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Help make Buckshot a happy dog again

By Susan and Biff Andrews

In the 1960s, people hunted. A lot. And they purchased and trained dogs named Gunner and Bullet and Buckshot to point out their quarry.

One of the most popular forms of hunting was called dove hunting, even though they weren’t hunting doves. They were hunting quail — bobwhite quail.

The bobwhite quail is a small bird, nine to 12 inches in height, weighing about six ounces. They have white cheek patches and are a mottled black-white-and-tan that renders them invisible in field grass. They live in tall, brushy grasslands along the edges of treelines.

Their distinctive call — a low “bob” followed by a loud, shrill “WHITE!” is a magical sound, usually heard in the morning. Most Americans under the age of 50 have never heard it.

Quail live in groups called coveys, and they explode from the grass when disturbed. They’re a challenge to bring down with birdshot from a shotgun.

Populations of quail are down 80 percent since the mid-1960s. The number of dove hunters is down 90 percent. An entire way of life is nearly gone.

But there are folks at the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries trying to save them — the birds and the hunters, as well.

The reason for the dive in numbers is loss of habitat, but not just housing developments and strip malls.

Every inch of a farmer’s field is either in production or sown with fescue — a nice cover crop to be tilled in but useless to bobwhite quail. Fescue is not native, and it does not attract pollinators or coveys of quail.

So the VDGIF is paying farmers to let a 120-foot border along their wood-lines go wild. Not much will grow there anyway. The resulting brushy grass or savannah attracts three types of game — deer, turkey, and bobwhite quail.

Not only is it good for the wildlife, it preserves a way of life. It also attracts pollinators, especially honeybees, which farmers love for their pollination and beekeepers love for their honey.

The farmer gets paid not to farm, he gets pollination and he gets Thanksgiving dinner.

VDGIF runs demonstration fields at Amelia Wildlife Management Area. The quail initiative is run by Marc Puckett. Call 434-392-8328 for more on this program.

And think of all the happy pointers and setters — all the happy Bullets, Gunners and Buckshots that were bred to have only one purpose in life, to point out, then fetch quail brought down while walking the edges of Virginia fields.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.