Monday, December 30, 2013

The Great Bobwhite Revival - Time for an Update

As the year draws to a close I figure it's a good time to revisit this little project I've been on the periphery of for a while.

Sometimes things get going with much fanfare and celebration, and sometimes they just get going. In late May, final touches were hurriedly put on a draft of a plan for restoring bobwhite populations in South Carolina and presented to the SC DNR board. The presentation was well-received and, no objections being raised, we had implicit approval to proceed.

Boom. Kinda like when your ride to the party gets there an hour early. But hey, when your choices are a change in schedule or watching reruns, you get your ass in the car.

In all seriousness, this was an incredible bit of good fortune, albeit unexpected in its timing, and because of the early green light there wasn't a great deal of activity over the summer. Letters of invitation were mailed to a number of governmental agencies and NGOs for inclusion in the council that will serve as the advisory board, set the agenda and oversee the work of the restoration effort. In a move that shows the commitment within the department, the director of the DNR agreed to serve as chair of the council, the importance of which is crucial given the constant and substantial push it will require to generate and maintain momentum.

After the May meeting the plan itself got some polish and shine and a first printing run and it looks great. There's a story about it in the NBCI's 2013 Almanac and you can download a copy from the NBCI's website. Unfortunately it's not yet available on the SC DNR's site.

The project itself is extremely ambitious. The goal is 50% of the managed density target (fancy biologist speak for number of bobwhites per acre) in 5 years and 100% in ten years. This doesn't leave much time for talking and thinking and planning and that's a good thing. These will have to happen as part of the effort, occurring in conjunction with any habitat work.

So where do we go from here? A plan may cost a lot of money and represent a lot of time, but unless you can turn it into results it's only worth the paper it's printed on.  A good first step will be the inaugural meeting of the quail council, at which they will likely choose the initial focus area and set a schedule to begin work. And it grows outward from there, expanding from the focus area to other properties in the focal region, and then to other focal regions within the state.

While public land is the foundation of the effort, private lands are a necessity to reach the density goals, which means that word needs to get out about this effort. Marketing and quail are two words not often found in the same sentence, but the more people we can get talking about it and asking about it and interested enough to raise their hands and say "How can I help?", the quicker this will become reality. Stories like this and this need to spread like weeds.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Do yourself a favor

The long-awaited Mouthful of Feathers e-book quietly hit the virtual shelves this week. I won't beat around the bush - I've read it and it's everything you'd expect, and I can easily say it's the best $4.99 I've forked over all year.

Mouthful of Feathers book cover

Mouthful of Feathers is THE literary blog of upland hunting, a perfect mix of reality, reflection and edge that can leave you with a desire to go there and a sense that you just left. A book with the same title should extend equal doses, and this certainly does.

Chad Love has a pair of stories, both told in in his unique way that makes them impossible to forget.  Reid Bryant has two as well.  Tosh Brown shows he's more than just a world-class sporting photographer while Michael Gracie offers up a unique perspective on the hunt. Cover artist Bob White pulls double duty with a written contribution and Greg McReynolds, whose Shotgun Chronicle blog I dearly miss, explores solitude as a hunter's virtue.

Two guys whose work embodies all that is western bird hunting, Bruce Smithhammer and Tom Reed, deliver in full. Smithhammer lays out a haunting tale of bird hunting in no man's land and Reed pays homage to the sage grouse while making me a bit hungry in the process. And Gray's fishing editor Miles Nolte kicks it all off.

One thing I really enjoyed were the quotes and photographs from the MOF archives that were dropped between the stories.  A nice touch by the editors.

I've told you enough. Do yourself a favor, give yourself a gift, file it under whatever form of self-indulgence makes you happy. You can get it here.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bull Durham goes hunting

Two things I've learned in the time since I turned 40:
  1. They can't accurately predict the weather more than a few days in advance.
  2. Windows of opportunity open less frequently than they used to.
If the 10 day outlook says it's gonna rain next Saturday, it's a pretty good bet the sun will be shining.  Unless that's the only day you can hunt, in which case it will be dead on, right down to the hour.

It's pretty bad when you resort to checking the hourly forecast to see if it's worth getting out of bed.  It's equally bad when the season is three weeks old and you've been hunting once. With kids.

Weather radar

The radar looks clear for at least a few more hours. Roll the dice.

Dodge showers all the way to the game management property. Watch it rain harder as you pull through the gate. Check the radar again, only there's no cell service, and so you have no idea when it may let up. Or if. There are these days, days when you don't want to win the lottery, you just want a break, a really small, inconsequential in the grand scheme of things break. Literal and meteorological.

Almost simultaneously, you get a case of the fuckits and the rain does indeed subside. Six feet on the ground and you're committed. And if you're really, really lucky, you get that break.

Draper WMA

And you're not the only one who's happy.

Wet Brittany

Oh yeah, one other thing I've learned: There's no such thing as completely waterproof boots.

Wet hunting boots

To quote Ebby Calvin Laloosh (quoting Skip), "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains."

Thursday, December 5, 2013

And this is quail hunting (spoiler alert: it's not what you think)

With a twitch of anger and long exhale of resignation I received the news last Saturday evening that my wife had to work on Sunday.  Nothing I could do about this but modify my plans. A week into quail season and I hadn't been yet and Sunday was going to be my day, only now I would be taking both kids along with me.

Waist-high kids don't move easily through waist-high weeds, nor do they shrug off briars as part of the deal, so my plan was to stick to the roads as much as possible. These are forestry service roads, crusher run base, maintained pretty well and scattered, smothered, covered and chunked in small rocks. Not 100 yards in I turn around to check on my companions and see four tiny hands full of stones.

Me: "What are you going to do with all of those rocks?"
Both kids: "I don't know."
"They're gonna get heavy.  You might want to set them down here and pick them up on the way back."
"No thanks." At least our efforts at manners are showing progress.

Another 50 yards I turn again. Coat pockets now full, cradled arms are filling up.  And then other places.

"Did you put rocks in your underwear?"
"Then what are all of those lumps in your pants?"
"Nothing." Later decrypted, I discovered that nothing is code for rocks.

At the end of the road lies a river, a welcome break from the monotony of walking and finding no birds. And a brainstorm...
"Why don't you throw those rocks into the water?"
Glance at each other followed by a fusillade of granite.

Deer sign is a wonderful diversion from boredom, if only for a while. As are trees that have been struck by lightning, areas that have been burned, flattened soda cans, and noises in the grass. On our way back to the truck my son heard rustling in the weeds next to the road.

"Dad, what's that?"
"I don't know, what do you think it is?"
"A bear."
"Can you handle him if he jumps out at us?"
Long silence.  "If he jumps out at us I'll hit him with this stick and poke it down his mouth and push him over backwards and then you can shoot him and then we can take him home and eat him for supper."
"Sounds like a plan, pal."

I don't know what it is about sticks and rocks but it's impossible for kids to walk in the woods without picking up one or both. I do know that I have a growing collection of both in the back of my truck. My son informed me that he was going to take the bear-killing stick home and paint it red, like blood. When we got home, and I'm guessing here, he discovered a rock in his pocket, forgot about the stick, and painted the rock red with a magic marker. In the process he painted his hands red and grew a red beard on slightly more than half of his face.

Yes, this was a quail hunting trip.

When life gives you lemons you realize there are some things you can control, some things you can't, and some things you just shouldn't.