A Georgia transplant recalls his opening day of the bobwhite quail season, including the magic of his dog’s first point and other lessons learned
Some days do not start as you’d like them to. However, once in a while they do end the way you wanted them to.
Public land is just that; it’s for everyone. There’s a parcel of land out there to satisfy just about every outdoor enthusiast or newcomer, regardless of your interests. For me, I’m out on public land to chase wild bobwhite quail.
Coming from New Jersey, bobwhite quail were something out of a fairytale for me; about as real as unicorns. Since arriving in Georgia, though, I’ve had the pleasure of linking up with some local folks who assured me that this was not the case. We started with some scouting in South Georgia ahead of the season opener. We weren’t able to put a point on any birds, but that didn’t stop them from taunting us with their timeless whistle. Those birds were there alright—suddenly an old wives’ tale became a newlywed’s first dance. The story of our opening day was written on the lure of an old tree that harbored whistles and some guys willing to make the drive to hear it again.
The opening day dance with bobwhite quail
Sure enough, we returned on an early morning after a long ride through country back roads. For someone who’d like to keep their secret hunting spots a secret, I’m the perfect partner—just about any ride in the truck that lasts for more than an hour seems to be about as productive for me like a shot of NyQuil. You will never have to worry about me revealing directions to an undisclosed location. Instead, I always seem to wake up with just enough time to put a grin on my face that rivals a young’un on Christmas. No need for the blindfold, just make sure you’re driving.
Keeping your head up is the name of the game when hunting wild birds. Much like bird dog training, finding wild quail takes patience and consistency. We ran into a few different groups of other opening-day bird hunters that morning and shared some small talk. Let me assure you that bird hunters do not fit a predetermined mold. Not one of us shared the same look, only that we were all chasing birds with dogs in tow. I found that fact rather suiting for public land that is available for everyone.
As the day went on, it seemed we were the only ones without a little luck on our side. We ran three strings of gung-ho gun dogs waiting for their shot at a point. Cumulatively, those dogs probably covered 40 miles of plains and pines. I admire and strive for the same dedication that those dogs carry. They don’t have a lick of quit in them, but us handlers were growing hungry as the day went on. Without any birds in the bag, we retreated to some local street-side barbecue, followed by a nap. Getting back to the hunt took some encouragement, but once we turned the dogs loose, we found our groove right away. Stories were exchanged, advice was given, and we walked. And walked. Time passed slowly for the first portion of our afternoon hunt.
A bird dog’s first point
Typically for me, running bird dogs has a blocking effect on whatever lies outside of that moment, just like blinders on a horse with one destination in mind. That day was different. The hunt offered a time of reflection and an opportunity to receive some much-needed advice from my closest friends.
What was about to happen was nothing shy of exactly what I needed that day. When you put in the effort, nature has a bag the size of Mary Poppins’s bottomless bag to pay it back to you.
There is a small detail I left out: my dog Colt had never been on wild birds.
The call started to echo until it made its way through our whole group. Colt was locked in, his head was high, and his eyes were intense. He was sure of himself. That trust between dog and handler was earned because of the work we had put in together. My partners and I walked around Colt waiting for the explosion. Bam.
Like someone had lit a fuse to one of Joe Dirt’s fireworks, the covey yielded 10 birds or more, all flying a beeline to anywhere but there. Our century-old guns all came up and released a spread, each meant for a bird. My excuse is that I was so excited for Colt’s first find that I had simply forgotten to hit one. As for my partners, well, maybe someone mixed up some blanks in that old box of RST low-pressure shells.
To speak more of the birds missed would miss the point. It didn’t matter to me; my hands were shaking as it was. Colt had put on a display of dog work that paid homage to my mentors; he confirmed our year-round training days. In short, it all came together for him—and me—on that opening day.
Give thanks for the land, the dogs, and the people
We often speak of defining moments. This had been one of them, and it will never be forgotten.
The day began to retreat, providing a cool breeze and a quickly setting sun. While everyone was occupied with packing the truck, I took a moment to walk the fire road with Colt and picked a spot. We sat there and listened for a bit, taking a moment to appreciate what we had been given, both the resource as well as the people. There are people who I can no longer pick up a phone to thank, but days like this make it clear that they have not strayed far from me.
It can be difficult to express just how that feels, but, suffice it to say, say your thanks often—so long as they are genuine. Do not be afraid to be the person who tells their dog thank you, too, for they’ll be happy you did. Be fearless when you chase your passion because the right support will quickly stand beside you. And finally, do not get so focused on what is next that you forget to be grateful for what you have already had the opportunity to enjoy.
To put it simply, Jared Ungar is a person with a passion for the outdoors, an addiction to bird dogs and a desire to share what he learns along the way.