I discovered a long time ago that you can learn much about the world around you — and yourself — by quietly sitting at the base of a prairie windmill and watching the day slowly fade.
You can learn much about quail, too. You do, of course, also learn a lot about quail from what you observe of them from behind a dog, and along the course of a lifetime pursuing them, I’ve learned plenty that way.
But to really get to know quail, to observe them as they go about their daily lives, you must go where they live, and watch them as they live, not just as they flee. And my favorite place to do that has always been under the creaking blades of a rusty, weathered old Aermotor.
On the far, arid western plains under the withering, desiccating heat of a late-summer sun, water is life. And when the clouds fail and the rains disappear, windmills — those fast-disappearing prairie icons — become oasis for the wildlife that lives around them. Cold, ancient fossil water gushes up from the earth, pumped from the depths by the incessant prairie wind into a waiting stock tank.
What the tank can’t hold flows into a small overflow pond, and it is this tiny circle of perpetual greenery which supports an explosion of life. Birds, deer, insects; an entire thriving, vibrant ecological community springs up from the thin rivulets of that wind-driven water. Water flows to life, and life flows to water.
And in the waning light of a summer evening, the quail flow too, trickling into this small sliver of water like tiny, feathered clockwork. They come as singles, or pairs, or with half-grown broods, cautiously sneaking through the grass and weeds to gather and drink at the water’s edge.
Such a moment, being mere feet away from a creature you normally only see as a blur in flight, is revelatory. When you see and understand something not just as quarry, but also as a living, breathing, essential part of a greater whole, it — as the young kids say — just hits different.
It is in these fleeting moments — when the birdsong of the prairie is quietly cacophonous, the aroma of sand-sage permeates the air, and the evening light glows in that special, spectacular way that only dying plains sunlight can — that I feel I truly know quail.
As I sit and watch them, listening to their endless chatter and vocalizations, I marvel at their ability to adapt; to find just enough niche and just enough moxie to survive.
What truly remarkable little creatures they are, and how lucky we are to know them, and appreciate them. If I never hunted them again, I’d still do this every chance I could.
I can’t imagine ever tiring of walking out into the prairie, sitting underneath a windmill, and watching life — in all its forms — unfold before me at the water’s edge, and hoping to catch a glimpse of the amazing, fiercely unassuming little bird that most represents why I love this place.
Chad Love is editor of Quail Forever Journal.
This article originally appeared in the Fall Issue of Quail Forever Journal. If you like this content and would like to see more of it, consider supporting Pheasants Forever as an annual member: among many other benefits, you'll receive the Pheasants Forever Journal 5x/year in your mailbox.