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Civilized Indeed

This articles appears in the Jan-Feb 2001 issue of Quail Unlimited Magazine

The tailgate

I like being able to walk around when I hunt. I do not like having to sit in one place, and I like it even less when Iím supposed to sit still. The only time I enjoy a lack of motion is when Iím asleep, and this happens in a deer stand more often than I care to admit, but thatís a conversation for another day.

Sportsmen who practice the waning art of still hunting will argue that they do in fact move around during a hunt, and by definition they do. But they are stalking more than they are walking, and stalking is just a little too intense for me to enjoy on a regular basis. I prefer the informality of a stroll through a field or a glade where conversation with a close friend is enhancing, not verboten. Walking at a comfortable pace, neither hurried nor restrained, taking routes chosen for the most part by me, not dictated by game that may or may not be present. This is the way I like to hunt. And this is just one of the reasons I prefer quail hunting to any other.

For centuries, quail hunting has been referred to as "the gentlemanís sport". The expression attaches a somewhat elitist melody to the pursuit, and Iím not altogether certain that whomever coined the phrase didnít mean it this way. Most of my quail hunting companions are not of the blue blood, however. For that matter neither am I, and as such I prefer to think of quail hunting as civilized rather than elite. And I feel that I make a strong case for it being the most civilized of sporting pastimes.

Websterís New World Dictionary defines "civilized" as (1) Brought out of a primitive or savage condition into a state of civilization and (2) Improved in habits or manners; refined. Iím not sure quail hunting, at least in the last two hundred years or so, has been in a primitive or savage state. To the best of my knowledge, modern man never hunted quail with a spear or painted his face in various shades of green in order to get closer to one. He never spent hours carving fake quail or sloshed through frigid waters at 4a.m. to set out a covey of them. If the sport ever were in a primitive state, it emerged centuries ago.

In stark contrast, the pursuit of other game retains many ancestral qualities. To me, it seems quite primitive to perch yourself thirty feet up a pine tree on an aluminum frame no bigger than an end table while waiting for deer to stroll by. Sitting in the middle of a corn field crouched in a hole, a hole strangely similar to those dug for privies, while waiting for geese hardly smacks of sophistication either. I know that there are pioneers among us who have taken deer hunting to new levels. Iíve seen stands that made my living room look downright coarse. And I recall one soldier of technology who called John Boy and Billyís morning radio show from the deer stand.

Yes, there are people who practice a higher form of every art, but day-in and day-out, most of the game we chase require us to suffer some sort of corporal indignity. Rise before the sun, dress yourself three times without undressing once, sneak into the woods trying not to make a sound, sit down and peer through your breath while you wait and wait and wait. Many of you have heard someone tell the story of a "good friend" who describes opening day of duck season this way:

I wake up, put on every piece of camouflage Gore-tex I own, fill my bathtub with cold water and a few ice cubes, climb in, call my dog to join me and lie there for thirty minutes until I see the first rays of sunlight. This is my cue to open the window, fire my shotgun three times, and then leave.

Any number of times, various pieces of my anatomy have gone numb from lack of circulation while I sat patiently waiting in vain for a gobbler to crest a hill and step into range. Raw almost to the point of pain have been my fingers and toes as I awaited sunrise in a late season dove field. And in a duck blind, well.Ö.

The task of hunting quail is not burdened with these impediments to comfort. If your toes go to sleep, itís because your shoes are too tight. If you get cold, itís because you're sitting when you should be walking. Even on the hardest of days when icy air saws through tin cloth and wool, a walking man will be able to tolerate its harsh advances. So while quail hunting itself has not been brought out of a primitive state, and while certain other hunts are, for the most part, mired in one, it can nevertheless be considered civilized when compared to its sporting brethren.

Refined, as the definition goes, is a more accurate way to describe the pursuit of a bobwhite. There is absolutely no good reason to awake hours before sunrise to hunt quail, and thatís a good thing. Even on a perfectly temperate morning there is no question that my bed is a better place to be than a hard patch of ground at the base of a tree. Any mattress, even a hard one, is still softer than the front seat of a jonboat. The trademark burning, bleary eyes and the yawns with an agenda of their own seldom enhance the experience. No, I think it one of lifeís simple pleasures, simple treasures even, to sleep at least until the sun rises, have a strong cup of coffee and a leisurely breakfast, get dressed, and then start thinking about loading the truck.

Before a flood of partisan mail reaches my doorstep, please understand that I enjoy hunting deer, turkey, dove and duck immensely. In a season I will typically harvest one deer, a turkey if Iím lucky, several limits of dove and maybe a duck or two. I despise none of these; I simply consider quail hunting best suited to my personal preferences.

Personal preferences are a difficult trait to explain. An aversion to something, whether an event or a place or even another person, can be attributed to bad experience. But a preference for something, a unique fondness for the way it strikes your senses, is nearly impossible to explain. "It smells good" or "I like the way it tastes" is about as far as you can take it. "What smells good about it?" or "Why do you like the way it tastes?" will only lead you in a circle. Just try explaining why you absolutely love a cheeseburger. Try describing why the combination of fresh bread, melted cheddar, mayonnaise, a layer of lettuce and a slice of ripe red tomato atop some juicy ground beef tastes so good. Fully, completely, thoroughly defining a personal preference is almost as difficult as explaining the meaning of life.

So in much the same way that I love to eat oysters, scallops, cobia, snook, yellowtail and a multitude of other saltwater creatures, yet prefer stone crabs to them all, quail hunting is my choice of sporting pursuits whenever given one. For reasons that I cannot fully explain, I love following bird dogs as they work, the detonating rise of a covey, sleeping late, staying warm and dry, and when time and companions allow, I bask in an hour spent at the end of such a day sitting on the tailgate of the truck, watching the setting sun change the colors of the trees and grasses. Sipping a beer, free to stand up or sit down, free to talk about the dayís hunt, unworried that the dogs running around my feet will ruin the chances of success. Anyone still confined to a deer stand at this point is making a wish on that last ray of sunlight that his luck will change and his day will become productive. Mine already has been.

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