YANTIS – Dennis Hyde dropped Missy and Molly, a Brittany and a pointer, on the ground and they instantly went to work, weaving back and forth.
They were in search of a scent they knew all-to-well even in an era that the smell of quail doesn’t exist, at least wild, much anymore in the area.
As we walked behind them it was clear that picking up the scent wasn’t going to be easy. It was an afternoon hunt and any moisture that had been on the ground early was now gone.
“I grew up hunting this country,” said Hyde, a guide at Hidden Lakes Hunting Resort. “My dad and I used to do a round from the house through the woods down to what they call Birch Creek and back. We used to be able to get a mess of birds every time.”
Those good-old-days are long past. Hyde’s woods were replaced by coastal Bermuda grass pastures for dairy cows and hay, and by developments and ranchettes owned by people more interested ecaping Dallas or in the bass fishing at nearby Lake Fork than quail.
What bobwhites that exist in Wood County today most likely come from Hidden Lakes’ flight pens.
Floyd Getz and I were there to chase those birds. Getz, a Smith County Court at Law judge, grew up hunting pheasant in Pennsylvania and has hunted grouse and Hungarian partridge in Canada. He mothballed his guns several years ago, and this was his first time to hunt quail of any kind in East Texas.
Before the hunt we bumped into Tyler’s Lin Barker, his son, David, and two grandsons at lunch. Barker, an avid bird hunter, talked of being able to hunt wild quail in the Noonday area when he first moved to Tyler. Over the years he had to keep moving west or south into Mexico to find good hunting. Today, like a lot of other hunters, Barker has retreated back to East Texas where he knows there will be birds, even if they are pen-reared birds.
I remembered hunting Smith County too, 30 years ago. I hunted quail at Noonday along Highway 155 and west of town in the Galilee community. Neither were the 20-covey days of West or South Texas, but there were enough birds to work dogs.
In the field Getz and I walked the outside while Hyde worked down the middle of the milo rows planted last spring. In the beginning I was on the downwind side so most of the birds came my way. With the wind every shot was a challenge
It started off as ones and twos. I had warned Getz that the only downside to this type of hunting was the lack of coveys. Of course a short walk later 10 birds burst from their hiding spot in the rows. With quail flying in every direction, Getz unload at a pair rocketing toward the woods. Stumbling to avoid the flushing birds, I threw a shot in the direction of another. I should have saved the shell.
We made the rounds of the field, diverting off into the woods a couple of times to chase wounded singles or birds that escaped that direction. That is when the hunt truly became an East Texas quail shoot.
Hunters accustomed to South Texas or West Texas have never had the pleasure of busting through briars to get to their dogs, only to have a quail jump out the back side of a tree or be unable to raise a shotgun because of limbs.
Shooting through a mesquite or maneuvering cactus is the worst they get, albeit that can be tougher on a dog than almost anything in East Texas.
As the afternoon wore on Getz’ rusty shooting started to become more accurate and the bird count started to climb. A short final clean-up round surprisingly produced nine more quail giving us 36 for the afternoon. Ironically that is six more than we could have had hunting wild quail, assuming we could have found enough to take a pair of limits.
As the Texas wild quail population continues a free-fall that started early in the 1980s, hunting resorts have become more popular and gained more acceptance.
I remember saying not too many years ago that there was no way I would hunt pen-reared quail.
I have been hunting Hidden Lakes since they opened as well as a couple of other similar facilities. What change my opinion and has for others is that operators have gotten better at producing flight-quality birds. Seldom do you have birds that have to be kicked up by foot or are caught by a dog before they ever take flight.
“I need to do this again,” said Getz in a sign of approval of the hunting conditions.
For more information on Hidden Lakes, call 888-486-8897 or go to their website at www.hiddenlakeshuntingresort.com .
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