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Edisto Island January quail hunt

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Two quail hunters share the camaraderie from a day spent in the field. Photo by Julie Gyselinck

When sportsmen go afield with bird dogs they honor both the tradition of quail hunting and those that went hunting before them. January is always the middle section of quail season each year, bringing a time to embrace each and every day when the weather allows an upland hunt. A recent return to rural parts of Edisto Island brought three hunters together on an afternoon where one newbie, the hunt host and I walked behind a brace of bird dogs.

The tail of an English setter can signal many things. A gentle wagging can signal that the search for scent is underway, while a slowing of all bodily movement and a still tail might mean a quail has been scented. This is often followed by that motionless locked-up pose with a flag of a tail straight up in the air signaling that hunting success is close at hand. Besides the setter, we also saw a German short-haired pointer and an English pointer go to work for us along the hedgerows and ditch banks associated with the sea island terrain.

Mark Steedley keeps his bird dogs ready during winter for quail season, and he enjoys time spent working them for quail, the same as many of us. I joined Steedley in an effort to share a quail hunting experience with Julie Gyselinck from Explore Edisto. This newbie lady hunter was armed with a borrowed 20-gauge double-barrel shotgun for the day, and while her shots never did connect with a flushing quail, they did serve to connect her with an in-depth appreciation for seeing the dogs work.

At the beginning of the hunt, guide Seborn Rogers demonstrated to Gyselinck how to load and handle the firearm. Firing off some test shots into the air, she quickly learned to brace against the moderate kick from the shotgun, and to insert some earplugs too. The first point of the day came from a setter named Cha-Cha and the bird flew to my side of the hunt formation. Despite Cha-cha banging into my leg when she bounded after the flushing quail, I was able to steady my base and connect on a shot at a fleeing target.

There are several specific gear requirements for upland hunting that must be obtained for the hunt. Most important is the blaze orange hat and shooting vest that will facilitate everyone’s safety. Gyselinck borrowed a blaze orange vest and soon realized that even when in open cover, safety practices are a must. The guide will direct hunters how to approach any dogs on point, but the orange fabric serves as a reminder when those same birds begin flying.

Since walking through fields and around woodlands is part of quail hunting, comfortable boots are warranted. Edisto Island is very wet heading into 2015, so wearing a waterproof boot would be prudent for keeping feet dry and warm. I also wear shooting gloves and before I ever load my shotgun, I try to reach a mental state that keeps me mindful of the canines, and thankful for any time spent in the field.

The proper shotgun selection for quail hunting is most likely the twenty-gauge shotgun, which offers plenty of pellets per shell, but gives the birds a bit more of a sporting chance. Experienced sportsman can go a step further and shoot the smaller shells of a twenty-eight-gauge for even more of a sporting hunt. A twelve-gauge shotgun is certainly acceptable, but perhaps best when used in an over and under firearm.

An old saying is that a smart bird dog makes the hunters look good, so just get behind a good one and try to keep up. The unpredictable flight of quail can make for a challenging wingshot from time to time, even for an experienced quail hunter. The day ended with a pointer named Trap standing over some birds; and, as I approached, I recalled that I had hunted over Trap three years prior, and I admired that he was still working hard in the field. Going over the same ground with a good friend and his trusty canine only brings a more resolute appreciation for the sport.

Three birds flushed, with two of them swinging to my side of the hunt formation. The first shot from my Ithaca twenty-gauge double barrel went through an improved cylinder choke and was on the mark, causing the bird to fall to the earth. The second shot went through a modified choke designed for longer shots, and while striking the quail, it fell a good ways away. When Trap charged over and retrieved that second bird I was grateful for his assistance to complete a rare double, and end our day on a high note.

Rogers collected the quail to clean, and Steedley vowed to cook some appetizers with them a little later in the week. Gyselinck told me that after tagging along on our quail hunt, she better understood the sporting nature of hunting with bird dogs. Working the dogs, striding the land, and harvesting some birds will always entertain and enlighten us, serving to generate special memories for those who participate in any upland hunt for quail.

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdors.com