Bird hunting wins the prizeBy JEFF NORTH,
Hunting is more than just the pursuit of a game animal or fowl. Though by pure definition, this accurately describes the connotation of the word. If, however, we were satisfied with just this, “the pursuit,” we would have tragically missed what the real meaning brings to those of us who, put simply, live for. I have often contemplated which species and method of hunting has more allure and nostalgia than the others. Of course, this is a matter of opinion, so there is no right or wrong answer. So, let’s visit this topic and see what we come up with.
Deer hunting brings what deer hunting brings. The avid waterfowlers combine skill, calling, and techniques to achieve ultimate goals of decoying and harvesting ducks. The turkey hunter normally engages with his quarry to do battle one on one, almost like the game of chess. I’ll admit, this one may have been close to the top of the list years ago, but the publicity, commercialization, and exploitation of what once was has brought it down just a notch as far as I am concerned. So, which one takes the honors as the most revered? Well, in my opinion, the most gentleman-like sport that has had volumes published about for eons has to be about men, dogs, and the Northern Bobwhite.
There is something special about the picture of two men walking in behind pointers and setters locked rigid with a hidden covey beneath sedges and native grasses. Countless pieces of art depicting this scene adorn the walls of lodges, offices, and dens. Many times, the “old home place” is the setting. Other times, it’s the edge of the picked cornfield. Ancient cemeteries, abandoned over time, always held a covey. Dated pieces of farm machinery, rusted to the point of not being recognizable, seem to be a part of the picture many times indicating the history and existence of the bird and how everything has changed. So, what has changed about the sport that so many refer to as “bird hunting?”
Fifty years ago, on any given November afternoon in farm country, one could find from five to 15 coveys of quail with any bird dog worth their salt. I can remember walking the field edges and hollows in Attala County with my dad on my grandfather’s farm and “putting up” eight to 10 coveys a day. I was certainly no threat with my single-shot .410 but I at least got to experience, for a short time, what was then and what is probably now gone forever. So, what did happen to our native bird population? Theories vary greatly but as of recent, I was fortunate to visit with someone at length on some possibilities of the decline of what was a rich part of our hunting heritage.
Robin Singletary is the owner and operator of Covey Rise Plantation in Camilla, Ga. At one time, southeast Georgia was considered to be some of the finest habitat in the world for Bobwhite Quail. Robin was raised in this country on double barrels and bird dogs. His life still revolves around this wonderful upland game bird. We talked about the hay day of bird hunting and what caused its decline. He summed up in two words what the demise of this noble bird is…. habitat loss.
He stated before center pivot irrigation systems were put in the fields in and around Baker County, Georgia, there were many “edges” of native grasses and forbs that the birds needed for survival. Additionally, fence rows, small thickets in the fields, and brushy areas were cleaned up to maximize farming production and allow travel for the pivots across the fields. This led to concentrating birds in a lot less area making them that much more vulnerable to predators as well. This makes perfect sense that by reducing cover and eliminating food sources, the birds are sure to decline. Remember what I mentioned about Baker County, for this is important.
Just across the Flint River from Baker County is Mitchell County. There are extremely large tracts of plantations that are intensely managed for quail. Some of these properties are more than 100,000 acres. There is an abundance of native plants like lespedeza and other legumes that are vital for birds to survive and flourish. These lands are kept and farmed in the manner that benefits and promotes the production of this game bird. I was shocked when Robin told me that hunters routinely find 25 to 30 coveys a day.
Hunts are still conducted as they were back in the day. I can only imagine men shooting classic double-barrels clad in canvas britches walking the hills and flatlands with birds on every edge. This just goes to prove that we could bring this wonderful sport and this special bird back to the way it was if we choose to. Of course, this would mean drastically changing our farming techniques and production practices. Given what it takes to ensure profitability for farmers, this is unlikely to happen. But maybe there is still hope. Maybe through farm programs, growers can be incentivized to set aside some of their land and develop it and manage it for species like the Bobwhite. Maybe public lands could also be managed to perpetuate this species along with others. I know we could adopt these practices if we choose to.
I vividly remember the magnolia dog food commercials on television every morning before school. I would stand in front of the tv and watch the dogs come to a point and the two gentlemen walk into the covey for the flush. Those crisp fall mornings were quite the distraction as I gazed out the windows neglecting my studies knowing full well my dad, along with Mr. Gene Pridgeon and Mr. Sonny Coleman, were flushing covey after covey.
Yes, in my opinion, bird hunting as it was back in the day wins the prize for the nostalgia and romance that hunting offers. I only hope it may return someday.
Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.