For quite some time, I have considered changing the name this column from “Cast & Blast” to something more water or nature oriented.
When I began writing it, I was still into hunting. Never one for big game like hogs or deer, my passion was bird hunting.
Bird hunting had more action and offers more camaraderie with other like-minded friends. And, I love to eat game birds. Growing up in this area before the boom was a bird hunter’s dream. If it was dove season, I could find just harvested corn or sunflower fields and all it took was a knock on the farmer’s door to hear him say, “have at em boy!”
Invitations to organized, weekend dove hunts were frequent. Depending on the size of the field, there might be as many as 50 hunters and just as many Labrador retrievers. Before heading out to the field, everyone, including the dogs, would gather around and shoot the bull. Talk about some funny stories and even funnier characters. The only thing that would temporarily interrupt the non-stop bantering was if one of the dogs got a little too friendly with another retriever, if you know what I mean.
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It always amazed me how a single dove could fly the entire length of the field while every single hunter blasted away and nary a feather was touched. After the hunt ended, we would all gather around a bonfire, maybe have a libation or two and recount the high jinx that occurred during the course of the afternoon — another hunter’s dog that picked up another hunter’s bird, a real no-no; people falling over while trying to turn around quick enough to make a shot. The ribbing was endless. How I miss that.
As fall approached —along with just about every species of duck — I would hunt just about every single day. Mallards, pintails, gadwalls, widgeon, wood ducks and even an occasional goose were here aplenty. As for sea ducks like bluebills and canvasbacks, huge rafts of these quackers filled our sounds. With waders on in waist deep water, we would cover ourselves with sheets of burlap while standing in the middle of every decoy we owned.
When the ducks came, we would throw back the burlap to find so many ducks it was almost impossible to pick out just one.
Next came turkeys as the redbuds began to bloom in the spring.
I was addicted after my first encounter with a three and a half foot tall gobbler. If I had to describe the experience, it was like trying to outwit a leprechaun. The part I loved most was sitting at the base of a tree, camouflaged from head to toe, and having to stay perfectly still for hours on end. The only part of me that moved were my eyes and, because I would become one with the woods, I saw spectacular acts of nature that would surely make a National Geographic show.
I used my call to imitate a hen looking for company. When it worked, there he was. One second he was nowhere to be found and the next, he stands twenty feet in front of me with his tail fanned, wings dragging on the ground and a deep throated drumming that was part of his mating ritual.
Sometimes I just watched and never even thought of pulling the trigger. Nowadays I prefer a camera to a gun.
I was inspired to get out of house this past weekend and go quail hunting with Al Stokes of Waddell Mariculture fame and Grant Kaple, manager of the Hilton Head Boathouse.
Grant brought along his one-year-old pup, Huckleberry, a wirehair-pointing Griffon.
We were accompanied by our Estill-based guide and his two pointers.
Watching these dogs work is half the fun and Huckleberry showed the older dogs some newer tricks.
The dogs ranged back and forth through scrub brush and, in an instant, one dog locks up in a classic pointing stance. Just as quick, Grant’s dog strikes the same pose.
For a one-year-old pup, that is amazing. He even retrieved a few birds the other dogs couldn’t find.
It just felt great to be outside with friends. It was just what the doctor ordered on a cold, winter day.