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california_quail_glamorI shot one quail today, and it kind of spoiled the hunt.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know when I say that often the best part of the hunt is not the killing, it’s everything else. And we had some of that.

Cobalt blue sky, a couple inches of snow glistening like diamond dust as the dogs dashed back and forth, grateful for I don’t know what, but they were on fire. No competition, the place abandoned on a Thursday after Christmas. The white blanket softened ambient sound, footfalls muffled. A raven complained about our presence half-heartedly before flapping off in a sulk.

We motored from spot to spot, exhausting my inventory of birdy spots on this patch of public ground. I rotated dogs, disappointing one every time the other got his chance. By the end of the day, just one cover harbored a small covey. They’d been sunning on a snow-free south-facing slope under a juniper tree, flushing well before Manny got a whiff of them. That’s a wild covey for ya.

The lingering scent put him into high gear, galloping up the ridge and slip-sliding into the shadows of a steep draw. Sidehilling in snow is never easy, but I’ve had worse. So when Manny locked up at the base of a sagebrush I was actually close to ready, shotgun at port arms. The quail was two trees away by the time I swung on her, a hard left-right crosser at 40 yards downhill.

She tumbled, Manny careening toward her before the trembling stopped. When he delivered to hand, the tone of the day was changed. It wasn’t better or worse, just different.

You know what I mean.

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