Family gatherings from my childhood are some of my most treasured memories. Usually we met because someone was born, promoted in school, graduated, got married, moved into a new home or the like. Most of these were cheery occasions; sometimes they weren’t. One particular time, we were all at my Aunt and Uncle Jenison’s home up above Spray for such a function. The family patriarch, Grampa Keith, was regaling us with stories. As a youngster, I loved listening to Grampa, Dad and Uncle Mick tell their stories.

How we got onto the subject I cannot recall but Grampa remembered that he and a mutual cohort we will call Amos were on their way home from the woods after a day at work. On the side of the old logging road was a grouse, graveling as they need to do. Seeing the tasty forest chicken made Amos bemoan aloud their lack of a .22 with which to collect that bird. Grampa drove slightly past the grouse and stopped his truck. He stepped out of the cab and collected a rock from the roadbed. With the accuracy of a baseball pitcher he threw the rock and nailed the grouse in the head, killing it instantly. Amos stared in disbelief as Grampa collected the bird and asked quizzically, “What do you need a gun for?”

To my young mind that was the coolest thing ever. For days I practiced trying to nail empty soda cans with round rocks, skipping rocks, big rocks, little rocks and discovered Grampa may have been either the luckiest man alive or perhaps the deadliest rock chucker of all time to hit a grouse head on his first try without any warmup. Why didn’t he just pull his .22 pistol out from under the seat, where he always kept it, and use that? I wished very much that I had a .22 pistol.

In our little neighborhood there in Spray the California quail population was out of sight. To my 9-year-old eyes, that spelled opportunity. Maybe I would never get old enough to be as good of a hunter as Grampa, but there was no reason I couldn’t start learning how. I had been strictly forbidden from pointing my recently acquired BB gun at anything living, so I knew that left me with only one other option. I gathered a handful of stones and chased the quail for quite some time. As frustration kicked in my accuracy got worse and my shot attempts got further away.

In a last-ditch attempt, I gathered a stone that was easily twice the size of my 9-year-old fist and waited. As evening began to close the quail gathered together for warmth. I lobbed my stone into the center of the covey and was rewarded with my first bird. Proudly I took it home, and we ate it. Was I as cool as Grampa? No, but I was on my way.

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Dale Valade is a local country gent with a love for the outdoors, handloading, hunting and shooting.

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