Ask G&G

The Tao of Quail

Aerial maneuvers, Delaware claims, and football rivalry niceties

Photo: Britt Spencer

Q: The quail are hammering us. Are there any tactics that can help us increase the bag?

A: The fleet, wily Colinus virginianus presents us with a razor-sharp sporting conundrum: Getting right up in your face in a nanosecond, it puts so much of itself in play. Yet as seasoned quail guns know, these avian pocket rockets have a way of leaving little of themselves at which one can gain a shot. They are yin and yang. With their mad, twisty afterburners firing, quail can cut the slickest mount-and-swing to shreds. Their ferocious biology is not in your favor: The bobwhite’s resting heart rate averages some 450 beats per minute, according to Dr. Theron Terhune, the lead scientist at the Tall Timbers Research Station in Tallahassee, Florida. That is the Einsteinian time scale upon which these birds operate. Quail on the rise leave you flat-footed because you are the earthbound mammal with no wings, and worse, poor land speed. Luckily, your brain does, allegedly, outweigh that of the quail, so as you approach a birdy covert, take a breath. Many adroit ninja-esque twists and turns will be required of you shortly. Top-gun fighter pilots talk of getting “inside the turning circle” of their opponents in dogfights. As a quail breaks cover, what you’re doing in its box of air is pulling through its ragingly fast heartbeat—in those seconds estimated between 800 and 900 beats per minute. Your job is to match that kinesis. To stop a quail’s heart-stopping rise, you have to extend your earthbound self into the air for an instant, to live alongside the bird. You have to imagine how to fly.


Q: Is Delaware considered part of the South?

A: Well, yes and no, although the tenacious Southernness of the state is a fine thread to track. Within Delaware, there’s a strong Original Thirteen current tied closely to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, just up the road from Wilmington, neither of which, I think we can agree, are particularly “Southern” towns. Culturally it’s worth noting that, to this day, the Rehoboth Beach truebloods douse Thrasher’s famous french fries in vinegar, not ketchup, just as their long-lost British cousins do at fish-and-chips shops—more culinarily post-postcolonial than that is hard to get. Despite all that, Delaware’s doughty Southernness shines in the towns down on the peninsula it shares with the eastern shores of Maryland and Virginia—in Seaford, and Gumboro, and Fenwick Island, where the blue crab rules and the shell-cracking mallets and heavy waxed paper line the tabletops. At gas stations in that country, you can still pick up a reasonable fishing hat and some tackle. Chincoteague, the Virginia barrier island to which the wild ponies swim, is just an hour or so down Highway 113. Described musically, Delaware could fairly be said to have a rocking Southern bass beat.


Q: Teeth of the season here, so can you explain how to socialize with people who went to enemy schools?

A: This is the South, so no idea—paintball, maybe? Laser tag? At any rate, some kind of battlefield that requires body armor ought to do. I certainly can’t sanction eating, drinking, or watching TV with them. Then again, this is the South, the nation’s heartiest and most greling social stage, so let’s assume you must. There is only one way: Grin and bear it, baby. Your challenge will be to drop your instinctive Aristotelian baggage—don’t think of them as you usually do, with a mixture of pity and fear, hopeless beings whose lives went wrong in late adolescence as a result of their parents’ and possibly their grandparents’ hubris-driven errors in higher education. Before you have to see them, cook up something nice to say about their quarterback. People tend to care about their quarterbacks. If they have no quarterback to speak of, surely they have a defensive end who’s run back a couple of laudable interceptions. Your goal is to blunt their suspicions by sowing momentary cocktail confusion. They’ll have to think: Ya know, that dude who went to [your school here] wasn’t half bad. Depart at speed, before the smoke screen masking the enormity of your animus dissipates.