Hope is a Thing With Feathers

de66f76e-cf3d-44f4-84fb-557658f92594 Story and photo by Chad Love

Many - if not most - of us have social media accounts these days, and of course it's natural to fill that voracious, never-ending feed with photographs of dead birds.

Truth be told, however, I rarely post dead bird pics these days on my personal Instagram page. Not that I have anything against dead bird or game pics. In fact, I posted a dead deer pic there just a few days ago of a buck my oldest son shot, so color me hypocrite.
Still, I find an endless feed of tailgate and other hero shots just a little too, I dunno...Instagram-y. Maybe it’s a function of getting older and finding that I now crave something other than numbers when I’m out with the dogs, and the realization that I’m mostly hunting for solace and solitude in my favorite landscape, and if I find birds, well, that’s just a bonus.  
I did, however, post up this dead bird pic, although by dead bird pics it's fairly unimpressive. Just a single bird, without a pile of similar carcasses to accompany it and thereby make me look like a highly successful bird hunter (hint: I’m usually not...). It’s not even a great photo, because when you hunt alone, it’s damn hard to pose.
But it does represent a milestone of sorts. 
It wasn’t my first quail of the season (that came in Nebraska) but it was my first Oklahoma quail and my first home-state hunt this season (deer hunting, the sedentary fat man's sport, doesn't count). 
I shot it on a beautiful morning over a nice point while walking and wool-gathering on a favorite little piece of public land a few minutes from my house, almost a month after Oklahoma’s quail season had opened. December 12th, to be exact, which - as far as I can recall - is the latest I've ever gone without quail hunting in Oklahoma. 
Why, considering what I ostensibly do for a living, would I wait for almost a month before shooting my first quail in the state in which I reside?
Because life happens. To you. To me. To all of us, regardless of what we do for a living or how much opportunity it may seem we have. And in this weird, disjointed year the happenings of life both welcome and unwelcome (but mostly unwelcome) have been – to put it mildly – complicated.
Early in November, while coming back from a hunt in Nebraska, I hit a deer dead-on at highway speed. A big, heavy, mature eight-pointer, if you’re curious (well, seven-pointer after he left one embedded in my radiator). My truck was totaled.
The next day, I found out both my wife and I had contracted COVID. The day after that, both the Oklahoma and Kansas quail seasons opened. It was a distinctly 2020 way to start the season, and needless to say, I didn’t make the quail opener. For the next month, my plans both personal and professional were put on hold, as I’m sure so many of your plans have been at some point this year.
Life happens. Even when it sucks. And when it does, you live it, and deal with it, and celebrate when it finally turns away from adversity and disappointment and pain and turns once again to joy and happiness and some sense of normalcy.   
And for me, that sense of happiness and normalcy started the day I felt well enough to follow the dogs for a quick morning hunt. It began to coalesce the moment I watched my setter swing around a plum thicket and lock up, and it solidified the moment I held this one, lone bird in my hand.
So yes, I posted a dead bird pic on my Instagram, despite my general reluctance to do so. Because this one photo represents not so much something dead as something resurgent, a small flicker of hope at a time when I desperately needed it.
I am a pragmatist, and as such, I don't buy into the Hallmark greeting card sentiment that everything's great now that bird season is here. Bird hunting does not make the problems of the world, both personal and public, go away. If it's a safe harbor, it's a temporary one.
But that's OK. Respites from reality aren't meant to be permanent. They're meant to be enjoyed for what they are. And I'm glad I've finally got this one back.

Chad Love is editor of Quail Forever Journal