There’s not much reason these days for me to visit my childhood home of Beaver Valley, the stretch of mostly dry creek dotted by the villages of Danbury, Lebanon and Wilsonville along the Kansas border in southwestern Nebraska. Most of my immediate family no longer lives there, a great majority of the businesses have closed shop and the schools have consolidated to larger communities to the north. Shifts in rural America’s agriculture dynamics have forced populations to be a fraction of what they once were in these formerly vibrant communities, admittedly never mistaken for metropolises.
One of the valley’s greatest assets has remained through the years, though: its upland game hunting opportunities. My first hunting memories, probably from my preschool years in the 1970s, involve carrying a Daisy lever-action BB gun while walking alongside my dad and uncles to scare up roosters. (Little did I know at the time my chances of bagging a bird were slim with that weapon, and I was probably mostly there to serve as an additional bird dog.)
While the farms have gotten bigger with fewer people needed to run them, and business owners have closed or moved from Beaver Valley to more lucrative locales, plenty of pheasants and quail have remained to keep visitors entertained. Thankfully I have some great friends and family who still live nearby – some who still farm along the valley and graciously give hunting permission to this darn-near-middle-aged kid and his son.
This marked the second consecutive year Sawyer, 13, joined his dad for a quick late-November journey from Chadron to southwestern Nebraska in search of pheasants and quail, mixing in a little photography and visits to friends and family along the way.
On the first day of our two-day venture, we took a tour of the countryside, driving the streets of the small towns, visiting my grandmother, and making a quick hunt at the old family farm with my dad. On day two, we met up with some of my best friends and two of their dogs for a day of soggy hunting under intermittent light rain.
Although we suspect a sizable percentage of the pheasant population was taking refuge in what corn is still standing along the valley, we did manage to flush several roosters from heavy cover – most too far ahead of us to get a shot.
Most impressive, though, was the quail. Oh my, the quail. In all of my years of stomping around that area, I have never seen the bobwhite population so high. In some places a covey seemed to flush at every stone’s throw, resulting in fast action shooting and a dwindling supply of shotgun shells.
Southwestern Nebraska has a lot going for it. Along with pheasants and quail is an ample population of muleys, whitetails and wild turkeys. The region remains a premier hunting destination.
And places such as Beaver Valley retain a certain charm. While one won’t find a Starbucks on the street corners, the grain elevator’s office in Danbury had a pot of coffee brewing and saved the day. Dean’s Place in Danbury, the bar and restaurant which is located in what was once the American Legion Club, served up some excellent hamburgers and chili for lunch to remedy our growling bellies. And, of course, the communities of the Republican River valley to the north have all sorts of amenities, not to mention numerous sites enrolled in the Open Fields and Waters Program for public hunting and some excellent opportunities for waterfowl hunting.
With so many quail on the landscape, we had plenty of shooting and brought home a nice supply of the tasty little birds. Success on such a trip isn’t measured in shots fired or bag limits filled, though. Rather, success is defined in that feeling you get when stepping onto your old familiar home turf, accompanied by people you care about. It’s the rekindling memories that have been held deep in storage, jogged by the sight of an old farmhouse, a turn in the road, or a feature of the terrain. It’s watching your father join your son in walking a pocket of cover at the old family farm, just as he surely did with his father decades ago. It’s the thrill of watching your son raise his Mossberg 500 and bag his first quail. It’s catching up on laughs with friends and relatives over a cup of coffee or a chicken dinner. And it’s the opportunity to look across the field to see that smile on your good buddy’s face, the same one you first saw in kindergarten years ago, as he marches across the land he loves with shotgun in hand.
The region of my youth has certainly changed a lot, with time taking its toll on abandoned buildings and many of the faces I knew so well being absent or replaced by those I don’t recognize. Regardless, as long as the ringnecks and bobwhites stick around, and we have relatives and friends who will take us in, it will always be fun returning to this beautiful area of which I’m proud to call home. As hunters, we all have our special places. For me, there’s no better scene to celebrate our rich hunting heritage than a trip to southwestern Nebraska.