The First Bob

91c1cfd1-029d-4f99-a24b-b64cc25fb3e5 By Jenny Prenosil

I wasn’t going to go out. I was tired from a long week, and with bitter cold temps predicted, along with recent snowfall, some areas would have deep drifts to walk through. Plus, my motivation was low, as I’d been actively upland hunting for three years now and had yet to connect with a quail. On top of all that, my usual hunting partner, my husband, was unable to join me.
 
However, my brother-in-law called me the night before. His wife wanted to see what the excitement with upland hunting was all about, and was free to walk with us in the morning. My young nephew, biting at the bit to follow and watch, also joined the group. Looking at my black lab, Hank, his energy high from cabin fever, was enough to make me change my mind and give it a try. I’ve never regretted getting out and watching him work.

The next morning, we make a game plan to hunt a property with multiple draws running the length of a mile. Woody cover and standing grain accent the site, which consistently holds quail. Starting at the north end, one of us on each side of the draws, we follow the dogs working between us. My sister-in-law and nephew walk behind excitedly.

As we hit our first brushy draw, Hank starts getting excited, with his tail spinning in circles as he darts left and right. I hear gunshots on my right as quail flush in that direction. I look down in the snow and see quail tracks everywhere.

“They’re coming your way!” my brother-in-law shouts. I hear the wings fluttering among the brush and shoot as three quail emerge. Hank pauses to watch them fly across the soybean field and starts working the draw again, still very birdy. As we reach the end of the woody cover the hunting party re-groups in the grass. We notice Hank is still birdy, but the quail have already flushed from here. 

We discuss our next route, and I realize my rookie mistake. Hank plunges underneath the thick grass and flushes a quail.
 
“We should have had that” I say to the group. I glance over and look into the disappointed eyes of my dog.

After a good laugh we work our way back to a piece we previously skipped. Opportunities continue to be plentiful and everyone is enjoying the day. I just didn’t want to go home empty-handed. I set my eyes on a small brush pile ahead of me.
 
“Must be a rabbit,” I hear from my brother-in-law. Hank’s tail starts to spin as we get closer to the brush pile. In an instant he freezes.
 
I’ve made the mistake of not cueing into my dog once today, I owe it to him to give it my best now. His body language screams “A bird is HERE. NOW!”

I take a few hurried steps to take my place beside my dog. He hasn’t moved a muscle, tail stiff and eyes focused within the brush pile.  The snow crunches behind me as my hunting partner works his way beside me, my focus is on the dog.
 
“Get it” I say.

It happens so fast, yet I feel like it happens in slow motion. Hank plunges into a gap in the brush and bobwhites spring forth flushing across in front of me.  In one smooth motion I shoulder my gun and single out a bird.  I pull the trigger. I let out a whoop and lower my gun, clicking the safety back on. Hardly acknowledging where the covey goes down, my gaze falls upon a fluttered wing on the grass in front of me.
  
Without taking my eyes off the clump of grass, I ask my brother-in-law if he hit anything, to which he confirms he did not. Before he finishes his sentence, I rush up to the clump of grass and kneel. The female bobwhite’s feathers pop against the snow.

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I did it! This is my quail! The rush of emotions leaves me speechless as I pick it up. Hank wags his tail as he looks up at me.

The group gathers around, and my nephew asks to hold it. Although reluctant to hand over my first quail, I let everyone take a good look and share in my excitement. To include the dogs on the event, I let them see the bird in my hand. Their less experienced wire-haired griffon takes a few good sniffs. My dog is already looking back at us as if he is saying “come on, there’s more!”

“Let’s see if we can pick up a few singles and finish out the field,” my brother-in-law says to me. He and I will continue south and meet the other two at the truck.
 
For the first time ever, I add a quail to my vest. The weight is hardly noticeable, and I can’t help but reach back frequently to feel and to confirm it really happened and it’s still there. I couldn’t be happier. I’m not going home empty-handed and am contributing to this week’s menu. Proud of myself and even more proud of my dog, I can’t wait to share my story and excitement. I reach inside my vest one more time to feel those feathers.  

I finally did it, I’m bringing home a quail!

Jenny Prenosil is PF/QF Conservation Ag Coordinating Wildlife Biologist for the state of Nebraska.