Dove: it's what's for dinner...

First, a disclaimer: I’m fully aware that whitewing doves aren’t considered “upland” in the classic sense.  But here in our state of Hellfire Apocalypse Formerly Known as Texas, I am forced to write about them because it’s 112 degrees and quail are now extinct and ditch parrots may be too, but I haven’t looked.

So here’s how it goes.

Twenty years ago, we had to drive way south to hunt whitewings. There were huntable numbers in the Rio Grande Valley, but the proper flyways were in Mexico. In those days there were lodges in Tamaulipas staffed by wonderfully accommodating folks who would fetch your birds and hand you margaritas and nachos when your barrel became too hot to touch.

In December of 1983, an Arctic blast descended upon the Rio Grande Valley and wiped out massive groves of citrus trees that were favored nesting habitat for whitewings. Everyone assumed that would be the end of the Texas population, but instead of moving south to join their Mexico brethren, they began trickling north. They first showed up in San Antonio around 1990. They liked the massive liveoaks for nesting, the adjacent grain fields, and the abundance of backyard bird feeders. By 1995 they were in Austin, in 2000 they arrived in Dallas. And now they’re everywhere. In San Antonio, alone, the population is now 50 times as big as it ever was down in the Valley.

Grainfield in a can

They adapted, and so did we.

Nowadays, instead of sitting on a tank dam and waiting for a trickle of mourning doves, we gather around large fields adjacent to urban whitewing concentrations and wait for the daily assault. The first waves normally leave the towns around 7:30 am. They fly high and cautious and if you’re good with a full choke, they make a really neat “thud” when they auger in from the stratosphere. If you’re lucky enough to be in the field in which they want to feed, they come in undulating waves, juking and dive-bombing at eye level and making fools of those that forgot to switch from full to improved. While the bag limits aren’t as liberal as they once were in Mexico, it’s still a lot of fun, especially when your dog that once pointed quail discovers that shagging birds in a manicured farmfield ain’t as lame as it sounds.

Not shooting at quail

And what happened to the once fertile whitewing grounds in Mexico? I’m guessing that the birds are still there, but the lodges are now shuttered and the blenders are idle and those once accommodating locals will now shoot you in the face for no plausible reason.

Hey Gringo, fetch your own dang birds...

Batten Down the Hatches

I saw a quail last week.

Big whup, Tosh, you live in Texas.

You’re right, but it was the quail’s location within Texas that threw me into an extended ponder.

It was a single hen bobwhite, and she was standing in a little sandy patch next to the road. She looked healthy, and when she scurried into the grass I waited to see if she had chicks or a mate. It’s nesting season, you know.

Turns out she was single. A single bobwhite hen on Mustang Island, Texas. A single bobwhite hen standing next to the main beach road in Port Aransas. Sure, she had the dune grasses for cover, and I’ve seen wild coveys, before on the Texas barrier islands. But not here; not twenty yards from the surf and in the middle of town. I’ve never seen a quail mingling with the sunburned land whales, and the yowling rednecks, and the Natty cans, and the empty Funyon bags, and the cigarette butts, and the saggy-pants Latinos. A seagull can swallow a jumbo shrimp on a treble hook in one try; a quail chick wouldn’t stand a chance, for chrissakes.

Bobwhites are resolute little critters, and given a bit of fortune I suppose she could pair and mate and pull off a clutch in the midst of all that humanoid flotsam.

No fortune came her way, though. Hurricane Alex roared in the next afternoon, and the spot where I saw the little wayward hen got four feet of tide, sixty knot winds, and five inches of rain.

There’s a real estate office in Port Aransas that schlepps rusted-out condos and moldy beach houses. Their sign out front speaks that age-old axiom of real estate success.

Location. Location. Location.

– TB

Sharp-dressed Bird

I really like sharptails. If we ever run out of bobwhites in Texico, I’ll probably move north and hunt them fulltime.

Looking, first, at some of the sharpie’s kinfolk, I’d classify the ruffed grouse as the haughty blue-blood of the clan. He frequents the upper east and he’s often chased by folks who smoke pipes and belong to gunclubs. The spruce grouse is the inbred mountain-man of the family. He’s dumber than a stump, and that’s usually where he’s standing and staring blankly when a shotgun points his way.

Between these two intellectual extremes, we have the sharptail. He’s the sodbusting prairie-dweller that wakes up each morning with a different M.O. When it’s hot and windy he’ll flush underfoot and give you a decent chance. On cold days he’ll jump from the grass when the truck door slams and fly out of sight. I like his furry little feets and the way he cackles when he flushes. It’s a nasal, mocking, staccato, yodel that reminds me of the grade school punk that always needed an ass-whooping, but never got one.

Most endearing, though, is the sharpie’s little stomping and spinning jiggy-jag that he does when the ladies of spring are around. Thanks to Dawson Dunning for shooting this incredibly cool footage. – TB


He was the “assistant foreman” on a ranch in West Texas. I had a gate key to that ranch and permission to hunt quail, but nothing else.

At dusk on a January afternoon, I was parked on the edge of a CRP patch when Luther came clattering up the road in his derelict Ram Charger. His two Blue Healers were standing on the toolbox and peering over the cab. I clipped my pointers to the tailgate and filled their water pans as Luther ground to a halt in a cloud of red dust. He left his truck running because it likely wouldn’t start again if he didn’t.”

“Any birds in that?”

“Three coveys.”

“Get any?”


When the dust and exhaust fumes cleared I caught a whiff of a sickly perfumey smell wafting from his open truck window. He was somewhat shaven and his hair was slicked back. He had on a black felt hat and one of those patchwork Garth Brooks type shirts.

“Luther, where you off to?”


That could have been any number of places but I assumed he was referring to Lubbock.

“What’s the occasion?”

“I got a date.”

“Are you wearing Hai Karate?”

He flashed a sheepish grin and I noticed that his scraggly mustache had been touched up with a grease pencil, a Sharpie, or something similar. It didn’t do much for me, but maybe she would like it.

“Who’s the luck lady?”

“Gal I grow’d up with. I ain’t seen her in years. She’s lately divorced and living back with her mom, and them.” He leaned over to his rearview mirror and checked his teeth; then he plucked a toothpick from his hat brim. “She’s a real looker.”


“Head twirler back in high school.”

Luther looked at me with a wink and a nod. I turned and looked at his dogs. They turned and looked mine.

“So, where you taking her?”

“Kenny Chesney concert. She won some free tickets through the radio. She answered four trivia questions about livestock and politics and all.”

“Smart gal?”


“You taking your dogs to the concert?”

He pointed into the bed of his truck with his thumb. “They’ll be fine back yonder. Anybody tries to steal em will thank better of it when he has to pry some teeth off his boys.”

He waited for me to reply to that but I didn’t. He watched me unclip my pointers and open their boxes. It was getting dark and I had an hour on the road back to my motel.

“Whatta you give for a bird dog like them?”

“A lot; depends on their breeding and their finish.”

He studied the dogs as they spun and jumped into their boxes. “You gonna hunt again tomorrow?”

“Not sure; sounds like we’ve got some bad weather coming.”

“Well, if you do, I seen a big covey at that wire gap going into the croton pasture this morning. Least I thank they was quail—mighta been doves—do they run along the ground?”



“No, not as a rule.”

With that, he let off the clutch and his trucked lurched and sputtered down the road. After about fifty yards he stopped and hung his head out the window.

“Hey—if you come by the house in the morning and see my truck but I don’t answer the door….”


“…don’t keep on knockin, cause I might be doin some good?”

It was 22-degrees and spitting snow when I turned out my dogs the next morning. I hunted for a couple of hours before the wind picked up and it started dumping. On the way out of the ranch I drove past Luther’s house. His truck was out front with the driver-side door standing wide open. The snow was blowing sideways into the cab. His two Healers were sitting on the porch.

Two weeks later the paper said that Luther had been arrested for public intoxication and assault on a gal that was once a head twirler. I hunted that ranch one more time on the last weekend of the season and Luther’s house was locked up and dark. I never heard what happened to his dogs, and I never found that covey by the wire gap leading into the croton pasture.

– TB

The Skeleton Crew

My family owns a piece of arid ranchland in Maverick County Texas. When it rains, down there, it rains quail. When the pasture grasses reach the truck bumpers, and the grasshoppers billow from the bar ditches in clouds, we’ll have covey counts that’ll make an undisciplined pointer blow a gasket.

As of today, however, our county is now entering month 30 of the Mother of all Droughts. Normal rainfall in our area is 28 inches. So far this year we’ve had 6 inches. Last year we had 4.5. This past summer we had 80-plus days over 100 degrees. We sold our cattle back in June when our stock tanks went dry. When (if) we buy back in, we’ll pay twice what we sold them for. Two months ago, most of the Texas drought map was colored orange and red. You probably heard about it on the news. Since then, most of the State has gotten a good soaking; but not Maverick county.



Over Thanksgiving my family gathered at the ranch to hunt whitetails and stuff ourselves with food and football. Quail weren’t even mentioned and no one brought a shotgun. On Saturday I was sitting in a deer blind and looking for a fat doe to put in the freezer. It was warm and windy and dry, and a fat doe was looking like a tall order. About thirty minutes before sunset, a cock bobwhite staggered out of a clump of withered prickly pear and began pecking aimlessly in the blowing dust. A bit later he was joined by another cock and three hens. It was a sad scene. They were skinny and disheveled and they looked oddly out of place; they reminded me of Mad Max and his band of post-apocalypse refugees. Two birds enter; one bird leaves.

The weather dweebs are calling for an El Nino year–and it does appear that the rain patterns are shifting (slightly) in our favor. Will that little five-bird covey make it through the winter with scant forage and no screening cover from bobcats and avian predators? Will this be the drought that finally eliminates bobwhite quail from Maverick County? Over the past thirty years I’ve seen these birds bounce back from severe droughts. They’re prolific little bastards when range conditions are good, and a few timely spring rains can kickstart a fury of whistling and nesting.

For now, though, we wait. We watch the radar and we hope Al Gore was wrong. We fondle and admire our shotguns and we thumb through the gear catalogs. We pay our ad-valorem taxes and we feed our dogs and we tell them to hang on. We consider buying a package of shrink-wrapped pre-marinated quail from the grocery; but that would suck, so we don’t.

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