Bobwhite Colinus virginianus, Photograph birdsofoklahoma.net
In the late 1970s, I began to train Brittany spaniels to point, hold, flush, and retrieve quail. My Uncle Adolph Kampen of Amarillo kept a Brittany as a house dog and hunting companion, and I sought to have Brittanies, train them to the hunt, and find good homes for them. My intention was to keep a brace of Brittanies as house companions.
I first obtained pigeons for the Brittanies to flush under blocks of hay that I scattered on the neighborhood school ground. The pigeons would fly back to their cages when flushed. It was only three blocks away.
I purchased fifty quail chicks to use in the training of Brittanies. I lived in the city and would eventually move out to the country. Bobwhite quail were available by mail order, like chickens. A quail chick is about the size of a large human thumb, quite small and yet, not fragile. Roger Tory Peterson writes that the Bobwhite is “a small, brown, chicken-like bird, near size of Meadowlark. The male shows a conspicuous white throat and eye-stripe (in female, buffy). Tail short, dark.”
[Peterson, Roger Tory. A Field Guide to Western Birds. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969. See pp. 86-91.]
The quail chicks arrived in boxes delivered by the postal service. I divided the quail into three coveys and I placed chicks in large cardboard boxes in a spare bedroom on _____ Street in Amarillo, Texas. At night, the coveys would settle in and sleep, but during the daylight hours, they would feed, water, and utter quiet “peeps.”
Within a month, the chicks had outgrown their cardboard boxes in the bedroom and I placed them in quail pens in the backyard that I had constructed. Quail pens have compartments that allow all quail to be released, but one or two quail are retained in the pen so that they will call the covey back together. It is a remarkable display of covey unity that the quail will scatter, but when their penned-up covey mates call, the group will come back to the pen and enter the pen through a funnel trap.
One day as I parked the car into the garage, I heard the loud call of quail in my backyard and in the neighbor’s yard. There were quail calls all over the neighborhood. The latch on the pen door had come undone and a covey of quail had scattered about the neighborhood, flying over fences, going into garages, scratching in backyards, and checking out new and wondrous things up and down the block. Within the hour, my neighbors called and told me that they had quail in their garages or screen porches and would I come and retrieve them?
I rounded up every escapee quail, placed them in portable cages and reset the latch on the main pen more securely. Without a doubt, the time had come to buy land outside of town and start training the Brittanies on the quail. The quail needed the space.
South of Amarillo, on the highway to Palo Duro Canyon, I purchased ten acres of land, moved the quail, pigeons, and Brittanies to the pastures with kennels and pens, and borrowed my parents’ recreational trailer.
My life in the country began.