A few short days of quail season left. Dogs whining. Birds on my mind. Why don't I go take pictures?
So I load up and sally forth. In hindsight - which I've never had -... big mistake.
The roads aren't bad. As long as they're paved and not mud covered with four inches of melting slush that had just been covered by an additional three or four inches of fresh snow. But I'm a MAN, by gawd, and I have four-wheel drive. I won't be denied.
I drive to the wildlife management area and turn on to the half-mile section of road that will make or break this trip. No tracks going in. Just soft, white snow. Unsullied. Easy driving. Piece of cake.
As long as it remains snow and doesn't melt, and as long as it doesn't get pounded to slushy gumbo by ranchers checking cattle. As long as.
I park and let the dogs out. Load up vest, gear, gun, though I don't hold out much hope for birds today. Late-season public-land quail are survivors, a match for the saltiest pointing dog, much less a pair of merely fair-to middlin' flushing chessies. But you never know. At least I never have.
So we walk along the river where a few weeks prior Lewey seemingly couldn't stay out of the coveys. Too bad we were duck hunting at the time.
This time we're not. We're here for a quail. Just one would do. The dogs run. Bust through cover. Jump in river. Burrow into thickets. Get birdy. Then, just as quickly, don't.
I admire the dogs as they run. Lewey's the athlete, a lithe, handsome fellow.
Or maybe not...
We walk. Walk some more. Down the river, then up steep, red-walled draws that for at least the past 12,000 years have stood in mute witness to Man's peregrinations in search of game.
Presently I find myself standing on the rim of the very draw that a few years hence was full of excited archaeologists sifting through the bones of a long-extinct bison species driven into, trapped and slaughtered here by a long-extinct tribe of paleo hunters. And once again I am awed that every step I take out here, literally every foot of ground I cover has been trodden, every observation and experience I take from this ground has been taken before me.
Lucky bastards. All I'm taking away from this ground today is soaked pants and exhaustion. I've been walking for hours: stumbling, sliding, skidding, slipping, tumbling through snow quickly turning to slush, and we haven't flushed a bird, we haven't flushed a rabbit, we haven't jumped a deer. Nothing, as if life itself save us has taken a powder from the white orb that defines our world.
So we head back to the truck, defeated once again. This is not my year for quail. Or maybe it's just not my year, period. Who knows. As I walk I notice the snow is melting. Fast. Red dirt, water and icy slush amalgamated into something that's much worse than the sum of its parts. Two years and a half-inch of tire tread ago, I wouldn't have worried about it. Now, I rub the lucky dashboard Buddha and make sure the shovel's handy.
Remember what you told yourself, Chad? As long as. Right...
If I were British, this is the point where I say "bloody hell." But I'm American, so I simply say "ah, shit" and rub the dashboard Buddha one more time. I need the luck. A long, fruitless day is about to get longer. And much, much muddier...