I'll bet some of you hunters wonder why my column is always "cast" and not much "blast." Well hallelujah, because I finally got the chance to do some blasting -- and, without sounding too corny, it was an absolute blast.
Having grown up here when dove hunts were easy to come by and duck hunting seriously interrupted my work schedule, it saddened me when development ran most of the fowl elsewhere. Farmers took to planting pine trees instead of crops, and those farms that still practiced agriculture became the target for deer hunters from Florida who would pay top dollar for hunting rights, which pretty much made hunting inaccessible for simple folk like myself. At least I was here to experience those glory days when hunts were as easy as knocking on a farmer's door and asking permission to hunt his land.
Oh how I miss those days.
I never have been a big game hunter but I love bird hunting so much I get a tingle down my worthless spine just thinking about it. So when my good friend George Edgar, who divides his time between Virginia and Palmetto Bluff, called and asked me if I wanted to go quail hunting with him and local Mac Dunaway. I was packing my gun bag before I hung up the phone.
If you have never been bird hunting, you should know it isn't about how many birds as much as it is about two things in particular: Whether there is camaraderie between the hunters, and a good bird dog work.
The three of us had hunted together a couple of times last year. From the get-go I knew there would be a ton of laughter along with an equal amount of bantering. As for the dog aspect, we would be hunting with the same guide as last year: Jimmy Polk and his sidekick Bill -- Jimmy's dogs are always stellar.
Unlike George and Mac who do quite a bit of skeet and trap shooting to hone their skills, I hadn't fired a shot since our last outing a year ago. These guys are not good shots, they are great shots. Quite frankly I was a bit anxious as to how I might perform -- or not perform. Adding to my apprehension was how our guides would react when I whiffed what should be an easy shot. Last year they were merciless, all in good humor I might add.
As we drove toward our destination in Estill, I voiced my worries to George and Mac and both of them agreed that the best defense would be to have a boatload of excuses, no matter how outrageous. I swear I about wet my pants as we got very creative with those excuses. Time would tell as we arrived and got ready to go.
That was a few weeks ago and it was cold, so cold it never got above 33 degrees -- add to that a 25 mph north wind. I already had two good excuses courtesy of Mother Nature. I knew I would need every excuse in the book because Jimmy started in on me almost immediately. I love it.
Since George and I both have back problems and between the two of us you might get one good spine, it makes bird hunting that much more challenging -- no quick turns as birds fly by, you know, things like that. Hunting over a setter, a pointer and a lab for those birds that wouldn't get up, it was a marvel to watch. The dogs worked feverously back and forth. When they caught scent of a covey, they instantly locked in that classic stance. Even better was watching the pointer honoring the setter's point, both frozen like statues. You know the birds are going to flush every which way but no matter how many times you do this type of hunting, it still catches you by surprise like someone jumping out of a closet and yelling, "Boo."
So how did I do? I did OK, not great, but OK. But you know what? Even if I hadn't touched a single feather, the trip would have been worth it. Between George and Mac, the guides (and the abuse), the incredible dogs and most importantly being out in nature, I could easily do this just about every day.
In a nutshell, it does wonders for the soul and boy oh boy, this soul needed it.
God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.