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Adventure, Shoot / March 5, 2017

The bittersweet close of upland hunting season

Written by: Kevin Linderman

The end of Texas’ quail season almost snuck up on me this year—I very nearly let Feb. 26 roll by without spending a single day in the field. Thankfully, I was able to make arrangements and sneak in an upland hunt just before the cutoff.

Upland hunts are among my favorite things to do in the outdoors. They remind me of my stepfather, who first taught me to swing a shotgun.

He passed away a few years ago at the age of 92. He was a consummate gentleman, a skilled outdoorsman, and probably the single biggest influence on my development as a sportsman.

When I cast my fly rod, I think of him. And when I put on my orange and grab my 20 gauge over under, I think of him. I can only hope I have the same impact on my own children that he had on me.

Quail prefer not to fly. They would rather run on the ground and covey up than hit the skies. They only tend to fly in a last resort attempt to escape an imminent threat. They are also well camouflaged, so if you’re not careful you’ll walk right over the top of a covey of 10 birds. They will stay hunkered down unless they are truly in danger.

That’s where the dogs come in. Bird dogs are excited to get into the field and find birds. It’s literally the job they were born to do.

Upland hunters bring one or two pointers, setters, or spaniels, then pair those with a retrieving dog (usually a Labrador Retriever). The lab will heel close to the guide while the pointers work in patterns to hunt for the birds. When one of the pointers smells a bird, it will go on point. This is a distinct look—the dog is completely still with its tail in the air and its nose pointed directly at the birds. The second pointer will honor this point, as he may not know exactly where the birds are but trusts his buddy.

The guide then moves in behind the pointers with the lab, and the hunters spread out in a line. When the hunters are ready, the guide commands “Birds up!” and the lab charges into the covey.

Suddenly, the bush or grass explodes with quail. It’s a difficult moment for the shooter—you can’t just shoot blindly into the group. You need to calmly pick out one bird, do your best to swing smoothly around, gain the proper lead, and squeeze the trigger. Quail are small and fast. These are difficult shots. You have a split second to shoot and then they are back on the ground hiding in the tall grass or bushes again.

If you’ve knocked down one or two birds, the dogs retrieve them. Rinse and repeat.

If you’re a good shot, you may end up with some quail in your freezer. This is some of the best meat you can put on your table. Quail are basically little chickens with delicious white meat on the breast and dark meat on the legs.

There are many ways to cook the bird, but my stepfather used to make the best quail meal I’ve had:

  •       Bacon wrapped quail grilled over the fire with your choice of chutney or jelly glazed over the top
  •       Hearts of Palm cabbage cooked in bacon grease
  •       Black beans with pico de gallo

 

I think that’s what will be on the menu tonight.

Do you have your own upland hunting story? Email it to us at [email protected].

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about the author

Kevin Linderman

Kevin Linderman is the founder and Chief Adventure Officer for Shoulders of Giants. Kevin has spent his entire professional career in and around the field of information technology, but has always been an avid outdoor enthusiast and a seeker of knowledge.

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