By Craig Winkelmann
We made it to the farmhouse after a long day. The front porch was missing but the inside was fine. Birds were cleaned in the open shed as we waited for the rest of the next day’s group to arrive.
A truck pulled up with a couple of them, and before they got comfortable, I recruited one to drive me to the nearest liquor store because Oklahoma Walmarts aren’t completely accommodating. After 20 minutes, we arrived at a small store in a small town and paid too much for cheap Canadian whisky. We picked up bags of ice from the gas station across the road.
By the time we got back everyone was there and food was ready. We all mixed one to wash it down.
The table was cleared. Conversations flowed between us as the unfamiliar few became familiar. I took out a deck of cards and began shuffling. No one could find poker chips so we decided on six handed spades.
Old country music—the kind that’s actually good—played over the speaker and I dealt the cards. Everyone got louder as we played and as the whiskey took its desired effect. The pours got heavier with each drink and repeated jokes got funnier. The talk was inappropriate but good-natured and every now and again someone brought up politics, seeing who woud join in and who shied away. Everyone participated.
We played hand after hand, keeping score on the back of a paper plate and bitched about random songs that people requested, not letting anyone get too comfortable. Bullshitting continued to an unreasonable hour in the early morning.
I woke early from an alarm that I forgot that I set, unsure of where I was for a moment. Letting my dog out of her crate, she kept me company while I cooked breakfast. She and I were the only ones awake for a while.
We couldn’t hide our hangovers—bags under tired eyes, everyone dragging around slow and quiet. But we were quail hunting that day, and that helped morale. The worst of it seemed to vanish with the cold fresh air once we walked outside.
A friend familiar with the area guided us to spots and gave us tips. All six of us were new to quail hunting and to the Oklahoma terrain. We walked good portions of the vast property, finding long draws, old barns, and rusty farm equipment and pushed through the thickets we ran into. We dodged nervous cattle that would follow us all in one big group, making us wonder what it would be like to be trampled by cows.
Bunches of birds were flushed at a time. With poor accuracy, we all saw birds go down—the satisfying stoppage of flapping wings, gravity taking over. Our few victories kept us moving, fighting whatever weariness and soreness we were willing to admit to. When the sun drew low, we hit a covey near the house to end it.
The bird meat was fried. Moving to the sink, I washed my face and hair and felt the dirt and grit gathered there. I mixed a drink and sat down.
Not feeling the need to change anything, we did as the night before, but without the anxious feeling of looking forward to what was to come. A successful day was over. The night was not a celebration but needed relaxation to take the small edge off a long day.
The drinks went down quicker and tasted better, as if it was all well-deserved. We carried on—our eyes kept open by whisky and nicotine, caffeine and conversation. If we had pride, it left with all the shots we missed that day.
I woke up with my dog sleeping in my bed. We all packed and cleaned up. In a short time, the gear was loaded, and we said quick goodbyes. We got in our trucks, chucked our trash in a dumpster across from a little church and drove until the gravel turned into asphalt roads that took us back home.