Some Fine Caroline County Quail
By Dennis Doyle
Closing the now-loaded barrels on my Beretta 20-gauge over-under, I strolled into a strengthening crosswind up the edge of a wide, open field of thick grasses. My 2-year-old black Lab, Hobbes, was loping out to the front of us with his nose in the air in fierce concentration as my son, Harrison, pushed ahead on the upwind side.
The pup was eager and willing, we had exercised him earlier to try and keep his energy in check but it was obviously not enough, his feet barely touched the ground as he worked the cover about 30 yards out. Fearing he would spook the quail into an early flush I called him back closer and he responded, though reluctantly. Then I released him ahead once again.
When the pup moved to the spot that had earlier caught his attention I warned Harrison to be ready. Hobbes tensed and focused his vision on a thick clump of tall grass just four feet from his nose, when my son finally closed in, the dog lunged forward as if to pin his prey with his front paws. A small brown cannon ball shot out of the grass in a rattle of feathers up into the wind and then curved away from Harry who was desperately tracking the bird with his gun barrels.
The first shot was wide but the second drew a burst of feathers and the brown speedster dropped into the open field. I immediately lost sight of it but luckily Hobbes was on the job and scooped up the fallen critter in full stride and brought it quickly back to my hand. Not a bad start.
Handing the bird to Harry, who slipped it into his game bag, we resumed pushing the rest of the section. We were hunting on Donny Swann’s Eastern Shore, Caroline County Shooting Preserve on the family’s 600-acre working farm. Their operation features bobwhite quail, chukar, and ring-necked pheasant, raised, maintained and released on their farm.
I first hunted the Swann’s place many years ago with my first German shorthaired pointer, Maggie, and had grown quite fond of the Swann family and their bird hunting operation. They were all devout sportspeople and understood the environment necessary for fostering upland birds. And, I noticed, they still had the big kennels holding about a dozen setters and pointers that were their own personal animals, as well as hunting companions for visitors.
Harrison and I continued down the fields of cover harboring the game birds. It was quite emotional to remember those early days on this farm, years ago, as my first pointer learned her skills and we both began an exciting sport that I would pursue for over 50 years, on five continents, seven countries and quite a number of American states.
Within another hour or so my son and I had bagged enough birds for a nice dinner, one of the best things that quail hunting provides. We wrap each of the cleaned birds in a strip of bacon and place them on a hot charcoal grill or in an oven broiler, turning them once the bacon has crisped on one side. Once it is crisped on the other, the result is a perfectly done bird and a truly delicious meal. Paired with wild rice, some sautéed carrots or green beans, artisanal bread and a nice Boston lettuce salad there are few dining experiences that can compare. Well-chilled champagne would not be out of place as an accompanying beverage.
Rockfish season closes on Dec. 10. Pickerel, white perch, snakeheads and catfish remain open in the Bay. Oceanside it’s one rockfish from 28 to 34 inches, four tautog of at least 16 inches, and 15 black sea bass, 12.5-inch minimum size.