What do you get when you mix corn stubble with a bunch of women in orange hats and vests? A memory-making women’s upland bird hunt. The Ozark Hills Quail Forever Chapter and the Missouri Department of Conservation held this extraordinary event near Rolla, Missouri.
Several MDC employees worked diligently throughout the day to ensure the experience rate a success for the ladies in attendance. This event, made possible by the concerted efforts of Sarah Egly, Private Land Conservationist in the Phelps County area, and Lesly Holt, Private Land Conservationist from Licking, combined great fun, delicious food and excellent instructors.
Elsa Gallagher, a Quail Forever wildlife biologist from Macon County, spoke about the events that the attendees would be taking part in for the day and the efforts of the Quail Forever Chapters in restoring the habitat for a waning species. She also introduced two of her sporting dogs, Rooster Cogburn and Gator, which she had obtained through an animal rescue program.
The day started off with a safety briefing, which was the most important part of the day. Keith Wollard, Conservation Agent from Wright County, instilled safe gun handling for girls and women who had never shot a gun before, and also renewed the importance of gun safety to the more seasoned shooters.
Divided into smaller groups, the women attended several breakout sessions. Don Forrester from Ripley and Carter Counties, shared the importance of habitat for the quail population. He described a dense shrubby cover for nesting and brood rearing, enabling the birds to run into and fly out of. “This also restricts movement of predators,” he said. Explaining the necessity of an abundant food source, he named several staples; such as, ragweed seeds, lespedeza, wild grapes, insects, beggarweed – all essential to the quail diet.
The gals met and fell in love with Truman, a three-year-old Labrador Retriever. His trainer/owner, Dianne Hayden, of Waynesville, Missouri, demonstrated various commands and retrievals, which Truman excelled in. His discipline and eagerness to please his master wowed the crowd.
Clay shooting was a favorite session, giving participants the opportunity to shoot a shotgun. John Holt, of Licking, Missouri, and David Ingram, Conservation Agent from Dent County, both excellent instructors, taught proper stance and shooting techniques required for successful target acquisition. For many, this was the first time ever even holding a gun, much less pulling the trigger.
Nine-year-old Tommie McDonald set the pace for the day. This being her first time to shoot a gun, she dusted the first clay thrown for her from the trap. The expression on her face showed exhilaration and pride in her accomplishment. This provided a perfect example of the purpose of these events, of giving women – young and old – an opportunity to learn about hunting and shooting, and just being in the great outdoors.
If they thought they had had a fantastic time up to that point, the ladies had no idea of the treat in store for them next. Each eager group headed to the fields to hunt pheasant and chukar with some very patient and kind instructors, and some incredible sporting dogs and their masters. The women had the privilege of observing several different breeds work the birds. There was Sadie and Gator, both German Shorthairs; Rooster Cogburn, a Vizsla; and Lacy and Fancy, a couple English Spaniels. The dogs impressed the huntresses with their pointing capabilities, and the honoring of the back-up dogs.
The women had several hits and lots of misses as the dogs flushed the birds. For the hits, members of the Ozark Hills Quail Forever Chapter demonstrated proper bird-cleaning techniques. For the misses, the instructors helped the shooter hone in on newly acquired shooting skills.
The women cheered for each other and enjoyed a day afield, thanks to a Conservation Department that realizes the future of traditions in this country depends on getting more women interested in outdoor skills. After all, women will bring their friends, their mothers, their sisters and most importantly their children with them when they go outside. For more information about the Missouri Department of Conservation’s outreach programs, see www.mdc.mo.gov .