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Hard-earned birds. Good boy Buddy!

Hard-earned birds. Good boy Buddy!

Wild birds? Yah, we got ’em. The newest show in our archives was shot at Flying Double F Ranch near Vale, Ore.  If you love burning boot leather and shooting while huffing and puffing, go here and enjoy!

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We'll see, won't we?

I was issued a hall pass for the day before Christmas Eve … are you jealous yet? Just one day, so close to home was the number-one criterion. Someplace undiscovered was my second priority. Hmmmm. Tough list already.

A chance glimpse at one of the dozens of maps lying around the shop sealed the deal: a famous steelhead river beckoned … well-known for its aquatic denizens, its side draws and finger canyons might hold valley quail and chukars. And this time of year, if I encounter anyone it’ll be a lonely, shivering steelheader not a bird hunter.

I’ll be celebrating, in a way. Not only is it the day before we quaff eggnog and finish decorating the tree. It’s just one day removed from the winter solstice. The longest night of the year, followed by the shortest day.

Our hunter ancestors feared the dark, long nights. We who live in homes, not caves, merely tolerate the inconveniences. But we revel in the longer days, even if the sun only gives us one more minute of its presence each day, even if those days portend the end of hunting season, even if in one way summer has started.

A lump of coal in my stocking couldn’t spoil this Christmas gift.

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Mine? Beyond my wildest expectations. That was our chukar and valley quail opening weekend. Our annual “Boy’s Weekend” at 1) our usual camp spot (unoccupied); 2) weather threatened but skies brightened; 3) a gigantic quail covey not 50 yards from camp – woohoo!

Highlights: Buddy worked hard, finding down birds when nobody else could. Dave’s pup Buster joining the fraternity of bird dogs – the light went on when he understood what retrieving was all about. Manny’s elegant point on that big covey – where’s a camera when you need one?

Buddy hunted along the stream with Dave and Mike while I got Manny out of the truck, and I don’t know if there’s a more gratifying feeling than watching your dog help someone else by pointing, then retrieving chukars. Now, if only our shooting matched the dog work!

And only at Fields Station in southeast Oregon can you run into old friends from New Jersey!

Finally, after passing by for decades, we stopped to hunt a new canyon: steeper than everything nearby, the toughest climbing up and down dangerous scree slopes … but all was forgotten when the fourth, fifth, and sixth coveys of chukars thundered aloft.

This is the place.

You'd be tired, too, if you retrieved so many birds!

When we started hunting this patch, it was a whole, dead cow.

Good boy!

Maiden voyage for the Aliner Expedition ... sweet!

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I had high hopes on our return to Flying Double F ranch near Vale, Oregon, the next location for Wingshooting USA. And ultimately, we were rewarded. We redefined run-and-gun, covering miles of ranch property to hunt honey holes ranging from standing corn to streambeds, sagebrush slopes to CRP. 

A week of rest for one little cut? Okay boss, if you insist.

We alternated host Jim Farmer’s pointers with Manny and Buddy in tandem, until the pup yelped and I scrambled down a ditch bank to unhook him from the barbed wire fence. A quick glance, no damage and back to the pheasants. Or so I thought.

Manny and Buddy tracked ringnecks up and down the ditch, through the fields, and into a cattail swamp where the one close bird snuck out and under a gigantic irrigation pipe. 

We trekked up a steep, crumbly desert slope, huffing and puffing after a covey of chukars that flushed wild. Around the ridge and down a draw and there they were! Jim’s son James put the hurt on one, brought to hand by Buddy. The leavings doubled back, and on our return trip James flushed them, dropped one of the gray rockets while I did an artful pirouette and brought down another.

Sometimes on hands and knees, we snuck through the hardwoods and dog-hair-thick willows along Bully Creek. Valley quail escaped well in front of us until James called a covey milling nervously, pittt-pitting under a tall cottonwood. They broke left and jinked right, squirting through the leaves and over the creekbanks on both sides. One finally dropped to my shot.

Another sneak up a lava-bed slope and a big covey of valley quail ran like track stars, then flushed wild but in gun range. James doubled left and right and guess what? So did I.  

Back at the ranch I had a closer look at Manny’s thigh. Yuck. Three inches of wide-open gash, loaded with weed seeds. No blood, but the slice went to muscle. Cleaned and slathered with antibiotics, and the Monday morning quarterbacking started. Why hadn’t I seen it when I picked him off the fence?

One sleepless night later, I decided consulting a nearby veterinarian was worth stopping our shoot. Manny was a trooper as he got his first stitches, with an audience in attendance, no less. The vet recommended a week of rest … like that was gonna happen. The Awesome Upland Road Trip was just getting into high gear.

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So, what does a guy who makes TV shows about bird hunting do in his free time? Goes bird hunting, of course.

I had a hall pass for the day, not enough time to head for my usual haunts. It forced me to visit some trout fishing country that was closer and pioneer some new country, ostensibly for chukars. Some bonuses: saw the truck of a training partner, avoided the frozen fog that was plaguing higher elevations and ran into another giant covey of valley quail (the topknot gods have smiled on me in recent weeks). And while the chukars hadn’t gotten the memo, it was not a total bust, as you’ll see.

For those who haven’t been on a chukar hunt, here is a typical afternoon, boiled down to a couple minutes by an executive producer (me), not an editor (like Wingshooting USA’s Tad Newberry). Tighten your bootlaces, hydrate well and enjoy!

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