Thursday, July 13, 2017

Trump and the Secret of Quail Hunting

By Bob Ferris

In the late 1970s when I was vacillating between vocation and avocation I took the insane step of buying a feed and seed store and then another.  It was the initial step in transitioning from office work in a suit and tie with higher pay to returning to my wildlife conservation pathway with its own set of mostly non-monetary rewards.  One of the few perks of the feed store gig was that I was occasionally asked by ranchers who grew alfalfa, oat hay or straw for the store to hunt their harvested fields with them.  This is where I was first exposed to California quail.  It takes an adjustment.

My mother was born in Willows, California.  This is rice country near the refuge so we would hunt ducks and pheasants on our fall visits.  I would do the same with ducks and doves visiting my relatives in South Carolina.  But quail…quail are different.  They do not fly so much as burst and explode.  It is adrenalin-dripping, startling and distracting.  Much like this drama we are seeing with Trump and the Russians. (Below is a video of a different species of quail in New Jersey likely filmed during census work.  Imagine a covey three or four times this one and flying faster.)   

My first experience yielded two birds and more spent shells than I care to recount.  My pair looked meager next to the pile of birds one of my compatriots was plucking.  I sat and he turned to me and said one word: Focus.  I must have looked confused so he continued: Focus on one bird and then move on to the next.  He went on to argue that coveys were primarily air so random shots at a covey got you mostly atmosphere and not birds.  Somehow this got me thinking about the same being true for atoms and electrons, but I saw his point.  And it had broad applicability.  

So if we think about the Trump Clump as a covey of quail, we see what is so frequently transpiring.  When we come close they scatter and flap loudly causing confusion hoping that we take aim at air rather than any one individual.  To be crystal-clear this analogy ends at drawing parallels between the actions of flocking birds wishing to evade predators and this cadre of casual or conscious colluders and does not encourage violence of any sort beyond that wrought in courts of law and voting booths. There is a hope in this that those investigating and pursuing this “covey” maintain their focus and are not distracted by the flapping wings of those in flight or others who would like to see those in this covey fly free without consequence.  This latter happenstance would seem tragic given the great damage this covey and their allies have done our country and our democracy.

Interestingly, I have not hunted quail since then as I left the sweat and growing debt of that enterprise to return to school and enter this more natural realm for me.  But I always appreciated the opportunity and those who provided it.  I appreciated the lessons too and stuck them along with others in my mental filing cabinet.

Processing one of the captured deer on my study site in the 1980s.
Coincidentally, nearly a decade later when I was in graduate school part of my research area abutted a ranch held by the same family.  They were donating this land to the state park system.  I had special access to this additional area and often tracked my radio-collared deer through the oak-studded rangelands.  And one day while walking the fence I spied one of their calves that had somehow slipped through the wire to the road side of the fence.  The calf was a long way from being weaned and was bawling for its agitated mother.  I scooped the calf up and deposited where it need to be.  I felt good about the act as it seemed like some sort of minimum re-payment for the hunting trip and access.   And it was the right thing to do.

I mention this calf and act as a lesson too.  As once we deal with this destructive covey and those that have enabled it, we will have a massive amount of repair work to undertake. During that process we will have to remember and remind others that we are part of a community, culture and country that looks out for each other and can pull together in times of crisis.  We do not take the calf that has wandered selfishly keeping it is as ours, but put it back where it rightfully belongs.   

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