirk Mantay said...

Alex, the nature of "what you get" from a guide has changed a whole lot over the the last 30 years, unless you are willing to "pay up" - I've had some flat-out GREAT experiences with high end guides.

Tim - I'll email you the details and the name of the guide, to make sure you use someone else.

And my brothers and I have definitely learned over the last 10 years that (except in the case of the super high-end guides), we are just as good anglers and hunters as the guides, have as good or better gear, but might not have the same access to property that they do.

tugboatdude said...

It was close to home and it was a learning experience.I will go back again,but next time I will use someones dog I know.You figure if you have a bird guide,the dog would actually point and retrieve.Silly me for thinking my money would actually get us something

Kirk Mantay said...

It did! We had a great time and kill birds. It was a little bit of an expensive lesson on guides and guiding.

And next time we will go to Richmond for the "$600 hunt."

tugboatdude said...

Either that or use a friends dog and go at our own pace.

NH Wingshooter said...

Read's like the birds flew low. Are you sure he didn't set out birds that weren't flight trained and then tried to pass them off as wild?

The best guide I ever had was a friend who guided ten years before in Alaska. He taught me to cast a fly and could put me on fish. And the fee was just a few beers.

Kirk Mantay said...

NH, you nailed it. "Wild" is a very vague term in VA/MD/DE. Very few places (I can name them) have the acres and money required for habitat, good covey range, and true predator control that would make having truly wild birds a "sustainable venture."

From a biological standpoint, everything else is "not wild," but from a hunting standpoint, there's a range.

These were not dumb birds, as they immediately knew the dog was trouble, but you're right, at least half of the ones we busted out of cover flew very, very low. Some didn't, though. And while I don't know the age of the birds, there is a 0% chance that all of them or even most of them were born wild.

Steve Zakur said...

Over the years that I've used both hunting and fishing guides I've learned to set my expectations low. Fishing guides need to be able to row the boat and hunting guides need to be able to take me on a nice hike. Both have to have enough personality to make it modestly enjoyable and if we land some fish or bag some birds it's a bonus.

I hunted grouse once with a guide in upstate New York. He had two dogs, one was new. After about an hour of the "new" dog racing all over the place spooking birds and generally wasting our time I had to suggest that he head back to the truck and get his new dog. I wasn't paying for him to train a dog.

Sanders said...

I'm a horrible shot, and usually unload a lot of shells...but it's hard to pull the trigger with a dog like that...can't do it

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