Meant to divide, they bring cover, bobwhite quail, and me together.
By Edgar Castillo
The fencerows in my part of the country here in Kansas, are where bird hunters gravitate toward to hunt bobwhite quail at some point. Whether they are brand new or old rusty and twisted strands of wire barely held together by ancient rotting wooden posts, limestone sentinels, or metal T-posts…they can bring forth dense cover to hide quail. Nowadays, farmers are faced with making use of every ounce of space. Some till every arable inch of land, eliminating the fallow fields of the bygone days.
That is why I enjoy hunting fencerows: the long, winding strips of tight cover comprised of weeds, low bushes, young saplings, and tractor-bending obstacles and, in some places, hedges of tough-stemmed and thorny multiflora plants, all hiding a network of steel wire – the fence itself – at its very heart. They are the intersections to those other special places that hold birds…the edges and transitional areas that lead bird hunters to fields of milo, corn, and wheat. These food plots themselves always have a fencerow somewhere indicating boundaries and therefore offer additional pathways to hunt.
I do not know the number of times I have forgotten about the stretched wire hidden underneath and tried to walk through a fencerow, only to feel the wire pull up tight against my brush pants, entangling itself around my legs and thighs like a constricting metal serpent. The wire is always there. In fact, it’s the very reason the cover is there, and the cover is why the quail are there, and the quail are why I am there. Fence wire is supposed to separate things one from the other, but it brings the three of us – the cover, the quail, and me – together.
FATHERLY MEMORIES & LESSONS LEARNED
Hunting fencerows in pairs is what I recall in my youth with my father. He on one side of the wire barrier giving me direction, I on the other side, tromping through the weedy patches of habitat. King, our American Brittany, in between us, weaving in and out in search of bobs. I would walk close alongside the brushy row, shuffling my leather hunting boots hoping that King would come across scent and stiffen up. The nervous quail unable to stand it any longer would flush, making a fleeting dash of freedom while a string of hot pellets followed them. Although I never hit a quail, my father was quick on the snap and would drop a bird while the covey disappeared somewhere up ahead. Some would follow the fencerow and put down again along our path, while other birds would bank off to the sides.
On occasion, not all the quail would flush in the same direction. A few would flush backwards. With a series of quick flaps from their tiny wings and they’d sail in between trees and branches – it was difficult to swivel and shoot, let alone see where they landed. Even rarer were the quail that had the audacity to run through the natural tunnels of debris instead of fly. We’d take chase, our paces would quicken, moving through overhanging branches and sidestepping bushes and weed tufts along the fencerow. I would be startled by the lone quail or two that didn’t flush with the covey, only to have them launch from underfoot – their flight marred only by the sound of my twenty-gauge shotgun. There were hits, and plenty more misses during those walks along the fencerows.
This scene would repeat itself year after year. As I got older, the teachings from my father about bird hunting morphed into reading the habitat. “These seedlings will grow into hedges. The quail, songbirds, and small animals will use them for hiding and nesting,” my father said to me. I grew to understand that from this, weeds and other plants will grow into a maze of tunnels and cover.
Depending on the type of growth and plants there will be berries the quail will feed on and the bushes will create a network of paths, some almost impenetrable, for them and their brood to travel through.
Predators will have a difficult time snatching up scurrying quail. Even the wily pheasant will utilize the cover along fencerows when it gets hot and to elude those that want to make a meal out of them.
HUNTING NEVERENDING FENCELINES: A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE.
Hunting fencerows is an enjoyment during the late season months when everything has turned to shades of brown and the leaves have been discarded from most trees and plants. This mosaic of brown and tan hues allows the brightly colored red cardinal to flutter and dart through the bushes along the fencerow like a flitting crimson ribbon. Their female counterparts with similar styled-mohawks, blending in as they sit on bare twigs and branches.
My father loved hunting crop rows, but if there was a fencerow nearby, he immediately gravitated toward it. Hunting fence lines can be rewarding, especially if they were scrubby and overgrown. The chances of those plum thickets near or along the fencerows holding coveys was high. He was sure of it. He carefully studied the surrounding habitat and cover and strategized how he would hunt. In his mind, it was inevitable that quail would be present. He was right most of the time.
With each step he took, he would evaluate the cover along the wire fence. The more overgrown the better. “This looks good,” he would say, “Birdy”. Most of the time these fencerows were productive but for me they were much more than that. Fencerows were the first upland bird covers we hunted when I was growing up. The lands alongside were sometimes cultivated crops that provided an even better place to locate birds. Quail and pheasants could easily and somewhat safely sneak into an adjoining field, eat, and then return without being detected, unless of course you had a rockstar Brittany like King. He was good at working fencerows. His medium-sized body frame allowed him to move easily and quickly between the strands of wire.
I like hunting fencerows. Whether it’s with my father or alone. Fencerows are the places that have brought me together with the rest of the elements that make up the uplands. Walking fencerows only got better as autumn gave way to winter and snow covered the ground. It made finding evidence of those tiny three-toed tracks of a covey on the move a lot easier. I like the way brush piles and thickets along fencerows hide coveys. I like being startled as the whir of wings pierce the silent air. Fencerows can be of all sizes and lengths. Some are quick to hunt, while others seem to go on and on, producing staunch points, multiple covey flushes, singles, and a few birds in our vests. But fencerows do end, just like the fields they enclose. Or so I thought.
I remember asking my father what we do when we come to the end of the fencerow. He would look at me and say, “Well we can sit and rest, or we can call it a day and head towards the truck across the field.”, then he would slowly turn his head and look down where we had just finished walking and nod and add to his previous suggestion, “But if this is the end, then it is also the beginning as we can start a new journey and hunt up singles and regrouped coveys as we make our way back as one never really knows what we’ll find walking along the fencerow.”