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Today is November 21, 2017

Outdoors

Life’s changes and the coming of autumn

Life’s changes and the coming of autumn

Tony Kinton, right, with Wayne Hill of Bouie Creek Quail Farm. Photo: Mike Davis

My life changed in 1962. News headlines flickered across black-and-white TV screens, announcing high-profile events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the death of Marilyn Monroe. And as it turned out, Robert Frost wrote his last poem that year, “In the Clearing.” He died in ’63. There were a great many other episodes of tremendous importance demanding discussion. And though I was aware of these, few fully grabbed the attention of a 14-year-old country boy whose sheltered world consisted of a ragged farm, a rural school, a small church and an incalculable list of dreams that were seldom appreciated or entertained by anyone other than me.  

The overriding cause for consternation and core of unwelcome change, I now know, was that my aging bird dog, Lady, pointed her last covey of quail in 1962 on the back side of that farm, which was home. That word last is sobering. It was the last for Lady because her health quickly declined after that December morning. It was the last for me because other pursuits took control and led me eventually to college and graduate school and a form of living specified by life as I had never known it. And last seems to have predicted the soon-to-be last coveys of this grand bird for not only that one farm but for the entire area. Even before I left, the corn field that once held birds was a clean pasture with cattle scattered about. One garden, a separate pea patch and a long, grown-up fence row gave way to chicken houses and assorted sheds. The broom sedge growth just over the hill was rapidly becoming a pine plantation. Quail habitat pretty much went missing in the next two or three years following 1962.

Unless the reader of this piece is at least 60, it is unlikely that he or she can recall those days in the countryside when quail were abundant, their cheery, gentle yet haunting calls echoing across fallow fields. Their thunderous flushes, whether occurring in front of a staunch pointer or caused by a chance encounter with someone walking past, were capable of increasing the heart rate of even the most composed. They were a symbol of wildness, a link to a world that was slipping away.

For one who knew and loved these things and who was convinced that life didn’t get any more fulfilling than walking out the back door with a worn-out shotgun and a hard-headed dog to collect four quail for supper, this passing was difficult to process. It appeared tragic. Time has verified that it was and is tragic. And that conviction held then is yet as firm as once thought.

It is no secret that quail fell on hard times and have practically vanished from the landscape in far too many areas of the Southeast. Why this happened has not been solidly determined, but much study has already gone into finding an answer; that study continues. Will there be simple and conclusive solutions? That is still unknown. But we can hope and work toward the return of this glorious species.

In the meantime, for those of us who long for the ballet of a bird dog and the boisterous clatter of a covey rise, there is one alternative other than driving great distances to other regions that still hold good supplies of these birds. That alternative is the shooting preserve. I have hunted on and written about these establishments scattered about the state many times. Most afford a realistic outing that is professionally executed and provides the rare opportunity to have this magic of quail hunting unfold in a fashion similar to how it was done in the past.

One early morning this past March, I met my friend Mike Davis in Magee. We were headed out of town to Bouie Creek Quail Farm and Hunting Preserve to catch up with Wayne Hill and enjoy a hunt. Wayne is a dedicated dog owner and quail hunter who laments the past and makes the best possible of the present. Shortly after introductions and some hot coffee, we were off, Wayne’s poised and polished English Setters, German Shorthairs and Brittany Spaniels busy about locating quail. The birds were scattered everywhere throughout a property that was quail perfect.   

I took note of and found great pleasure in the fact that Wayne and I used the same persuasion shotgun. The Browning Citori over/under in 20 gauge. No call for the bigger 12s in this endeavor. Even the 28, for the keen shooter who is proficient with ¾-ounce loads, is an ideal choice. Such rigs as outlined above are not demanded; a solid pump or semi auto is fine. But there is just something particularly stylish about an O/U or side-by-side in the crook of the arm or toted over the shoulder action open. These are classic bird guns.

For the remainder of that morning action was consistent. Dog work was spectacular. Sorry to admit that I didn’t play the shotgun to perfection, but I collected birds and, for a few hours, relived those days that put me in mind of adolescence on that old farm.

With the coming of autumn, thoughts of many turn to the hunting fields. Shooting preserves offer a viable setting to rekindle the spirit of an activity that was once common or to see for the first time how it was back then. Such doings are sure to capture the fancy of any participant.

Bouie Creek Quail Farm is one such preserve that deserves a visit. For information about the family-friendly hunts there, call Wayne Hill at 601-849-4415 or 601-506-1790.

Tony Kinton has been an active outdoors writer for 30 years. His newest book is “Rambling Through Pleasant Memories.” Order from Amazon.com or Kinton’s website: www.tonykinton.com.

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