Don't give up on quail hunting in East Texas

Walter Patton, owner of Poetry Shooting Club with Lillie, his awesome English Setter, and a few of the birds harvested earlier this week. 

As a youngster growing up in very rural Red River County in the northeastern corner of the state, shooting a ‘mess’ of quail for supper was often as easy as walking the brushy fence rows on our little farm and jump shooting the birds as they flush. Back in the late fifties, sixties and well into the seventies there were plenty of wild quail in east Texas. I was later exposed to quail hunting as it should be, hunting behind my brother-in-law’s big running pointer named Tolar. Finding a place to hunt with plenty of birds was easy back in those days and I acquired a couple of Brittany Spaniels that developed into pretty good bird dogs. I became a devoted quail hunter as a teenager with lots of great places to hunt close to home.

Today, one would be hard pressed to hear the melodious “Bob, bob WHITE” call of a wild quail in the eastern part of Texas. Hunting in counties in west Texas has improved somewhat in the past few years but it’s nothing like it was in the good old days. Quail leases are difficult to find and, expensive.

So, what’s an old quail hunter to do? Well, we are fortunate to live in a state with many excellent shooting preserves where pen-raised, flight-conditioned quail, chuckar and pheasant are stocked. Shooting preserves are not all created the same. Some preserves offer guided bird hunts with five star lodging and chef prepared meals, others are more Spartan affairs, tailored for the average hunter who is simply looking for a good place to come and work a bird dog or opt for an affordable guided hunt. As an outdoors writer the past three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to hunt many preserves and report on my experiences.

I can name several high-end preserves I’ve hunted and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. But, these package hunts come with a pretty hefty price tag. Some hunters wish to break away from work and simply enjoy a few hours experiencing the thrill of walking up behind a good pointer and shooting fast flying quail. Earlier this week, I enjoyed a fun hunt close to home with good friend Jeff Rice and the owner of the preserve, Walter Patton.

Several years ago, Patton opened the gates to his ‘Poetry Shooting Club’, vowing to provide a safe, quality place for hunters to come and enjoy upland bird hunting with their own dogs or guided hunts with his well-trained pointers. He later constructed a 700-yard rifle/pistol range on the property. The preserve is on land that Walter hunted as a boy and has been in his family for over 60 years. I first discovered Walter’s operation a few years ago and have enjoyed several fun hunts with him and his well trained pointers.

Since I first met Walter, we have discussed cooking quail out over a campfire with my Dutch kettles, old-school style. Earlier this week, we picked a sunny day and got it done. Quail are tasty just about anyway one wished to prepare them but dusted with Ritz cracker crumbs, seasoned with salt and pepper and a liberal amount of butter and cooked in a Dutch Kettle over campfire coals, they are the stuff great dining memories are made. More on the cooking later! Before we could cook and eat the quail, we had to hunt them and prepare them for the kettle!

After shooting a few clay targets, Jeff and I headed out with Walter to harvest the centerpiece for our planned noon lunch! Walter’s prize English setter, Lillie, ran with her head held high and soon became ‘birdy’ as she cast downwind of a likely bit of cover. Lillie froze for an instant and then, with nose to the ground, ran a few yards then locked up as though she had run into an invisible wall. In a sense, she had. The sweet smell of a game bird filled her nostrils and she froze as solid as a granite statue, her body twisted and nose pointing into a clump of little bluestem. Her body language told the story, there was a quail close by and Jeff walked in to make the shot. As any quail hunter knows, released birds usually don’t fly quite as hard and fast as their wild counterparts, but the birds Walter stocks come mighty close. Jeff tracked the bird with the same old 16-gauge shotgun his grandfather used on pheasant and grouse up in the Wisconsin woods when Jeff was a lad, and we had the beginning of lunch in the game bag.

By the time our hunt ended, we had bagged plenty of quail for out noontime meal. Watching a good pointing dog work, to my way of thinking, is the highlight of any upland bird hunt and Walter has some of the finest. As a polished quail dog, Lillie is in a class by herself. She makes very few mistakes, thanks to an excellent pedigree and some expert training by Walter. Walter’s Boykin spaniel flusher/retriever, Hank, is also a show stopper. He walks at heel until sent in to flush the bird, then does an amazing job of finding and retrieving the birds.

A whole generation of youngsters have never had the opportunity to shoot upland birds over great dogs, but Walter is doing his best to expose youth to the same thrill that many of us old ‘bird’ hunters grew doing. Poetry Shooting Club welcomes newcomers to upland hunting and in my opinion; it’s a great place to learn. Prices are reasonable for both guided hunts and hunters that wish to bring their own dogs. If you love to shoot quail but don’t have the luxury of a quality west Texas quail lease and several polished dogs in your kennel, consider a visit to Poetry Shooting Club. It’s a great place for the beginning upland hunter or seasoned hunter that simply no longer has a place to hunt.

DUTCH KETTLE QUAIL- I dusted six quail with Ritz Cracker crumbs, placed them in the Dutch Kettle with a stick of butter and seasoned with salt and pepper. With coals below and on top of the kettle, about 45 minutes is all it takes to create a mouthwatering meal of baked quail. Served with a quick recipe for camp baked beans, this was a meal we will long remember. LC

To enjoy a quail hunt at Poetry Shooting Club, located on Hwy 34 eight miles north of Terrell, give Walter Patton a call at (214) 728-2755. Watch the video of this outing on YouTube this week by searching “A Sportsman’s Life”. Contact outdoors writer Luke Clayton at www.catfishradio.org.

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