Quail started buzzing out of the cattails and brush along the Snake River like popcorn on a hot fire.
The dog kept blasting through the thorny and tangled-vine thicket with an adrenaline rush of quail scent. The gamey scent overwhelmed her, and she ignored the foggy, cold weather of the mid-winter day.
Our retriever started losing all control when she heard quail calling or chattering. Thats the noise they make when they know danger is approaching.
One. Three. Four birds continued to explode out of the brush, and I still hadnt fired a shot.
What the heck? There were too many birds flushing, and too many decisions on what shots to try to make.
Safety off. Aim. Dont shoot. Safety on. Safety off. Aim. Too far. Safety on. Safety off. Too late. Safety on.
Watch your footing. Make sure the safetys on. Dont slip on the river rocks. Watch the mud holes.
The softball-size game birds buzzed over my head, off to the side, straight away and low along the rivers edge. They were making banked turns every which way.
Then there were the ones getting up in back of me with the flutter of wings going in the opposite direction. Howd I walk by them?
PAIN IN THE NECK
I almost threw my back and neck out trying to swing on a bird that buzzed 3 feet from my ear.
What made it even more hilarious was standing waist deep in the river trying to keep from slipping on the muddy bottom into 40-something-degree water, as I tried to swing on the scattering birds.
This is the ultimate in guerrilla quail hunting. After years of hunting quail, throwing tons of steel shot in air and getting outsmarted 75 percent of the time, I decided that you have to get down in the worst river thicket possible and go after the birds on their terms.
That meant donning chest waders, getting in the river and walking along the bank looking for quail in the gnarliest places.
It means getting tangled in thorns, cattails, cockleburrs and getting rips in your best hunting jacket. Good thing for thick neoprene waders with an armor coating that can take barbed-wire fences and thorns.
Its also good to have a dog that flips out over the scent of quail and works the banks feverishly to find the birds.
The simple theory is that the birds will bust out of the brush and fly over the river, giving you a clear shot.
Wrong. They know youre in the river and start running or flying low and cork-screwing through the brush. It ends up like trying to shoot popcorn with a BB gun.
POUND FOR POUND
Pound of steel shot versus pound of quail doesnt compute. You end up shooting a half a box of shells or more for two or three quail.
River-bottom quail hunting is a challenge. I keep telling myself I love that challenge. I like the sound of the birds flushing, the sound of the dog breaking through brush and the split-second shooting.
I also love the taste of quail, but if I had to depend on the small upland game bird for dinner, Id starve.
There are only a few weeks of quail hunting left, and quail populations are in great shape.
I still have a couple boxes of No. 7 steel shot to burn up.
Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors
Statesman outdoor writers Pete Zimowsky and Roger Phillips alternate columns on Thursday. Look for Roger next week.