Georgia's Weird Quail Tales

Georgia's Weird Quail Tales

One of the pleasures of pursuing bobwhites is watching good bird dogs at work on a crisp fall morning. But sometimes even the best pointers can surprise you. Listen to these stories from the Peach State fields.

Photo by Ken Dunwoody

By Duncan Dobie

Good bird dogs are dead serious about their line of work. So serious, in fact, that once on a point, nothing short of a major calamity like the eruption of Mount St. Helens can deter them from the business at hand. If you don't believe it, just ask Kyle Ford of Marietta. Having been an avid bobwhite hunter for over 30 years, Kyle has been around many unusual and exceptional dogs.

Back in the late 1960s, Kyle and his father Herb were hunting near Lawrenceville in Gwinnett County. Kyle was a budding teenager at the time. In those days, he and his father hunted together nearly every weekend during bird season, and well-trained bird dogs could always find plenty of wild birds in most of the undeveloped suburbs around Atlanta. Of course, those "golden days" of quail hunting are a thing of the past, but Kyle and his father have a boatload of priceless memories.

"We always knew where eight or 10 good coveys were located," Kyle remembers. "On any given day we could find three or four coveys right near our home off Brockett Road in DeKalb County. Or we could go out to Gwinnett County or maybe down to Henry County and find half a dozen more. Finding birds was never a problem."

On this particular day, it was cold, wet and icy. For the faint of heart, it was not a good time to be hunting bobwhites. The temperature was well below freezing and the ground had frozen during the night. In many areas, the exposed surface of the ground was covered with large chunks of ice that had pushed up through the red Georgia clay. Kyle and Herb were hunting with Harold Arnold, a frequent quail-hunting companion. As usual, the trio had gotten an early start that morning, despite the adverse weather.

Shortly after Kyle and Herb let their two dogs out of the truck, Jake, a liver-and-white pointer of about 7 or 8 years, mysteriously disappeared. Jake was a fine working dog. It was not like him to pull a disappearing act. After he had been noticeably gone for a good while, the three men decided to split up so they could look for him. Kyle and Herb were not too far apart when Harold, who was over on the edge of a wide power line easement, started whistling to get their attention.

When the three men joined up, Harold had a distressed look on his face.

"I found your dog," he told Herb in a serious tone. "I don't know how to tell you this, but he's dead."

"Dead?" Herb replied. "What are you talking about? How could old Jake be dead?"

"He must have had a heart attack is the only thing I can figure," Harold answered. "He's at the bottom of a hill over by the power line, and he's dead as a doornail. He looks like he's already half-frozen, too, because he's lying on his back and his feet are sticking straight up in the air."

Kyle and Herb were devastated. Not only was Jake a fine bird dog, he was also a longtime member of the family. For the Fords, he had been a gift from the hunting gods. He had appeared out of nowhere and followed Kyle home from grammar school one day and taken up residence in the Ford home. Knowing he was a valuable animal, Herb had run ads in the local newspaper for weeks, but the dog's rightful owner never came forth to claim him. The father and son team eventually began to train Jake, and he later developed into one of the finest bird dogs the Fords ever owned.

"Well I'd like to go get Jake so we can bury him. You mind showing me where he's at?" Herb said after the initial shock had somewhat worn off.

Harold led Kyle and Herb over to the edge of the power line. There, 30 yards in front of them at the bottom of a small hill, lay Jake, flat on his back with three of his legs up in the air, just like Harold had said. Kyle and Herb could see skid marks on the icy hillside where Jake apparently had run down the hill, lost his footing and started sliding in the icy red clay, and then piled up at the bottom of the hill under a large bush.

Kyle and Herb were on the verge of tears. The three men approached their fallen companion and stood a few feet away, paying their respects to the motionless dog.

"Old Jake, old buddy," Herb said. "What could have possibly happened to you?"

"I guess we better take off his collar," Herb added, regaining his composure.

Kyle and Herb put their shotguns down on the ground. Herb bent down to retrieve Jake's collar. As he reached for the dog's neck, the undergrowth around all three men suddenly exploded in a blinding blur of tiny brown rockets. It was like being on the runway while a jetliner was taking off. A covey of at least 25 bobwhites - definitely the largest of the day - had been roosting under the very bush that Jake had landed beside. Birds flew up in all directions.

At this point, Herb was the one who nearly had a heart attack. Jake jumped up wagging his tail and stiffly shaking off some of the frozen mud.

The tracks in the mud now told a completely different story, which had a much happier ending. Apparently Jake had been working the side of the hill when his nose told him that a covey of birds was close by. As he tried to put on the brakes, he must have lost his footing upon hitting the frozen mud. Jake's feet slipped out from under him and he went sledding down the hill on his back. When he finally came to rest at the bottom of the hill so close to the covey, he locked onto point, still in his upside-down position in the frozen mud.

"Instead of rigor mortis, Jake was dutifully doing his job," Kyle remembers. "We had no way of knowing how long he lay there in that position, but we knew he'd been missing for nearly an hour. If we hadn't found him when we did, he might well have frozen to death for real. It's also a miracle that those birds didn't flush when Jake landed only a few inches away from them. I guess they were too cold, and since Jake was as still as a granite statue, they weren't that worried about him. Old Jake was one good dog!"

A number of years after the "ice capades" incident with old Jake, Kyle joined a bird-hunting club in southwest Georgia. The club boasted about 4,000 acres of prime quail habitat. Kyle was hunting on the property during the winter of 1995 when he ran into a fellow club member whom he had never before met. The two men started talking. During the course of the conver

sation, the man told Kyle he had just raised a litter of Brittany spaniels.

"I've got two puppies left," the man said. "One is the no-count runt of the litter and she'll never be good for anything. I'll give her to you for free if you'll take her. You ought to come over to my place and take a look at her."

"I just don't need any more dogs right now," Kyle told the man. "But thanks, anyway."

The next day, Kyle ran into the same man again. This time, the man had the little runt of the litter in his truck with him. She was only about six weeks old, and very small.

"Since I can't get rid of this runt, I'm just going have to put her down," the man informed Kyle. "I can't afford to have any worthless dogs around my place."

Kyle already owned a kennel full of pointers. He definitely didn't need another dog, especially a young puppy that would require a lot of care. But the man's heartless attitude was definitely beginning to rub Kyle the wrong way, and his conscience wouldn't allow him to leave the little puppy to such a gloomy fate.

"If you're serious about putting her down, I'll take her off your hands," Kyle told the man.

"You're welcome to take her, but she'll never be any good," the man repeated.

Kyle brought the little puppy home with him. He named her Macy. As she grew older, she started filling out nicely. Like most Brittanys, she was extremely intelligent, and Kyle started training her. Even though Brittanys may not have a reputation as being the best quail dogs in the world, this little pup had an incredible natural ability to locate and point birds. She also had an incredible knack for finding and retrieving downed birds.

"Within a year, Macy was completely broken to wing and shot," Kyle said. "She was a natural, and I started taking her hunting with me a lot."

During the winter of '96, shortly after arriving at the lodge on the same club property in South Georgia, Kyle ran into the same man who had given him the "worthless" puppy. By this time Macy was just over a year old.

"You still got that no-count dog?" the man asked Kyle.

"Yeah, I still have her," Kyle answered.

"I don't guess you were ever able to do anything with her, were you?" the man asked.

"She's not bad," Kyle answered. "In fact, she's turning into a pretty fair bird dog."

"Is that a fact?" the man said. "I figured she'd never amount to a hill of beans."

"She can hold her own," Kyle told the man. "In fact, I'm hunting with her today. If you want to see for yourself, you're welcome to join us."

Reluctant to believe Kyle's words, the man accepted his offer. Macy worked flawlessly that day, both pointing and retrieving. After she had found the fourth covey of the day, the man was absolutely dumbfounded at her ability.

"I might have made a big mistake," the man grumbled.

Kyle couldn't have been more pleased. It was almost as if he and Macy were deliberately plotting against the former owner who kept insisting that the young dog was worthless. After several hours of hunting, the man approached Kyle.

"I'd like to get my dog back from you," he said. "Being that you trained her and all, I'll give you $500 for her."

"No thanks," Kyle said. "She's not for sale."

Later in the day the man approached Kyle again.

"I tell you what," he said. "I'll give you $1,000 for the dog, but that's my final offer."

"Sorry," Kyle answered as courteously as he could. "Macy is part of my family now and she's really not for sale."

Later that evening after a satisfying day afield, while everyone was sitting out on the front porch of the lodge in a rocker, the man approached Kyle for the third time.

"I really want my dog back," the man said. "I'll give you $2,000 for her right now."

"It wouldn't be right to sell you a worthless dog," Kyle replied.

Sometimes dogs know things that we don't give them credit for. While Kyle was still in his late teens, he and his father were given permission to hunt bobwhites on a piece of property near Monticello. After having a very successful morning, they were working their way back toward the road where their truck was parked, picking up a few single birds along the way. As they neared the truck they saw a man standing in the road. He was screaming, yelling and raising Cain about something. The two hunters could see that he was also carrying a rifle.

"I don't know what that man's problem is," Herb told his son. "But since he's toting a gun, you can't be too careful. Let's spread out a little ways apart and when we get close you go stand behind that bush yonder and cover me just in case."

The two hunters approached the screaming man as planned. The man did not see Kyle. Herb stepped out in the open and asked the man what the problem was.

"You're trespassing on private property!" the man screamed. "You don't have any right to be here hunting!"

Kyle's father politely explained that he did, in fact, have permission to hunt on the property, citing the owner's name and telling the irate man that he and the owner were personal friends.

The man continued his tirade and began to wave his rifle around menacingly. Herb could see that it was a .22 caliber.

"You better be careful who you're yelling threats at, since we've got you outnumbered," Herb told the man in no uncertain terms. "You might be able to get one of us with that pea shooter of yours, but you can't get us both. And we've got the bigger guns!"

At that point Kyle stepped out of the bushes with his shotgun across his arm to let the man see that he was indeed facing two men holding shotguns instead of one. The stalemate between them was suddenly broken by Bullet, the Ford's other big liver-and-white pointer, who was often paired with Jake. Bullet had earned himself a special place of honor with Kyle and Herb because of the unusual way he pointed birds.

"If he was pointing a covey, he would always stand with his tail arched forward over his head," Kyle remembers fondly. "If he was pointing a single bird, however, he would always hold his tail straight back - every time! If we were hunting with friends, Dad obviously knew whether he was pointing a single or a covey, and he would say, 'That's a single bird he's got th

ere.' When a single bird flushed, the person hunting with us would say, 'How did you know that?' After this happened three or four times, the person hunting with us would be completely baffled. Of course, Dad never let on how he knew."

Bullet had been over in some nearby bushes searching for several downed birds when the confrontation with the irate man started. The 75-pound pointer now stepped out of the bushes happily carrying two birds in his mouth. He was only a few yards from the man.

Bullet obviously had been within hearing distance of the screaming and yelling, and he knew something was going on. As if on cue, the big pointer walked up to the irate man. While still holding the two retrieved birds in his mouth, he then proceeded to lift his hind leg and relieve himself all over the man's pant leg.

"Get him off of me! Get him off of me!" the man screamed as he backed away.

The irate stranger was so flabbergasted at what the dog had done that the argument quickly ceased.

Both Jake and Bullet have long since gone on to that great kennel in the sky, but little Macy, now an energetic 9 years old, is still an important member of the Ford hunting team!

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