Time for my annual skunking, maybe appropriate it took place at my nearest quail covert. It’s usually good for a couple coveys, sometimes even a mountain quail.
Mother Nature had done her part. The prior day’s weather forecast called for showers until noon, sunshine after. In the early morning, the bunchgrass shed its frosty carapace with every step, showering us and the ground with tiny, short-lived jewels of ice. The distant palisades of ancient lava pierced the sky as if in high definition, every crack and crevice amplified by pure light against a cobalt sky.
After a couple weeks away from hunting, my psyche needs close-to-immediate gratification. So, we started at a wide spot in the creek bed that has produced before. But not today. A long walk upstream was likewise fruitless.
The next covert gave Buddy a lot of exercise, but nothing to get the tail twitching, until he crow-hopped like a rodeo bronc when he sighted a headless mule deer crumpled along the stream. Not a mark on him besides a bullet hole likely delivered in the dead of night from behind a poacher’s spotlight.
The beauty of this place helps no matter what the birds do, or don’t. The smell of wet leaves, crunch of frost on the ground, cold stone’s magical scent, all help distract from the absence of quail. Besides, Buddy didn’t know there wasn’t a covey around each bend in the creek, just waiting for his nose to detect them as he slammed into a heart-stopping point. It was in a way, better in that I could drift, mentally, and drink it all in.
And while I don’t want to make a habit of it, there is value in a birdless walk. You see and hear things you don’t when focused on the next flush. You can marvel at the small things … burble of stream or a meadowlark’s trill. You savor a sunny fall day when the weight of work and the world are spirited away … perhaps to the same place the birds went.