Not sure when it started. Perhaps when I was 16 and could drive myself. Maybe I was younger and the day just happened to fall on a weekend. Regardless, I have tried my best to hunt the final day of the bird season each year, and I have succeeded for a bit over 2 decades.
I do my best to spend the full day in the field, but sometimes things get shortened by the weather or by an abundance of birds. Not including the spaniel – which is mandatory in bird hunting – I have spent most of these final days hunting solo. Though every once in a while a buddy has joined in.
This year it was work that cut my closing day hunt to just the morning. However, with some creative scheduling on my part I was also able to sneak out Wednesday morning, too, on the 2nd to last day of the season. Both days would be me and the dogs, Carrot & Pip.
Unlike most others I was pleased to see the snow covering the landscape Wednesday morning. Though the drive to the first field was slower than normal I knew the powder top-coat would help keep the pheasants from running ahead of us. The plan for this field was laid well before Carrot, the small French Brittany, and I were taking our first steps into the white stuff.
I expected the birds to be snuggled down on the leeward side of the thickest patch of cover. This had the advantage of being both out of the 20+ mph winds and the drifting snow. The birds were snuggled tight but we didn’t work any until we were quite literally in the full force of the north wind. The first bird was a long-tailed rooster that surprised the both of us. He was quickly followed by his twin brother. There is just something cool about rooster pheasants bursting from the snow that I cannot get over. A short distance later up goes another rooster – then a few hens, then another rooster and then a covey of quail.
As I reloaded, I tried to decipher why we found the birds where we did. About all I can come up with is that the conditions can be a lot different below the grass, and under the snow, than they are 5+ feet above. The wind at my level was obviously blowing strong enough to push my shotgun pellets off the mark with remarkable regularity.
Our next stop was a quick hitter on a larger grass field that now was pretty much all white. The last patch of good cover was a thicker draw that ran almost perpendicular to the length of the field. As Pip, the young springer, and I neared shotgun range of the oasis of shelter a savvy rooster made an escape. Pip jumped a few more tight holding hens as we worked the cover, and then just when I knew a rooster was going to take flight he tore into a covey of quail. I was a bit out of sorts when my rooster turned into a dozen brown bobs – so my shotgun serenade was well off the mark
Morning #2, the final day of bird season and I have just a couple hours to hunt. I am not looking for to the end of the season, but I am looking forward to hunting this new found field. On my earlier visit I found pheasant tracks and plenty of quail. The area is well protected from the still howling north winds, which I am thankful for as the actual temp is half what it was the day before. Carrot and I make a well-designed loop around where we expect to see birds. This puts the wind in her nose and the sun at my back. I am ready for quail when Carrot comes to a point and a nervous single takes to the air. The sound of my shot signals the rest, about 15 in all, to do the same. We find similar, but smaller spot not far away and I find myself already thinking about next season. At the same time I am enjoying all the tracks in the snow of the song birds, deer and other critters that were moving around the evening before. By the time I realize there are quail tracks in the snow Carrot is already working them. Everything comes together and again a covey is airborne.
Pip and I head for one push in a part of the field that I have not hunted before. But we have a short time left and I am not about to let it slip by. We come across several sets of pheasant tracks but none lead to birds. However, Pip does find another covey of quail hiding underneath the cedars. However these aren’t quite as accommodating as the previous two and they all remain behind the screen of trees as they wing off to parts unknown. And so ends our season as we have run out of time for this year.
It’s Feb 1 as I write this and already I am wondering what the rest of the winter will bring, if the nesting season will be kind to the birds and what opening day will hold for those of us that call ourselves bird hunters. It’s less than 9 months away you know…