Quail opener was very tough (a limited sample) but the day was huge success

By JIM MATTHEWS www.OutdoorNewsService.com

While the sample size is pretty limited for this report, this year’s upland bird opener turned out pretty much as predicted: Tough. I’m the sample size. My sons, a nephew, and I hunted in the Cajon Pass area on San Bernardino National Forest land and managed to bag a single valley quail. We made three hikes through habitat near water -- critical this time of year -- where I have found good numbers of birds in the past. On two of the hikes we saw nary a quail, and on the other we jumped a covey of about 10 birds. I happened to be in the right spot and managed to get the single bird, an easy crossing shot. We did see a number of cottontails and my youngest son jumped two mule deer while battling through some heavy brush. The amazing thing is that none of the rest of us saw the deer as they slipped away along invisible trails in the chaparral. Using something other than the birds-bagged criteria, we had a terrific opening day. We had planned to spend the weekend out in the Mojave National Preserve where the hunting was predicted to be much better, but music got in the way (surprise tickets to Saturday night’s Zac Brown Band concert). The essential ingredients were going to be the same: We were going to be together doing something that was an essential part of our lives. I tell people that I learned/inherited three things from my father: fishing and a love of the outdoors, an appreciation for good music of all stripes, and a fired-up soul that accepted spirituality as easily as breathing. The older I get, the more I realize they might actually all be the same thing. Watching, talking, and texting with boys Friday and Saturday as this big weekend shaped up (“hunting and Zac Brown,” chirped one), made me also see how these passions have been passed on into this next generation. My oldest son Bo turned 30 this week. He was born on the opening day of deer season, his mother Becky going into labor while I was getting ready to go hunting with friends at the pre-dawn period we simply call o-dark-thirty. The buddies thought I was joking at first, but when they returned from hunting, we were in room 3006 (as in .30-06) with a new son. Bo is among the best game spotters I’ve ever known, and he wrinkles up his face at me when I tell him that. He thinks it’s just because he has very good vision – and that helps. But there is a patient hunter’s blood pulsing through his veins, and he’s beginning to understand that. Early, when he was just learning to fish, if he could see a trout or bass or bluegill he would turn into a heron, a motionless predator, poised for action when the time was right. Not normal for a 12-year-old. He has also been going to church, which is allowing him to put his finger on all those things flooding from his radiant soul that were simply a little confusing in the past. Many of those things emerge from his voice when he sings, the feeling and passion. I see his grandfather in Bo, and know my dad would love to play his saxophone with his vocals. Yet, Kyle is the musician, a natural shotgun shooter, and a peripatetic fisherman. Life is poetry of motion and sound to him, of clever repartee, and frustration with people who don’t get his wit. He is the natural athlete who came by the physical parts of the outdoor sports naturally. He picked up fly-casting in a day, but he’s still learning about fly-fishing. Bo, in contrast, gets fly-fishing implicitly, it’s the casting the tangles him up. Bo was frustrated with Kyle’s natural physical skills when the two boys were young. Bo, the tall, gangly one, had to work at becoming a good baseball player and mediocre shotgun shooter. Kyle could pitch with either hand, field and hit without thinking. Now, the roles are reversed as Kyle struggles to improve his voice and guitar skills while Bo simply sings without thinking. They nurture each other. If the hunting or fishing is bad, they talk about songs to learn or lyrics to write. Andy, the nephew, is new to the outdoor sports, with neither his mother (Becky’s sister) or father shooting or hunting or fishing. I had two uncles who were hunting mentors because my dad didn’t hunt, so having Andy along is natural and my two boys have come to insist on it. The three of them may not have a combined 600 IQ, but if you add in my 100-point brain, I’m pretty sure the tally would be close to that 600 mark. Andy has become the best shotgun shooter of the group, not because he’s a natural or worked at it hard. His math/physics/engineering-based mind figures the speed and angle of the bird, velocity of shot, and lead, and trajectory if it’s a long shot, and he does this in a micro-second, and he kills the bird -- or looks puzzled when he doesn’t; the post analysis. The first year he hunted doves with us, his first time with a shotgun in the field, he shot the most with the fewest shots. This year, he was the first to the 15-bird limit. With Andy, the conversations -- in the truck, at breakfast, or while taking a break in the field -- leap into a different realm because my boys know he can keep up or lead the romp. I frequently have no idea what is going on. There are galloping references running through lines in a movie, lyrics from a song, and an XKCD cartoon from the Internet. Keep up if you can. One of the boys mused, “What instrument should Andy play?” So the opener may not have had a lot of birds, but it had all the ingredients that can make a dad/uncle swell with pride, even if he knows the smart genes came from the other side of the family. END

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