First Quail Hunt...


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Guyon
January 2, 2003, 03:15 PM
I'm glad I knew my grandfather or "grandiddy" as I called him in my youthful Southern drawl. I'm even happier that I had the opportunity to fish with him and hunt birds with him, even it was only one trip to the lake and one trip to the field. A fisherman all my life, I have taken up hunting again some twenty-odd years later. And now, when I traipse about the Southeastern woods in search of turkey or deer or when I raise my shotgun towards a speeding dove in a hot September field, I often hearken back to the one time I hunted quail with Grandaddy Red, and I smile.

My grandfather cut a proud figure even late in life. By the time I knew him, his shock of red hair was long gone--replaced by an ever-present white painter's cap when he was outdoors. Yet his figure remained lean and hard, chiseled by years of labor in plaster and stucco work. His lightning reflexes never left him either, and I still recall the uncanny efficiency with which he moved. He could have been a fine athlete and even played a bit of sandlot ball in his youth. But faced with lean economic times, Red had to find ways to feed his family and had less and less time for baseball.

I was nine when I was told I could accompany Grandaddy Red and my father on a quail hunt near our home. It was to be my first hunt, and the mix of emotions at the time were near overwhelming. The news sparked pride, eagerness, anticipation, anxiety, and even a bit of fear. I knew that the trip meant an important recognition of my male status, but I was worried that somehow I might not live up to the expectations put upon me. I could barely eat or sleep for a week.

The day before the hunt, my granddaddy arrived at our home with his bird dogs, took one look at my sneakers, and proclaimed, "You can't hunt in those." My world crashed around me. I was devastated, and I'm sure my face showed it because Red quickly added, "Let's go get you some boots." As suddenly as my heart had dropped into my stomach, it rebounded with an elation that still elicits a grin when I remember the scene. New boots. To me, an extravagance and a gift that somehow marked my place in the brotherhood of men. I doubt that Red ever truly knew how much those boots meant to me. On the way home from the store, the unoiled leather of those boots was stiff and unyielding, but they made me feel like Zeus trodding on the clouds.

The day of the hunt began early, and I slept little if any the night before, fearful that I would doze off and be left behind. As the dawn broke on a beautiful, crisp Alabama morning and the fog lifted beneath the sun's emergent rays, we drove out to a nearby field, released the dogs, and followed them in. I lugged an old single-shot .410 that in all likelihood, offered no threat to the bobwhites, but that mattered little to me. I was hunting in the company of men, and I was determined to keep pace, which for me meant about two steps to their one.

The action was slow at first. A great deal of walking and watching the dogs work. The sounds of commands and whistles. I was silent--listening, watching, determined not to be a burden. But about mid-morning, my dad's old lemon froze into a classic point--front leg raised, tail twitching straight up. Red uttered a low "hold" command as we eased up behind the quivering dog, and before I knew what was happening the birds exploded into a cloud of sound and motion. My father's over-under emitted a sharp report just a second before my grandfather's first shot with his old double-barrel. As soon as I lifted my gun, I knew I was out of position to shoot, for the bird I'd chosen swept sharply to my right--placing my granddaddy between me and the bird. His gun boomed again, and the bird went down sharply. A single for my father, and a double for my grandfather whose reflexive shooting had been honed through years of hunger and need. Simple efficiency. Purity of motion. Call it what you will, but there was little doubt as to outcome when he raised his gun.

"Why didn't you shoot?" was his first question after the remnants of the covey had disappeared. The tone wasn't accusatory or belligerent. Simply curious. But I was at a loss for words. I had failed. The test had come, and I had somehow let it slip past. I didn't deserve the boots on my feet. Finally, red-faced and humiliated, I was able to stutter out what had happened. I had swung on a bird, but it had left my zone before I had a safe shot. I felt like crawling home and hiding.

"You did the right thing." The simplicity of Grandaddy's words worked miracles for my deflated soul, and the look in his eyes was one of pride rather than disappointment. "If you take a shot, it should be a safe one," my father added with a finality that affirmed my choice beyond doubt. Having put the matter to rest with little fanfare, the two men went about the business of retrieving the downed birds and left me to steady myself in a sea of conflicted emotion.

I didn't take a bird that day. But I still became a hunter. In the instant that distinguishes a hunter from a shooter, I made a choice that I will remember all my life. Yet, what I will remember more is the respect my decision evoked from two men who were already hunters. Maybe those boots did fit me after all.

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sm
January 2, 2003, 04:03 PM
" You did the right thing...a shot should be a safe one".

Yep, those boots still fit ya today Guyon.

Thanks for sharing-- funny how a word, or lack of words a pair of boots, or never firing a shot--memories of youth shape a lifetime.

Dave McCracken
January 2, 2003, 09:17 PM
Great story, Guyon. Man, it brings back memories.
It's not the birds, dog and gun that make hunting so special, it's the people we do it with.

Thanks...

Greybeard
January 3, 2003, 03:04 AM
Yep Guyon, real good story.

My first quail hunt like that was with Dad and a neighbor who had a dog. The Sunday afternoon that the Packer's and the Cowboys played the "Ice Bowl". We just listened to bits and pieces of the game on the radio - only when we got in the truck just long enough to thaw out. Thankful too that Dad had his priorities straight. :)

Covey Rise
January 6, 2003, 03:43 AM
I quail hunt wild birds every chance i get. The dogs make it so fun.

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