Hunt Diaries – Black Partridges Galore

Brig (Retd) Azam agha, Islamabad

A big black male suddenly appeared out of nowhere next to a large “saroot’ and was quickly followed by 2-3 more black dots. The realization that they were black partridges was only betrayed by movements of these tiny specks. As we arrived early on Sunday morning in our intended area of shooting, we decided to move up to our favourite black partridge field next to Swan river and have breakfast in warm confines of our truck while waiting for sunrise. We carefully approached the green wheat field which lies next to river bank and is flanked by “koonder” on one side and dry grass on another. Next to the open side where we were parked, runs a high bank hiding another wheat field.

The setting is breathtaking with bright green fields framed by still deeper green koondar and golden khaki dry grass, and in background is visible  silvery wisp of Swan river meandering through low hills of Pothohar. While munching on “omelet paratha” rolls and sipping steamy tea we were comfortably snug in warm cabin . We anxiously awaited crack of dawn when first calls of grey partridges started to boom in surrounding low hills with some as close as the field just above us. While listening to this heavenly music all sorts of thoughts were running through our minds including doubts if we had really made a mistake to focus our attention on this field. What if we were to miss out on all the grey partridges so vociferously in abundance around us? Would we be able to catch up to them if we dallied any longer after still not visible blacks? And so on.

With increase in light the specks soon changed into three males and female black partridges steadily progressing towards us. They were following a zigzag pattern and often stopped to peck at a hidden grub. A lone bird would sometimes crouch low between furrows whenever it perceived a falcon’s swoop or another imaginary threat. At the rate of their progress they would soon be upon us as they were deliciously getting nearer. Suddenly Junaid erupted in an excited whisper, one, two, four, six more birds approaching from koonder side. I immediately switched my gaze in that direction and spotted not six but eight more blacks scattered near the rim of koonder. Now there were over one dozen blacks in one field alone, but by then another worry had started to bother us and that how would we be able to get down and into shooting position before they all erupt into flight.

After a lot of whispered discussion I opted to go for a “khansama shot” and try and take two or three sitters while hoping for a quick follow up shot on flying birds. I could feel the regret in my partner’s heart  of not being seated on the right side and be able to take opening shots, and while feeling sorry for him I started to think of the exact moment of shot. First golden rays of a weak winter sun had already started to spread and brilliant white cheeks of males were clearly visible with vivid rust coloured neck bands on pitch black chests. The nearest two were so close that even their eyes clearly seemed to peer at me as if they instinctively knew that I was the one to watch out from. I started moving my hands back to get hold of shotgun proffered by my retainer and I was  very careful not to make a sudden move for fear of spooking the wary birds, but lo and behold as they some how discerned the danger and ran for nearest cover in nearby short grass. And with this the flash of information was passed to both the fields and suddenly there was no bird in sight.

I wish there was someone around to see our frenzy as we pushed open the doors and hit the ground running while still fumbling for shot-shells in our pockets. Despite all the alacrity on our part the birds were faster and took to wing before we were ready. We watched in awe as the sky was filled with black jets whizzing past us straight into sanctuary of thick koonder out of range. To save some grace I took a wild swung at  a fast disappearing male and to my own amazement it folded neatly some 50 yards away. Cursing our clumsiness we soon gathered our wits and started to beat nearby clumps of grass and hedges and to our amazement the remnants reluctantly started to break cover in ones and twos. Before long we were a pair of hunters with eight very fine black partridges. Grinning from ear to ear we thanked Providence for this unexpected windfall and realized that our day had just started with a tremendous Bonanza.

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