Crazy-flying game birds are a great challenge

Pete Zimowsky / Idaho Statesman /

Quail started buzzing out of the cattails and brush along the Snake River like popcorn on a hot fire.

The dog kept blasting through the thorny-and-tangled-vine thicket with an adrenaline rush of quail scent. The gamey scent overwhelmed her, and she ignored the foggy, cold weather of the midwinter day. Our retriever started losing all control when she heard quail calling or chattering.

Birds continued to explode out of the brush, and I still hadn’t fired a shot.

What the heck? There were too many birds flushing, and too many decisions on what shots to try to make.

Safety off. Aim. Don’t shoot. Safety on. Safety off. Aim. Too late. Safety on.

Watch your footing. Make sure the safety’s on. Don’t slip on the river rocks. Watch the mud holes.

The softball-sized game birds buzzed over my head, off to the side, straight away and low along the river’s edge. They were making banked turns every which way.

This is the ultimate in guerrilla quail hunting. After years of hunting quail, throwing tons of steel shot in air and getting outsmarted 75 percent of the time, I decided that you have to get down in the worst river thicket possible and go after the birds on their terms.

That meant donning chest waders, getting in the river and walking along the bank in the gnarliest places. It means getting tangled in thorns, cattails, cockleburrs and getting rips in your best hunting jacket.

The simple theory is that the birds will bust out of the brush and fly over the river, giving you a clear shot.

Wrong. They know you’re in the river and start running or flying low and cork-screwing through the brush. It ends up like trying to shoot popcorn with a BB gun. River-bottom quail hunting is a challenge. I keep telling myself I love that challenge. I like the sound of the birds flushing, the sound of the dog breaking through brush and the split-second shooting. I also love the taste of quail, but if I had to depend on the small upland game bird for dinner, I’d starve.