In unison we galloped toward the dog, stopping yards from where it stood in classic pose. I slid from the saddle and pulled my gun from its scabbard. A groom came forward to hold my horse. Harden was already on foot. He stepped back, motioning me to go ahead of him. I loaded my gun and began moving in, my eyes fixed just above the tangled sedge in front of the dog. Again I felt the surge of excitement that inevitably accompanies the suspense-filled moments before the birds burst from the cover.
The noise of a covey rise is always startling, always unexpected, even for experienced shooters. Suddenly the air is filled with whirring, whirling creatures, shapeless blurs that seem to wing in a dozen dizzying directions at once. A hunter who can shoulder his gun, single out a target and fire at it amidst such confusion has earned the right to call himself a quail shooter.
It is not even essential that he bring down a bird to claim the title. Part of the unending fascination of the sport is that even the best quail shooters sometimes bag only air. The reasons for missing quail are legion—the day was too hot or too cold, the birds were too tame or too wild, the gun was shooting too high or too low, the cover was too thick or too sparse. The true measure of a quail shooter is not the number of birds he hits, but the number and originality of reasons he has for the ones he misses.
A hunter at Sedgefields conceivably can miss quail out of as many as 40 or 50 coveys in a single day. When I hunted there, shooting over two morning and two afternoon courses, I saw at least that many coveys daily. In fact, the quail at Sedgefields were so numerous that after a while my shotgun got tired of shooting at them. Every now and then it just refused to hit one.