Southern Quail hunting was a thing of beauty. The dogs, the guns, the horses, the fields — it was the sport of kings, but it was not held by them exclusively. The common southerner could hunt ‘till he passed out and the song of the bobwhite would echo in his heart forever back then. Yes, you would show up on a hunt and see a Purdy shotgun or an A.H. Fox, but you would also find a man with a beat-up A5 or 1100 in his hands just as easily. The dogs would have lineages as fine as any European aristocrat and as common as mine. Carhartt pants were worn as well as Stafford’s custom-made pants. Back then bird hunting knew no bounds.
At my age, I missed most of the great Southern quail hunting. Like most things in my lifetime, I seem to have only caught the tail end of it. The tail end of southern towns before the migration south started, the tail end of truly rural Georgia, the tail end of the Dixiecrats. However, about the time I could walk good and be away from my momma, Pop started taking me hunting with him. Pop, by the way, was what I called my mother’s father. Now admittedly, hunting with Pop by this time was as much about drinking coffee and eating pie at his buddies’ farms as it was about following Dixie, his old pointer, in the field. Now mind you, this was all good for me. Whether it was pie or hunting, I was game. (Some of you might know him if you were raised on dairy farms down here. His name was Jim Quintrell. If you did, please send me a note.)
Jim was a big man from the mountains of Fannin County, Georgia who loved bird dogs and bird hunting, and to throw the gauntlet down, I don’t believe Pop ever killed a pen-raised bird. He believed birds were meant to be wild and he hunted wild birds. Fencerows and cutovers were where you would find a wild quail back then. Before the advent of better tractors and a lot of defoliants, we used to have hedgerows and fencerows down here. Thick briars and broom sedge would grow up in them, and you could find rabbits and quail there.
As I grew up the wild quail died away, and for years I didn’t quail hunt at all. Eventually, I got invited to a few hunts here and there, but they were all pen-raised birds. Don’t get me wrong, they were fun, and I enjoyed them. There’s just no way you would ever confuse them for a wild covey when they busted cover. The more I hunted, the more I realized it was all about the dogs. They’re the reason to go now. There are just a few things in this world as beautiful as an English Setter or German Short Hair locked down on a bird, the grace an English Cocker shows when busting the covey and retrieving a bird is far more fun to watch than some overpaid receiver picking a one-handed catch in the end zone.
Pop loved his bird dogs.
A famous story in my family is not long before I was born, Pop bought a set of shock collars for the bird dogs. He was concerned they might hurt the dogs too much. One night, my parents were over for dinner (they only lived about a mile away and often came over for pie and dinner) Pop looked over at my father (his son-in-law) and says “Kenneth, how about putting this collar on and running down to the dog pens so you can tell me how much it hurts. I don’t want to hurt the dogs.”
Granny immediately said, “Jim, for Pete’s sake! You are going to kill him.”
Dad ended up not being the test subject, but that was how much Pop thought of his dogs.
This time of year, I always think a lot about Pop. Pop loved to cook. When I was little Christmas at my house was a big deal. I mean a lot of times after church on Christmas eve there would be 40 people at our house. Friends, family, neighbors, adopted family. Everyone came to my parent’s house it seemed like. Now here’s how it worked. Granny (my grandmother and mother’s mother) would bring canned green beans and corn they grew in their summer garden. Pop would always make a German chocolate cake and fudge! I can still smell that cake and taste the fudge. Those thoughts and smells can still bring tears to my eyes with memories.
You know, in the end, Pop always had time to take me hunting. He always had some peppermint chews in his pocket and a pocketknife in case he needed to peel an apple or skin something I had killed. If you didn’t have a Pop in your life, be one for someone else. If you had one, have one, or know one, tell them how much they mean to you right now. One day all the Pops will be gone.
In the end, this is all we are going to leave behind.
—Outdoors columnist James Pressley can be reached at email@example.com