By Marshall Coover
February 26, 2018 - Last weekend I got to participate in a timeless Texas tradition – hunting quail with a set of birddogs and two vaqueros on horseback, called outriders. This kind of hunt is effectively South Texas’ version of an aristocratic fox hunt. Over time, hunters have substituted a rigged out “quail truck” for horses themselves, but a few of the big, old-line ranches still utilize outriders to add a dash of tradition and heritage to the experience.
It’s one of my favorite types of wingshooting – you get to enjoy the eloquent choreography of well-trained pointers criss crossing a pasture while catching up with your hunting companions. You can close your eyes and envision almost the exact same kind of hunting experience going back generations. The soft blue skies, the cool morning air giving way to the humid, muggy midday, the smell of enchiladas prepared by the cooks driven up from Mexico just for the occasion – the same sensations hunters like me have been experiencing for generations.
And the sense of tradition and heritage were especially apt for this trip. You see, my host for the weekend has had this ranch in his family since 1930. Just miles from Falfurrias, TX, his great-grandfather snapped up 20,000 acres after a prominent dairy farmer lost everything in the stock market crash of 1929. They discovered an oil field there not long after, and the old man was on his way to accumulating one of the larger South Texas oil dynasties. In the succeeding generations, as oil and gas production became a national and geopolitical spark point, the ranch became the place to see and be seen for Presidents, socialites, and the politically connected.
But, for better or worse, there were no power-players with us today - just a group of hunters doing their best to enjoy every second they had out there. And enjoy it we did. We kicked up ten coveys in the morning - pretty respectable, especially for the last weekend of the season. Everyone had a great time bouncing along in the back of the truck - swapping stories, talking gear, and thinking about the next covey.
Things even got a little competitive; we divided ourselves into two teams, and each quail was worth one “point.” But there was a twist – one of the guides brought a .410, and if you were able to dust a bird with the .410, it was worth two points. Teams alternated between coveys, and as the day wore on the trash talking escalated. By the end we were pushing the guides to let us keep hunting past dusk…fortunately they shut us down with my team ahead. I’ll let you guess who got to kick back and let someone else cook the dinner that night…