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Out of Bounds

Stir Crazy

Winter has arrived and even as the days grow slightly longer with each sunset, the next two months will test my pup’s patience, as my own

By Rob Breeding

My young dog is pacing like an expectant father. Wrong species and gender, and the fact that she’s neutered notwithstanding, I get her point.

Winter has arrived and even as the days grow slightly longer with each sunset, the next two months will test my pup’s patience, as my own. We’re mostly housebound for now.

Mostly. There’s a bit of a break in the weather, enough so that we might get out for a short hunt this afternoon. But where the season remains open into the new year, pheasants have turned difficult. Surviving roosters have been shot at enough by now to know what to do when they sense danger.

Run.

Unless you’ve never been online, you’ve surely heard by now the “Run” meme. Ominous strings warn of impending doom and a disembodied voice urges us to “Run.” Then menacing guitar chords let us know it’s for our lives.

Late-season pheasant hunters can confirm the birds have discovered this meme as well.

By the way, the run meme is clipped from the song “Run” by the Los Angeles-based alt-rock outfit AWOLNATION. This band apparently prefers shouting in all caps. The music is perfectly suited for the soul-sucking short videos that are now ubiquitous in social media. Think “comical” shorts in which the singer urges you to run just as you tell your beloved that outfit does make her butt look big or when you announce you spent the rent money on your 17th fly rod because none of the other 16 are ideal for carp.

Or when you record with the GoPro attached to your noggin your bird dog on point 10 feet in front of you, while a rooster flushes a quarter mile off.

That’s how we roll in the late season.

Still, it’s worth the effort. My dog will get plenty of work on the still cooperative hens, and at this point, I’m fine just watching some good dog work without having to pluck another stinky wet bird. And we still might get an opportunity or two to shoot some quail, but for that, I’ll have second, third and probably fourth thoughts.

Bobwhite numbers were up slightly in 2022 based on the highly unscientific method of counting the birds which flushed in front of me this fall, but even still, those numbers are in the historical dumpster. Once we’ve had the first real winter weather of the season, I start to question the need to kill another quail before next fall. While I whine about being housebound for the next two months, quail are beginning the roughest, extended seasonal depression of their lives. 

If the snow really starts to fly, those birds will be hard-pressed to scratch out the food needed to make it until spring. Also, quail shelter through the coldest nights of the season huddled up in rings, their butts facing inward, sharing body heat to ward off the cold. 

The bigger the covey the warmer that quail protecting ring. I’d rather lay off now in hopes there will be a few extra coveys next fall.

I don’t have this concern for pheasants. These are tougher, hardier non-native birds that we would not be able to eradicate even if we tried. Pheasants are a Eurasian species that struts about North America with a real Guns-Germs-and-Steel vibe. If you’re not familiar with the book, Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer-prize winning “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies,” examines how Eurasian civilizations conquered the civilizations they came in contact with in other parts of the globe.

You can probably figure from the title Diamond’s point. Pheasant and native quail tell a similar story. Once introduced, pheasant started running and never looked back, becoming the most popular upland game bird in North America. 

Bobwhite, on the other hand, barely cling to existence. That’s the real winter blues.

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