Note: A chapter from The Greatest Quail Hunting Book Ever, available now from Sporting Classics.
Does your health show a marked improvement during the hunting season, and do your honest ailments get scant sympathy from a suspicious household the rest of the year? If so, you are ripe for membership in the order of Misunderstood Husbands, Unincorporated, and entitled to all the rights and privileges thereunto appertaining.
I know a man who feels like “The Wreck of the Hesperus” for nine months of the year. He chews expensive vitamins. He sits for hours in the doctor’s office reading magazines. His medicine cabinet is filled with strange nostrums in ill-assorted bottles. He is subject to neuritis and lumbago and is plagued by nondescript aches and pains.
His digestion is so bad that he pays dearly for the slightest dietary indiscretion. And night brings him little respite; for sleep, sweet sleep that so poetically “knits up the raveled sleeve of care,” leaves him fagged and haggard. Nightmares use him to practice up on. His family regards him, and perhaps not without provocation, as moody and irritable. This fellow is really in an unenviable fix, but somehow he manages to drag his creaking chassis along . . . until November comes.
He is not a malingerer. Nor a neurotic. Nor one of those who enjoy bad health and revel in imaginary symptoms. He is honestly ailing. Once he went to a famous diagnostician who examined him for three days, charged him $100, and said: “You will live forever and feel like hell.” The second part of the diagnosis he can verify; the first part he is not so keen about verifying. Forever is too definite.
But when the first frost comes there is a noticeable improvement in his health. And when quail season arrives he is a new man. Tonics and elixirs and tinctures of this and that are consigned to the attic. The medical profession has to eke out its existence without his munificent patronage.
He is no longer susceptible to colds, neuritis, and lumbago, although he tramps the countryside in the unfriendliest of weather and is often in wet clothing the livelong day. He sleeps the sleep of the innocent, unharried by nightmares. His outlook is buoyant, his disposition amiable, and the household hears nothing of his woes—not a solitary complaint—for the next three months. For the master of the household is paying ardent court to Bob White and his bashful bevy.
This man sounds suspicious, but let’s not convict him on circumstantial evidence. A moderately honest and hard-working man he is, and I have a deal of sympathy for him. I know him well. In fact, I might be pardoned for saying that I hold him in peculiar esteem, for with all my faults I love me still. He is the gent who has been living with my wife for 25 years.
The fact that the improvement in my health coincides with the advent of the quail season doesn’t mean that my ills during the rest of the year are imaginary. For outdoor pursuits have a recognized therapeutic value. Especially quail hunting.
After a daylong tramp behind a brace of ambitious dogs, a man doesn’t need an appetizer when he sits down to dinner. Nor does he require a lullaby to put him to sleep. And it’s a hardy neurosis, indeed, that will outlast a few busy and sparkling days afield in the autumn of the year.
Who could ask for a better bracer than a covey of birds deployed in a sedge field at twilight? A rarer cordial than a tableau of hunters tensed about that bombshell poised in the ragweed? Or a more potent elixir than a bevy that pirouettes about your head and goes zigzagging through the treetops?
Farmers seldom have nervous breakdowns. They haven’t the time. People who lead a brisk outdoor existence don’t go in for neuroses, psychoses, and other expensive and fashionable complaints. For a stirring day in the field purges the mind. There is such a thing as mental constipation, too, you know. What this country needs right now is a mental laxative.
The quail hunter leaves a hierarchy of troubles and worries behind him. He is not wondering whether the bank is going to foreclose or when that next note will be due. He is not wondering whether he has coal enough in his basement, whether that insurance policy has lapsed, or whether he has enough cash on hand for his next income-tax installment. He is, for the time being, one of those men who are born free and equal.
His biggest concern now is whether there’s a covey in the edge of that pea patch, whether the singles went in here or deeper, whether he will get a double or an inglorious miss, or whether that overanxious little debutante pointing in the stubble field will hold until he gets there.
These are all transient worries that will soon resolve themselves, to be followed by others equally absorbing. After all, a man is entitled to enough trouble to keep his mind occupied. As David Harum so feelingly remarked: “A reasonable amount o’ fleas is good fer a dog—keeps him from broodin’ over bein’ a dog.”
I am one of those who through some whim of fortune or skullduggery of chance became a white-collar man. I am a country boy who wound up in the city, and it goes hard with me. For 25 years my dear wife has been trying to make a gentleman out of me.
I dream of a springy sod beneath my feet, a nip of autumn in the air, and of a lemon-eared pointer loping across the golden broomstraw while I pound the pavements or sit behind a desk and tell hundreds of people I’m glad to see them.
But don’t waste your sympathies on me. That pavement-and-desk routine is just for nine months of the year. During the hunting season I am a rebel and a renegade, away from the job so much that I stand in imminent danger of being fired. I always leave full instructions for my successor, just in case. Yes, I get quail hunting aplenty for three whole months, and that’s the only time I don’t feel bad when I get up and worse as the day progresses.
Some of you who fish and hunt are probably like that, too. We spend nine months of the year waiting for the other three. We are children of the earth. When they try to civilize and regiment us, we fret and fume. Our colons become spastic, our pancreatic juice becomes unhappy, and our old chronic ailments go to work on us. We are not unlike the Titans, the earthborn giants of mythology who were invincible in battle only as long as their feet were planted on the good earth.
I’m no Jeremiah lamenting his fortunes. I’m not complaining. I’m just explaining. And all I am asking is a little consideration for the state of my health between hunting seasons. I’m tired of having my every complaint met with the same wifely reception, namely:
“Oh, you’ll get over it when the hunting season opens. Now don’t tell me that drying the dishes and mowing the lawn affect your neuritis when you can tote a shotgun all day. Yes, I know. Sitting up in church gives you lumbago. Moving a trunk to the attic gives you lumbago. Pulling morning glories out of the garden gives you lumbago. Waxing the floor gives you lumbago. Yet day after day you can hunt your dogs to death, and I never hear ‘lumbago’ once.”
See what I mean? I repeatedly tell my wife that hunting is different. That it is also self-sustaining, since in quail season I save enough on doctor and medical bills to pay all field expenses, which is the gospel truth. But as a college freshman wrote: “It’s like water on a duck’s back—in one ear and out the other.”
Is your health seasonal, too? And do you feel qualified for membership in the Order of Misunderstood Husbands? If so, you can send in your dues and call me brother, for I am secretary and treasurer, president and chairman of the board.
The Greatest Quail Hunting Book Ever
“My Health is Better in November” is among a big covey of articles in The Greatest Quail Hunting Book Ever, now available from Sporting Classics. This fascinating, 400-page anthology features 35 stories from those halcyon days when sporting gentlemen pursued the noble bobwhite quail with their favorite shotguns and elegant canine companions.
The book opens with compelling tales by the literary giants from quail hunting’s golden era, including Nash Buckingham, Robert Ruark, Havilah Babcock, Archibald Rutledge, and Horatio Bigelow. The second section presents reminiscences by sporting scribes of the modern era, among them Jack O’Connor, Gene Hill, Joseph Greenfield, Dave Henderson, and Mike Gaddis. The third section is comprised of unforgettable short stories on quail hunting and bird dogs by James Street, Bob Matthews, Dan O’Brien, and Caroline Gordon.
The Greatest Quail Hunting Book Ever is available in two editions: a Collector’s Edition, hardcover with dust jacket, for $40, and a Deluxe Edition of 300, leather-bound and signed by editor Jim Casada, for $75. To order, call (800) 849-1004 or click here.