Once upon a time, this was a quail hunter's Avalon. Now all that's left of those splendid days are the reveries of old men.
Many of those hunters are too afflicted by the ravages of time to hunt anymore, and some are dead. The few who are still fit say it makes no sense to traipse across those russet and sable fields and draws anymore, because our quail are no more.
How glorious were those days of old? Compared to today, beyond belief.
For instance, Arkie Covert of McLouth remembers how he and the late Bruce Tate of Lawrence and their pointers used to hunt a farmstead near Clinton in the 1960s.
By noon they would flush 10 big coveys, and Covert said: "There were so dang many coveys that we never bothered hunting and shooting the single birds."
Likewise, Blair Flynn of Overbrook found untold numbers of quail in the plum thickets, cedar-laden draws and hedgerows of the farmlands that stretched from Michigan Valley to Centropolis.
"If a hunter was working with a young pointer or setter," Flynn said, "there were so many birds for a dog to point that one could tell in quick order if that dog was going to be of any count."
Nowadays, Flynn says, there are so few birds in the field it's nearly impossible for a hunter to whip a dog into shape.
Young Mike Eckman, 24, of rural Baldwin has heard many similar and marvelous tales from his grandfather. Eckman says he has come to the regretful realization that Douglas County and its bordering counties will never be the hunters' paradise they once were.
Even though it's a different time, Eckman says, there are a lot of folks, young and old, who have a hankering to hunt, but can't find the land or the birds to hunt. What's more, there are bird dogs aplenty that urban hunters need to work.
Consequently, he opened Eckman Gamebird Farm and Preserve this fall with eye to recreating a passable facsimile of the grand tradition of northeast Kansas quail hunting.
Straightway scores of hunters flocked to his several hundred acres of upland-game habitat along East 1800 Road in southeastern Douglas County.
The response even flabbergasted Eckman.
Since the first day, the preserve has been fully booked every Saturday and Sunday. In fact, it has become so popular with local hunters that Eckman missed his traditional sojourn out west to Quinter for the opening of the pheasant season.
Hunters tell Eckman they enjoy hunting his preserve because it is close to home. They can go for a morning hunt and be home by 1 p.m. The hunts last three hours, ending at noon and 4:30 p.m.
The price per hunt also is relatively inexpensive, costing a hunter $50 to shoot four pheasants. By comparison, a trip to pheasant country in western Kansas has been known to cost some hunters as much as $500 a weekend.
For $50, a hunter can also shoot eight quail or five chukars.
What's more, there are plenty of birds to hunt. Eckman stocks birds daily and most of them are raised at the preserve.
He also strives, he said, "to provide hunters with the most explosive flying birds possible."