Comparing Bobwhites and Huns
I recently had the distinct pleasure of hunting prairie birds in Montana. I was there with a group of fellow writers (including PF Online Editor Anthony Hauck and his awesome, bird-crazy and insanely adorable English cocker, “Sprig”) as part of a press hunt put on by the good folks at Garmin, which just introduced its new Alpha combination GPS/E-collar.
I was excited about the trip for a number of reasons: I always enjoy hunting with Anthony and was looking forward to finally seeing Sprig in action. Plus, I have to admit, I’ve often dreamed about it, but I’ve never hunted Montana, even though my father lives there. In addition, the trip would hopefully give me the opportunity to hunt (or at least see) my first sage grouse, a species that, much like the lesser prairie chicken, is experiencing some alarming range-wide declines.
But I had an ulterior reason for looking forward to Montana: I wanted to see this notorious, elusive, and maddening “Hun” that I’ve always read about, and see for myself how it compares to my beloved bobwhite quail.
This quail-like (but bigger) import has always fascinated me, but other than preserve birds (which never, ever count) I’ve never hunted the Hungarian partridge, despite growing up on Hun-hunting stories from the likes of Ben O. Williams and Charley Waterman. The first morning there, “Jenny,” my little English setter, bumped a covey of Huns out of a stubble field that looked as if it couldn’t conceal a grasshopper, much less a group of almost one-pound birds. And that sort of set the tone for the trip, Hun-wise. They hide in places you don’t think it’s possible to hide, they flush at ranges from which you think it’s patently unfair to flush, and they taunt you with hideous bird insults as they leave you, cursing and bewildered, in their dust. Yep, on this trip I quickly learned that Huns aren’t quail, not by a long shot (pun intended).
For starters, Huns seem to take the binary, either/or approach to flushing. Either it’s a wild flush, way out of range, or right at your feet. I certainly experienced no comforting, quail-like middle ground.
For that matter, I never experienced the right-at-your-feet part, either. And then there’s the sound. When they flush, Huns make the most grating, gawd-awful screeching sound I’ve ever heard, sort of like Freddy Krueger dragging his razor-festooned glove across a chalkboard.
But the most interesting thing I observed about Huns is the flush itself. Where a covey of quail will explode upward with individual birds skyrocketing this way and that, Huns, for lack of a better term, seem to flush in formation. They rise together, veer off together and fly way, way away from you, together. There doesn’t seem to be much hunting up singles with Huns. Perhaps it’s their lockstep European heritage, as opposed to the more free-wheeling, individualistic American nature of a bobwhite covey flush.
Whatever the cause, after the sixth or seventh covey (delirious and suffering from dehydration and fatigue, I lost count) toyed with us, then apparated, Harry Potter-like, to somewhere else, I began to think these Huns were devil-birds, Karmic winged wraiths sent to punish me for the transgressions of some ill-spent former life. We walked, and walked, and walked some more, the Huns always dancing just outside range like a cool drink of water shimmering on the horizon.
Which made it all the more weird when, after deciding that I had finally figured out Huns (or more specifically, had finally figured out that they were too darn smart for me) I actually shot my first Hun, a hunted-up single, at a completely normal range, just like a bobwhite. Go figure. Huns are, if nothing else, unpredictable. But what a handsome bird they are! Not quite as handsome as a bobwhite, at least to this admittedly provincial and biased Okie, but beautiful nonetheless, and I now see what all the fuss is about them.
I’d be curious to hear anyone else’s experiences and opinions on the differences (and similarities) between hunting bobwhites and Huns…
Chad Love writes for Quail Forever from Woodward, Oklahoma. He is a lifelong quail hunter and “bird dog guy” who also writes for Field & Stream, including the magazine’s “Man’s Best Friend” gundog blog.