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Geiger’s Counter: A long lost friend

I was knee deep in a patch of browntop millet wondering if it would mature in time for dove season when I got a startling but pleasant surprise. A lone Bobwhite quail, a cock, exploded from the thick cover and rocketed 40 to 50 yards away before lighting. I knew from experience that, as soon as they hit the ground, his tiny legs were churning as he put another 50 or so yards of distance between the two of us. Although I was unarmed, I raised an imaginary shotgun at the furious sound of his wingbeats, set up my lead and pulled the trigger. There was no sharp shotgun report but my mind was instantly filled with quail hunting memories. I recalled stalking the cornfields of Hackbranch in Montgomery County as a teenager hunting quail without dogs. We walked up the birds and had to be quick on the trigger as our parents trusted us only with single shot shotguns. It mattered not. There were so many quail a good shot could kill limits with little difficulty. It was nothing to jump 15 or 20 coveys after school on a cold winter afternoon. I thought back to the fine dogs I have hunted over including, Molly, a Llewellin setter I raised and largely trained myself. She was born in Alston, also in Montgomery County, to a fine bird dog owned by Runt Moses. Molly was a warrior and would venture into any thicket or briar patch in search of birds. My companions and I killed many quail over her. As she reached late middle age, I took her to a southwest Georgia plantation for the hunt of her life. The owner took a liking to her and inquired about keeping her. I should have left her there to hunt out her days in quail paradise because the birds were already scarce here then and are even scarcer now. Selfishly, I brought her home ‘“ a decision I regretted until the day I put a .22 round through her head to halt the pain she suffered from the ravages of cancer. Quail are, by far, the finest table fare the good Lord blessed us with among game animals. Unfortunately, they taste as good to all sorts of predators as they do to humans. That fact and the change in agriculture from small farms with lots of fence rows to large tracts under irrigation have pretty much destroyed quail habitat. Pay hunts at fancy plantations can only mimic the original experience. Some do it better than others but none are completely true to the thrill of wild birds erupting from cover at one’s feet, the swing of the gun and, hopefully, the retrieve. I thought of all this as I watched where the lone cock sank back into cover in the dove field. I whistled a sharp ‘˜bob white’ as granddaddy taught me long years ago. My long lost friend answered in kind. Walter Geiger is editor and publisher of The Herald Gazette and Pike County Journal Reporter.

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