Tag Archives: Texas Panhandle

Quail in the Texas Panhandle


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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Birds, Dogs, Recollections 1966-1990

Sandhill Crane Flights above Flying Hat

Yesterday, October 30, 2009, I saw three flocks of Sandhill Cranes flying south over our place.  They were at a height of about 1500-2000 feet.  Each flock contained about fifty cranes.  A trilling call among the flock signals they are in the air.  The Sandhill Crane call is almost like a cat’s purr, only higher in pitch.

As a side note, also yesterday, I heard crows screeching on the Dooley’s place to the west of us.  I looked up and saw four or five crows chasing and harassing a large red-tailed hawk out of the sky.  The crows would fly almost directly into the body of the hawk, pushing him outward to the east over our place.  The crows relented and the hawk flew overhead, towards the east, emitting a high whistle of a call as it flew.  We have several hawks on our place and I doubt that they will survive the great and mighty hunters of Kentucky that seem to descend on neighboring farms during this season.  Yes, mighty hunters that disrespect wildlife and kill wildlife with powerful rifles while sitting in deer stands in their polyester coats, sipping whiskey.  The hawks, deer, fox, and other critters know that when they are on the Matthews place, they are safe.

I don’t condemn the man or woman that must take a life for food.  But take a life for trophy or brag is disrespectful and that life taken and not respected or honored in its death will come back on that man or woman in their dreams and thoughts until the day they die.  Killing fields exist off of the high ground of warfare.

Several years ago, circa 1975, Charles Fairweather, Selden Hale, and I went to Muleshoe, Texas, to get up early in the morning and hunt Sandhill Cranes at the wildlife refuge.  We weren’t that serious in hunting them; it was more of chance to leave Amarillo for the night.  That next morning, we loaded up on flatbed trailers, about 50-60 hunters per trailer, and drove out to the refuge.  We crouched about 300 yards from where the cranes were spending the night.  The chatter of the cranes in the dark was peaceful and lulling.  The three of us began to regret our hunt.  When daybreak occurred, the cranes began to fly, and most hunters could not reach the altitudes with their shotguns at which the cranes flew.  The cranes would circle higher and higher before they flew over the mighty hunters of Kentucky.  I saw only one crane killed.  A hundred to two-hundred hunters, killing one crane, and it would not be eaten.  Neither Charles, nor Selden, nor I fired a shot.  We went back to Amarillo and ate lunch, saying little about the morning’s early light.


Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Sandhill Crane