Mosby: Quail hunting just a memory

For many of us, just thinking about the two fellows rafting down the Arkansas River brings some thoughts of “wish I could do that.”

Yeah, this writer is in line with such thinking. Daydreaming is more accurate.

Wandering without schedules is a fantasy, but we would like to try it for a while. We would also like to get in a car and just drive, stopping when and where the urge strikes us.

But would we ditch the cell phone, forget the laptop? Joe and Jarad, those two rafters, did not. They may have similarities to Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer of fiction a century and a half ago, but the present-day rafters make arrangements for some modern conveniences — phones and computers.

How long do you think most of us would enjoy such a rafting event? Two days? Maybe.

Sliding from this topic of river rafting into today’s hunting, we wonder how many of us would like to return to the alleged good old days of hunting.

In a campfire discussion or coffee shop conversation about hunting, somebody almost invariable says something to the effect that hunting is just not like it was way back when. And the reliable statistics sharply dispute this claim. Hunting today is better for almost every species than it was in the past.

Quail hunting is the obvious exception. Quail are not with us anywhere near the extent they were 50, 60, 70 or more years ago. Unless you are long in the tooth, you cannot fathom that quail hunting was once the elite of such pursuits. It ranked well ahead of deer hunting, duck hunting and turkey hunting.

In some circles, a quail hunt was a festive occasion, and coveted were invitations to go on a quail hunt at Mr. Bill’s Place or some such. You worked with a set of unwritten but understood rules in quail hunting.

Quail hunting meant the use of bird dogs. Yes, you could go after bobwhites without dogs, but this was akin to playing a round of golf with just a 5 iron. You were limited. The host ordinarily supplied the dogs on a quail hunt. Occasionally, the host could invite someone to “bring along your pointer pup,” but the young dog was expected to “honor the point” or an older dog, meaning to freeze in place when the older dog found quail.

Most quail hunting was done on foot — but not always. In some instances, hunters rode horses then dismounted to get into shooting position when a dog pointed quail. Less frequent was quail hunting from wagons that were horse or mule drawn or tractor drawn. Same game plan. Hunters got off the wagons and moved into shooting position when quail were found.

When a dog pointed a covey of quail, one hunter would walk forward to flush the birds on the ground into flight — the covey rise. This is a special moment to many hunters, a moment that is a thrill even when recalled years later, a heart-in-the-throat moment.

Nearly all hosts of quail hunts had a rule, unspoken, that you “did not shoot out a covey.”

This meant that the hunters could take several birds from a covey but to leave plenty for the next time and for reproduction. After the covey flush, singles would be hunted until the unwritten number had been reached. Then the hunters would move on to seek other quail.

Changing use of land that resulted in loss of habitat sent quail into a nosedive several decades back, and intensive efforts by wildlife managers have not been able to reverse this trend.

There are a few spots in Arkansas where wild quail are cultivated and monitored, but not many. Shooting preserves offer pen-raised quail for paying customers to hunt. Usually, these customers are middle-aged or elderly people who remember the good ol’ days of quail hunting.

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