There was an interesting article last month in a Texas A&M University publication called Agrilife Today, which sought to put a monetary value on the bobwhite quail.
The story has been making the rounds among quail hunters across the nation, and as it turns out, the average quail harvested in Texas is worth about $253 apiece. That’s some expensive quail gravy right there. I’m sure that figure probably wouldn’t vary too much for other regions of the country and other upland gamebirds, either. The article can be found here and it’s well worth a read, but I’d like to touch on one aspect of that story as it relates to gundogs.
I don’t know if the methodology used in this economic analysis included the cost of purchasing, training and caring for the dogs that most dedicated quail hunters own, but it got me to thinking about how much of a purely financial investment (aside from the emotional) we have in our dogs. From the initial cost of a puppy and its routine vet care, food, housing, training, equipment, and the myriad other small, day-to-day expenses of gundog ownership, all the way to the yearly cost of owning an adult, fully-trained gundog, how much do you think you spend?
Sit down one evening and put it to paper. The figure staring back at you might shock you. Now, as large as it may be, take that figure and then add to it all the other expenses you incur in a typical hunting season: Gas, food, lodging, leases (if you have one), licenses, shotguns and shells; the list is seemingly endless. Think about it for a while and it’s easy to see how each Guy de la Valdene’s “handful of feathers” can add up to $253. But you shouldn’t look at it that way. Instead, consider the sum total of your out-of-pocket expenses as your investment–your buy-in, as it were–for the most incredible and rewarding hunting experience a man (or woman) can participate in: Sharing the field with your dog. It’s a cliche, I know, but you can’t put a price on that.
Or can you? Is there some upper limit on what you’re willing or able to pay for the privilege of hunting upland birds (or waterfowl) with your dog? The next question is, what can we do to make sure it never gets to that point? Make more noise? Become as politically active as other hunter groups? Get more non-dog-owning, non-bird-hunting deer hunters out of their stands and take them hunting? Try to bring them into the gundog/wingshooting fold? Rightly or wrongly, bird hunting (and gundog ownership goes hand-in-hand with that) is increasingly seen as the exclusive province of the well-heeled. I’m not convinced that’s true–not yet, anyway–but we have to somehow change that perception.
Maybe we need to look at ourselves as not just hunters and gundog owners, but as active recruiters for the gundog lifestyle. You and your dog are ambassadors, in a sense, for the gundog nation. Make it a point to invite someone along on your next hunt; get them fired up about dogs and birds and shotguns; make them see and experience for themselves why our upland birds and our upland traditions are just as important and worthy of attention, funding and protection as any other species.
And at the end of the day, hopefully you’ll send your guests off with a newfound appreciation, a burgeoning awareness and a budding advocacy. But if they didn’t shoot any birds on their own, don’t send your guests off with any of your quail. Are you kidding? Those damn things are worth 253 bucks apiece.