Stuck in the Mud

8ba8915b-22c8-44bc-84ca-f9a3b849c08f Story and photos by Marissa Jensen

Stuck. 2020 in a nutshell. Stuck inside, stuck at home, stuck in a rut, and stuck in the mud, the latter occurring near the end of the year, albeit my first quail hunt of the season.
 
It was right before Thanksgiving, and I was thrilled to finally sneak out for a long overdue hunt. From the opener and throughout the quail season I had endured, keeping my jealousy and “FOMO” in check, knowing that I would eventually get my solace in the uplands.
 
The wait seemingly paid off as the morning started with success. Yeti (the youngest of our group) would have her first experience on wild birds, as she learned from the more seasoned veteran, Reese. The girls located multiple coveys of bobs. Shots were fired, shots connected, shots were missed, and we continued this rhythm across multiple sites.

A damp November brought about soft roads, with minimal maintenance to boot. Feeling bold, I chanced a route with my little front-wheel-drive crossover. I’ve driven this vehicle during the entirety of my upland hunting years with never a fault, but I should have known it was past time for that streak to end. 

I slipped into the soft shoulder almost immediately. Stuck. Minutes ticked by, profanities were thrown, but the little car wouldn’t budge. My bored companion kept checking our progress, offering sticks and corn stalks as aid (for her boredom, not our predicament).
 
Eventually, I succeeded in getting us out, no worse for the wear except an interior covered in mud and a proud dog with a stick she decided to keep. I made a mental note that dogs can certainly remain co-pilots… from their kennels.

The delay had cost us precious time, but with hours of sunlight left, I decided to hit one more field. Driving toward a revered secret location, the roads appeared dry and well-kept. Lies. The greasy, slimy, dishonest mud-like substance under the limestone had other ideas. Floating down the hill, the wheels locked up and I did my best to stay on the road.
 
Stuck. Again.

Rocking the vehicle back and forth did nothing. Shoveling the mud was just gross and got us nowhere. I lay sticks and twigs and whatever else was around us under the wheels to try to gain traction. All futile efforts, as that cement-like substance grabbed the wheels and pulled us ever so slowly into the ditch. The closest towing company laughed and exclaimed “we don’t do mud.”

Angry, I swallowed my pride and hit “dad” on the phone. When my father bought his truck, he dreamed of a scenario just like this. With a solution at hand, all there was left to do was wait.
  
Leaning my head against the windshield in defeat, I noticed a yellow public access sign. It was worth a walk, even if only to stretch our legs as we waited out our rescue. Surely, no birds had stuck around after the mayhem we caused, but I threw the vest on, loaded the gun, and walked.
 
Thirty minutes later, a bobwhite whistle. This was the sign I needed. I could have sat in the car, feeling sorry for myself, or get up, get out and change my perspective on the day. This thought resonated as I walked up to both girls on point, holding a beautiful covey of quail. This moment would have been missed had I allowed my frustrations to overtake me.

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Returning to the car with nails chock-full of mud, I reminisced over this past year. 

Each day brought new and unique challenges, some harder than others. Putting those challenges aside, I think of all the togetherness the year brought to me and my family. I was constantly reminded of the need to connect with nature and the importance of protecting wild places. 
Most importantly, 2020 reminded me of the power and the importance of perspective. 

Life will always throw curveballs; what happens next is up to us. With a new year comes new promises, new perspectives, and new opportunities. There’s never a better time than now to make the most of them.

Marissa Jensen is Education and Outreach Program Manager for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, and a regular columnist and feature writer for Quail Forever Journal.

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of Quail Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to read more of Marissa's upland adventures, become a member of Quail Forever today!