The prairie is lonely, an environment thunderous with silence where only a strident high-pitched scream of wind keeps you company. On this day, I come to test my skill, to confront the elements and measure my conviction to find a needle in a haystack. Can a man find a quail on the prairie January 31st?
Intoxicated by the immeasurable scope of this place, I scan the horizon out across a sea of Cholla cactus. Shrouded by a thin veil of fog accompanied by bold clouds flying in tattered and swift, all the outdoors stares darkly back at me with contemptuous scorn. As I step from the truck to begin the ritual of getting organized, a sharp wind slashes my exposed skin, hardened by a mixture of dust, sand and ice that foretell the harshness of the day that lies ahead.
Unlike so many other excursions, social and good-humored by design, this day was a test, the yardstick for all I have learned throughout the season. Would the dog work well? Should I locate a covey, would I be able to shoot well in these callous conditions? Would my physical conditioning withstand the environmental assault on my body? All these questions raced through my head in nervous anticipation of the challenge set before me.
Bundled and Windstopper’d top to bottom, we head out for what will amount to a five hour walk. Scaled Quail on public land is a matter of boot leather, stamina and a dogged belief that a covey will rise just under that next patch of Cholla.
Two hours in route, with barely a word spoken, we happen upon a covey of quail that flushes wild, sluggishly moving from one spot to the next. Who knows, perhaps they were only stretching their wings to maintain body heat? Regardless of their motivation, they were easily relocated, surprised by our uncharacteristic late season presence. It was a small covey so only one bird was taken. Conserving our energy, not much is said as we moved on in search of another covey.
A few miles and a couple of hours later, another covey was found, this time rising with purpose and survival in mind. Flushing wild and rocketing high off the ground from beneath a Cholla, they instantly turned downwind and settled over a distant hill we had covered nearly an hour before.
We eventually found the covey, plus another one and a few singles. It was good to see so many birds at the very end of the season. A few birds were taken over spectacular dog work, five in total. With the weather getting continually worse in the afternoon, we decided it would be best not to disburse another covey for fear that they might not be able to regroup before the temperatures fell off a cliff.
It was a good day and the conclusion to a great season. How will I make it to next September?