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Hunters turned loose to learn

Sunday was one of those days a person finally realizes winter is not going to last forever.

The sky was clear and the weather was warm. Just the slightest breeze was blowing. It was a perfect day to be outside.

I decided to work on some quail habitat. I first wanted to burn off the old weeds and grass on a steep hill and drop some trees to make cover from aerial predators for the nesting birds and new hatchlings.

For a controlled burn, I would need some help. A small grass fire can be a good thing. When it gets out of control, more harm than good can easily result. I found no shortage of volunteers for the habitat project.

Damon, Amanda and the grandsons met my wife and me at the proposed site. They brought two dogs and we brought one. For any outdoors project, it is important to have plenty of dogs and kids. It adds to the enjoyment as well as the confusion. Everyone needed some time outdoors in the warm, spring weather doing something constructive.

We started a back-burn, against the breeze, just to make sure the fire did not get away from us. Armed with shovels, and prepared to fight the blaze, the boys soon lost interest in what they hoped would be a raging inferno when they discovered there was only a small flame and nothing to fight.

The flames crept slowly up the hill, leaving only charred weeds with new green grass poking up. The boys and the dogs started wandering off looking for more exciting action when a mouse ran out of the tall grass away from the approaching fire. Three dogs noticed it about the same time as did the boys. Followed with yelling and barking, the mouse made a hasty retreat into weeds away from the flames. Neither the boys nor the dogs could find him.

It was not long before another mouse made a break for it. The dogs were ready this time. All three of them lunged at the mouse at the same time smacking their heads together. None of them came away with it.

So far, it was Mice 2, Hunters 0.

As the flames spread out, so did the hunters. If a dog made a sudden movement or one of the boys hit the ground with his shovel, the rest of the group converged to where bedlam would be focused in a small area. On rare occasions, one of the boys was able to smack a mouse with his shovel, and the dogs were able to catch a few before the rest of the hunters converged. Quite a number of mice were dispatched in one way or another by the time the nesting area was burnt off. There were no major injuries to the participants, and all the hunters improved their skills as the day wore on.

By the end of the afternoon, we were all tired. We had created several acres of what should be excellent habitat for quail and other birds. The dogs learned to grab a mouse and run if they get a chance. The boys discovered it is best not to hit your brother with a shovel, even if aiming at a mouse. The dogs learned not to bite a boy's foot, even if it is on a mouse and the boys learned not to smack the dog with a shovel, even when it is going in the same direction as a mouse.

Hunting skills are learned in increments. When a bunch of fairly inexperienced hunters are turned loose, their will be an occasional mishap, but they learn from such mishaps and will be better hunters in the future. We all had a great day enjoying a warm spring day in the outdoors.

Walter Scott is an outdoors enthusiast and freelance writer from Bloomfield, Iowa.