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From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

My old friend was perfectly giddy with excitement. The spring and early summer rains had done him and his pastures well. He could hardly contain himself heralding his good fortune over the state of the Shackelford County range conditions, nesting cover, brood habitat and insect crop and the prospects for the upcoming hunting season.

But I knew he really meant business when he leaned in with a big grin and said, “You know I’m buying bird dogs again.” And if that wasn’t enough to convince me that the tide had turned, he added for emphasis, “And so is my neighbor!”

The quail have bounced back in a good portion of the state, and bird hunters from the Trans-Pecos to the High, Rolling and Coastal Plains to the South Texas Brush Country are chomping at the bit for cooler weather and a chance to break out their dogs, young and old, in pursuit of what appears to be a bumper crop of bobs and blues across quail country.

It’s about time. I’m betting some old quail hunters like my friend will gladly come out of retirement to enjoy the quail bounty brought about by Mother Nature’s largesse and the well-tended pastures of the state’s abundant land stewards. Right along with them will be their trusted and indispensable hunting companions — setters, pointers and spaniels with names like Fat Kate and Little Sue, Belle and Ella, Maggie and Max.

As the late Gene Hill used to remind us with such unbridled warmth and eloquence in his monthly “Hill Country” column in Field and Stream magazine, a good bird hunt is defined every bit as much or more by the dogs as it is by the shooting. Thankfully, whatever your quarry of interest, there is a dog for every season. And whether one needs a pointer, tracker, trailer, flusher, retriever or catch dog, there’s a breed for you.  

In the pages of this magazine, veteran outdoor writer and coastal enthusiast David Sikes shares tales about a duck hunter’s best friend. As he and any serious waterfowler will attest, a hunt out in the marsh or in a stand of flooded timber simply wouldn’t be complete without the excited whimper and post-retrieve spray from a big wet Lab in the duck blind.  

Speaking of such, we are honored this month to pay tribute to someone else who knows and cares a thing or two about big ducks and good dogs, the state’s latest Leopold Conservation Award winner. Dr. Robert MacFarlane, an abundantly cerebral and contemplative sort out of Palestine, has made restoring the woods and waters of his beloved bottomlands into a major conservation initiative to protect the Trinity River. With the deft hands and ever-probing mind of the surgeon that he is, MacFarlane has transformed a tired and worn-out old bottom into a showplace of nature and game and stewardship of the woods and wetlands. He’s done mighty well with his own patch of The BigWoods and in turn has served as an inspiration for other stewards up and down the river.

There is not a better time of year than now to get out and about in our fine state. I hope you will enjoy the bountiful game and the ample scenery of our lands, woods, waters and parks.  And take your favorite dog with you.

Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever.

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