One at a Time

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Every year, I do my best to take an extended bird hunting road trip through a few western states. I enjoy exploring new places and hunting the birds that inhabit them. Besides, as the English poet William Cowper said, “(v)ariety’s the very spice of life”. And, in my opinion, being exposed to a broad array of conditions make the dogs and me better hunters. This December the first leg of the trip took us to the southwestern corner of Oregon in search of mountain quail (Oreortyx pictus), the largest species of quail in the United States and the only one I had not had the opportunity to hunt.

The first morning of hunting was slow going but we managed to bag a bird before returning to the truck to swap out dogs and eat lunch. That afternoon I decided to check out the next valley over. We bounced our way up an unkept Forest Service road until I met a “seasonal closure” barricade, where I parked and geared up. I hunted with Ruby, one of my 3-year-old English Setters. Of my three bird dogs, Ruby seems to find and hold birds more consistently. I hoped she could turn this day of hunting from subpar to superb.

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Ruby and I took off up the closed portion of the road on foot. Moving away from the truck, the vegetation grew thicker and thicker until a thin game trail was all that remained of the old logging road. Feeling the cover was “pretty birdy”, we pushed onward. Not ten minutes after leaving the truck, Ruby went on point at the edge of an impenetrable patch of stemmy pine regrowth. First, I walked up to her and then began making my way around the thicket in hopes of flushing whatever had piqued Ruby’s interest.

As I should’ve expected, the moment I attempted to bust into the thick cover, I heard a flutter of wingbeats as a mountain quail took flight. “Surely the rest of the covey is still in here”, I thought to myself. Several minutes of searching passed by before I gave up on the thicket and continued hunting up the mountain. No sooner had we left the first thicket than we came to a second. Once again, Ruby snapped into a point. This time, when the quail busted, I was ready for my shot. I raised my over/under, swung through the bird, and fired the top barrel. The quail spiraled towards the ground, landing in a sea of hip-high ferns. Ruby managed to recover the bird and retrieved it back to hand. I took some time to admire the rich plumage of this fine game bird before resuming the hunt.

Ruby made 5 more finds throughout the rest of the afternoon. Each find was similar to first. She would point near the edge of a patch of pine regrowth, I would fumble around while trying to locate our quarry, and single quail would emerge from somewhere beyond my field of view, before once more disappearing into the ever-present fog of the Pacific Northwest. Though the day had been light on shooting, it had been a decent day afield and a great way to start off our 3-week-long hunting adventure!

Trey Johnson

I was born and raised on a small ranch Northwest of Fort Worth, Texas. From a young age, nature always provided an outlet from reality. I have continued to cultivate this passion through formal education and creative writing. When I am not working as game bird research assistant, you can find my bird dog and I in the field chasing birds.

2 thoughts on “One at a Time

  • Great afternoon out! This story will sit in my back pocket as a reminder of the cover I should look for in that corner of Oregon!

    • Trey Johnson

      I hope it helps! There was no shortage of birds in this area.


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