Peter Brookes: Quail country is worth the trip
Nothing like starting a bobwhite quail hunt in the South with a “Yankee Double.”
As you know, a “double” is when you show the significant shooting skill of taking two birds — often flying in diverging directions — from a single flush.
No easy feat.
Well, on the contrary to that type of double, the proverbial yankee double is when instead of taking two birds on a single flush, you miss both birds.
All right, well maybe I was a bit rusty in hitting those twisting, turning little brown and white jets with my trusty 28-gauge side by side shotgun.
But, my badly bruised ego aside, I really didn’t care that much beyond the good-natured ribbing from my wife who was along as my partner on this Christmas holiday hunt.
The reason is that this day’s pleasant hunting grounds took the sting out of missing those birds — and things were just getting started.
Nestled in the shadow of the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge in Nelson County Virginia is PriestView, a nearly 500-acre hunting preserve (www.PriestView.com).
Now you can’t find wild quail at PriestView — not that you can find wild quail anywhere in Virginia these days, or at least anywhere anyone will tell you about — but you can thankfully chase some spirited, strong-flying preserve-release upland birds there.
PriestView offers both guided (using their dogs) and unguided hunts (using your own dogs) for bobwhite quail, chukar partridge or ringneck pheasant. Mixed bags are also available.
On this day, in well-managed fields resplendent in yellow grasses, made more golden by the warm glow of a soft winter sun, the preserve’s owner and founder, Tim Castillo, pairs us up with a fine Brittany Spaniel bird dog.
Our canine companion, “Shem,” has a keen nose for quail, dashing breathlessly back and forth across the open fields to search out the birds that Tim put out for us earlier.
We followed along loosely behind Shem until he showed signs of getting “birdy.” Upon getting a whiff of a hiding quail — or two — he would brace into a statue-like point, allowing us to move into position for a shot.
With the crack of the scatter gun and a quick whiff of gunpowder, Shem was quick to recover and return any downed quail to us in his designed-for-hunting soft, spaniel mouth.
With Tim’s command of “hunt ’em up,” man’s — and in this case, woman’s — best friend was on the hunt again as if there was nothing else he’d rather have been doing on that Saturday than chasing birds for us.
All Shem wanted in return for helping us with our Old Dominion quail hunt — perhaps something like it was in the old days — was an “Attaboy!” and a quick rub behind the ears.
Unfortunately, despite well-intentioned public and private conservation efforts to bring “Gentleman Bob” back in good numbers to Virginia, it’s been a tough slog.
A shame since some call the bobwhite, “Virginia quail.”
The debate about “why” quail has declined in Virginia rages including pointing fingers at habitat, predators, weather or even the presence of mosquito-borne West Nile virus, among others.
But as PriestView shows, you don’t have to get on a plane and go all the way to Georgia or Texas to put a bead on a hard-flying Mr. Bob when it explodes into the air with the whir of its fast-beating wings.
All you need is a shotgun, a hunting license, a game vest, ear/eye protection, some blaze orange clothing, a little stamina for some walking — and a camera to memorialize your bragging rights.
While any number of size and shot combinations will do, I’d recommend a 20-gauge shotgun loaded with 1 oz. of no. 7 for these small, half-pound birds.
I’d also pair that with skeet and or improved cylinder chokes since most of the shooting will probably be within 20 yards and a wider pattern improves your chances of bagging a quick-banking bird.
Perhaps best yet, quail provide some fine table fare. Not to mention that when you tucker into your quarry, the memories of a day in the field at a place like PriestView will be sure to bring a smile to your face — and no shortage of tales retold to anxious ears.
Peter Brookes has a home in Fort Valley and scribbles about the great outdoors when he can. Email him to email@example.com