Robert Ruark knew what he was talking about when wrote the seminal piece on big-game hunting in Africa, Use Enough Gun. Sure, you can kill tough game with light rounds, but if you want to consistently be successful in difficult situations, you need to use enough gun in order to get the job done.
While late season birdhunting in pheasant country isn’t the same as stalking the plains of Tanzania, it is a demanding business. Roosters are well educated and aren’t going to wait around to see if quartering dogs and approaching humans are out for stroll, they are going to run and break long. These birds are up early and rarely relax on the roost 30 minutes after sunrise unless the weather is foul. And by foul, I mean bone chilling cold with snow piled around them . I know this, but for some reason I thought I would be clever on my January 16th outing and carry a 20 gauge. The allure of carrying a gun that is light, some decent shooting during the season on my part and the fact that we were heading into country where we were more likely to see quail than pheasant convinced me that I could get by without my trusty SKB 12 gauge. That decision might have also been influenced by 2 days of heavy labor digging out a terrace for a new dog kennel . Sore shoulders can certainly sing a siren song.
Whatever my motivations might have been, the decision was made and I headed out early with 2 griffs and a great birdhunting partner. As we approached the area we were going to push first, a covey of quail scurried across the ditch. I patted myself on the back for having the foresight to save my sore arms the trouble of carrying the 12 gauge.
We started in a CRP field bordering a cut corn field. Definitely a promising spot for birds. The dogs went to work, but it was obvious early on that they were on a pheasant. They moved quickly and pushed hard through a patch of sunflower that had to be 10 feet tall. No covey on the planet moves like a rooster looking to see what is happening on the other side of the county. My partner and I kept pace and as we approached the end of the field a big gaudy ditch chicken broke out past the 40 yard mark. It is amazing how such a big bird can blast out of heavy cover and move when he has a reason. Needless to say, this crossing shot was not to be had. By the time I gathered myself for the shot, he was moving at top speed and 50 yards away. Undergunned for that one. With that defeat under our belts, Matt and I headed to the next field.
The next field was considerable larger and we worked the edges where the CRP met the corn. While the dogs covered ground and indicated that birds had been there, nothing was seen. As we came to the end of the field we made the determination that this place was vacated. This was public land and there was every reason to believe that we were too late. Well, you know what they say about assumptions. With no birds and no birdy dogs, I decided to add to the soil’s moisture profile. About the time I was ready to commence relief, my partner’s shotgun barked and a lone quail sailed onto the bordering private ground. Quickly I collected myself and walked over to him. “Did you see any others?” I asked.
“Nope,” he responded. We stood there a few minutes scratching our heads. I call the dogs over but they didn’t really hit on anything. Now the wind was against us and it was a dry morning, so I’ll give them a pass. But as I stepped into the brush and resumed my efforts at irrigation, that lone quail’s covey mates boiled up around me just when I was really getting going. Guess I need to be more careful where I aim that thing.
With the shotgun broken over my shoulder and the fact that I was a bit exposed, my chance at a shot was handicapped to say the least. Missed again and this time my red face had less to do with my shooting than it did with my particular position for the shot. We moved on to the next field. These birds had been traumatized enough.
The following spot we hit was less promising, but there was a brushy creek weaving through corn, so it couldn’t be passed up. As we shuffled along, I noticed a little finger of cover weaving up an old waterway in the middle of the corn. Matt and I changed course and the dogs closed in on it. Immediately Sam locked up on the one spot of brush in this patch. BB came up behind him and locked up as well. Matt and I closed in quickly. As if out of a hunting show, we walked in on the point and a nice covey broke. This time everything worked out and I made a nice shot on a bobwhite. The covey headed for thick cover and we followed. We put up a few more, but they were in thick enough stuff that neither of us a shot.
The day progressed and after a late lunch, we hit one last field where we had a score to settle with a particularly wily rooster. This 80 acre piece was all CRP, with brush along the borders. We worked the entire piece and had some nice dog work on a hen. As we approached the last clump of plum brush, the dogs put up another hen. After Matt and I watched her sail away, we took about 4 more steps….now you know what happened next. Our wily adversary broke cover at 50 yards flying faster than any bird should naturally move. Undergunned again. I might have had a chance with a fast moving 1 ¼ ounce load of 4’s out of an improved modified choke, but my fateful decision at the beginning of this trip sealed my fate.
What did I learn from this trip? Always trust the advice Robert Ruark when it comes to hunting tough game and don’t take a leak in the spot where a lone quail flushes.