Not that I have anything against guys (or gals) who like to take pics of their limits, it's just not something I generally do (although if I manage to scratch out an Oklahoma quail limit this year you can bet your ass I'm taking a picture of that. Lots of them. But don't hold your breath. See below...).
As a sort of half-assed photographer, I'd much rather try to take an interesting picture of a single bird (feather detail, macro, different angle, whatever) rather than a big pile of perforated birds (as an example, I'm kinda fond of this one ). And it's not like an opening-day limit is some sort of accomplishment or personal milestone for me. I shoot a lot of them. Not a brag, it's just that I live in an area with (most years) a lot of dove. Hell, I'm sure if you gave The Suburban Bushwacker a plane ticket and a shotgun, he'd shoot a limit, too.
**EDIT: Actually, I just realized that technically, this picture is two birds short of a limit. Why? The two collared dove on the end don't count toward the combined mourning dove/whitewing limit, which makes my small victory in the face of today's lousy conditions, and my resulting euphoria (see below) essentially null and void. Sigh. Carry on...
But you know what? I'm posting this gratuitous body count pic, proudly, because damn it, I earned this
It's not that it was so terribly hot: it "only" got up to 106. It's not that it was so terribly windy: it was "only" gusting to about 35 mph or so. But the combination of 106 degrees, 35 mph winds and the effects of this (insert any adjective here) drought all combined to form some weird sort of unholy synergy of misery. It felt like someone was standing directly in front of me holding the world's largest hairdryer and a bucket of sand, and all the while the giant klieg light of the sun burning holes in my retinas, even through the sunglasses.
Misery. My only solace was leaning my back against the water-cooled steel of the stock tank and drinking gallons of ice-cold well water (out of the pipe, not the stock tank...) while waiting for the evening flight.
Unfortunately, the dove were mostly coming in from the west so I had to get up, walk around the pond and go hunker down in the sagebrush, which meant my ass immediately got punctured with dozens of these little bastards...
That's a sandbur, if you're lucky enough to not be familiar with them. And if the abstract concept of pain could take a physical form, this is what it would be. If you ever plan on bird hunting northwest Oklahoma or southwest Kansas, I'd advise you to bring a good pair of hemostats, because you'll be picking these out of everything...
But eventually, after the pain and cursing subsided, I started shooting a few birds, including a pair of these...
The Eurasion collared dove, a non-native transplant which is quickly establishing itself across the region. It's still mostly a bird of towns, suburbs and semi-rural backyards (we've got a couple here at the house) but they're showing up in hunters' bags more frequently. These are the first I've shot. They're considerably larger than a mourning dove and when this pair came flying in like a couple B-52s even I could manage the double.
After limiting out I walked back to the truck just in time to catch the area manager driving by. I hadn't seen him in a while so he stopped to talk and eventually the conversation came around to quail. The news, as expected, was grim. It's going to be a tough year. Really tough.
He told me that according to the trapping results, it looks like the quail on that particular area managed to get off one meager hatch in the middle of August, which isn't a good time to be a quail chick in the best of years, much less the hottest, driest summer in recorded history. There were no other age groups for the young quail, which means all other hatches this year apparently failed.
And judging by the heat and condition of the cover, I'm surprised anything survived at all. It's hard to put into words just how desiccated the landscape in this region truly is. I hadn't been out to this particular WMA since the end of quail season back in February, and in fact hadn't spent much, if any time this summer north of where I live. It was dry in February, but it's powder now.
How anything as fragile and high-strung as those little nine-ounce birds can live through a summer like this is beyond me, but as I was sitting there this evening I heard a few bobs whistling from somewhere out in the sagebrush. But just a few.
I may shoot some quail this fall, or I may not, but I'm guessing this is the last "look-at-my-limit" pic you'll be getting from me for quite some time. And really, that's not a bad thing.