Posts Tagged ‘quail hunting’

In this country, rush hour is a herd of whiteface cattle who refuse to stay in their own lane. There are more cows than people here, so we usually yield right of way to them. Besides, what’s the rush?

enchanted canyon on the horizon

Through the windshield: enchanted canyon is at the end of this asphalt rainbow

It’s easy for me to say, when I actually choose to end my hunt early because it was so good.

I don’t mean a vest overflowing with birds, not even close. But enough, in the right places. Dog work to match. Both left a satisfying heft in the bag and the mind.

A creek bed thicket offered one covey of valley quail, a bird dropping into a small forest of alders and willows only Buddy could negotiate, dropping it gently in my palm. A single against the steeply dropping bank, again, only found thanks to the marvelous canine nose I’m privileged to feed twice daily.

No, this trip ended early because the senses were sated, all of them, in very special ways.

I pointed the rig north beyond familiar canyons and draws, looking for new coveys. My eye turned west, drawn to a brilliant yellow vein of aspens snaking downstream, tracing a small creek’s route out of a towering rock cleft straight from Lord of the Rings. The road ended at the lava gateway to this mountain range, and we hunted every inch of the watercourse.

Not a single wingbeat interrupted our visit to this enchanted place, and after the fact, I’m grateful. Yellow, gold, red and amber leaves formed an unbroken ceiling above and covered the desert floor. The stream bottom was similarly paved, deserving of a magazine cover (and me without my camera!). It was as a Narnia-like world, where fantasy meets reality, and you’re not quite sure which is which.

But my camp was still miles away. A small desert lake, void of anglers this time of year, was my destination. I reveled at the chance to cherry-pick my spot, and headed for the far side. The tallest fault block mountain on the continent dwarfed our little camp. A fan of bare sand forms my personal beach, and soon a fire is crackling and the Scotch is poured.

Buddy roams, unfettered by neighbors or responsibility. He doesn’t quite know what to do, unleashed and free, so stays close to me and the warming fire. Together, we watch a flock of Canada Geese graze in undulating lines toward the lakeshore, stalked by a coyote. He hides, they move, he creeps, they adjust the distance. Eventually, the geese prevail, reaching the water, well fed and safe for the time being.

From both ends of the lake, mule deer materialize in ones and twos. Soon, two dozen are drinking. At the far south end the dominant buck emerges, four points on each side, regal in his aloneness. Stars soon carpet the sky, a few shooting, all sparkling.

In the morning coffee’s sharp jolt kindles a brief memory, leading to the only logical conclusion: how could you top that?

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What a weekend! Terry Wilson’s Ugly Dog Hunting Co. hosted a get together at Arlington, Georgia’s Quail Country Plantation and we were invited. It was a chance to enjoy true southern hospitality as well as a traditional plantation hunting experience with a twist: UGLY DOGS were doing the hard work.

We were treated to an incredible exhibition of finished versatile hunting dog work, particularly of Terry’s wirehair Tank when braced with Tim Clark’s shorthair Troy, a NAVHDA versatile champion. Watch the point and steadiness to wing-shot-fall. If only I’d had a wider lens you could see Tim’s dog honor both the point and the retrieve! [You’ll see much better video when Lynn and director Tad Newberry’s footage finds it’s way to Wingshooting USA next fall. For now, you’ll have to put up with my very raw amateur video.]

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(Back by popular demand, Scott’s six-year-old German Wirehair has posted his next blog. His nephew, Manny, is still learning to type but Buddy says he’s progressing nicely and will soon be filing his own reports from the field. Here is Buddy’s latest account:)

We’re a pretty good team, The Pup and I. He’s a diamond in the “ruff,” but that beard and those eyebrows sure hold promise!

That day The Boss took us a long way in the box-on-wheels-he-yells-at. When we finally jumped onto the cold white stuff we were happy. Cold good, we smell easier. Not smell better, The Boss says … he thinks dead deer pieces we roll on bad; we LOVE. Better birrrd sniffing, though.

The author

The Pup sniffed three-toe tracks on cold white stuff, up one bump and down another. Me too. Big smell stopped us. Birrrrrds go up and boom stick loud! I look for more, The Pup carries still birrrrd to The Boss. Boss learning: give back to Pup for more sniff-lick and he is happy, won’t swallow birrrd. Good human!

Bang! Boom! Stick works good, for a change. Little birrrds fall down. We bring for extra sniff and taste, get to go again. Two booms and one birrrd on white cold stuff. But The Pup not watching The Boss … playing in wet splash. Sniff-lick for me and go again but I know: other birrrd in sticks by wet splash.

The Boss stroke my top and scratch my floppy hears when I mouth second birrrd to him. Big kibble after!

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(In the interest of diversity, fairness and as part of his new contract, Buddy will be writing his own blog post once in a while. Here is his first submission.)

The Boss let me have the laptop tonight, sez he’s tired after our hunt today. Him tired? I was doing all the running, up to the top of the peaks for those running things that go “chuk-chuk.” I slide over the snow, jump over boulders and scrape my pads on the scree, just to watch them streak off the cliff, and not even toward my human!

The author, with his nephew/apprentice, relaxing between hunts

My feet are killing me! And I have twice as many as The Boss. But it was worth it to help my nephew grow as a hunter. The Pup’s got potential, if he’ll just pay attention to The Boss … and me! Sure, I’m “older” but can still teach him a few new tricks, like that last bird today. He thinks the job is over when his tail goes up and he raises his front paw. The Boss gets all happy, saying the good-boy words while he puts his boom stick together.

Then the birdy goes brrrrrr and gets away (they always do, so I don’t bother trying to catch them), but The Boss’ stick goes boom and it falls in a big bush by the cold wet splashy stuff. The Pup tried to poke his nose and head between the sticky sticks but they were sharp! Boss asked me – nicely for a change – to help and I could smell those sweet, delicious feathers once or twice. But then he talked loud just before I jumped off the cliff to look down there for the smell.

I watched over The Pup as he raced from sage to wild rose, (they’re so cute at that age) snuffling at old feather smells and dead deer pieces, but you gotta give him credit for trying. Too big for his collar sometimes, but his beard and eyebrows are nice and bushy, so The Mommy likes him.

I ran and ran, ignoring all the dead cow pieces and other fun stuff, putting one foot in front of the other and the other and the other. But that bird in the bush was suddenly worth two in the paw! When The Boss turned us back toward the box-on-wheels that he always yells at, I snuck back into that thicky-sticky bush. He didn’t see me go, but the sticks were bumping me and rattling like two chew toys in a big box at Christmas.

I knew the tweet-tweet thing would soon make me go back to The Boss, so to keep him happy and show The Pup how it’s done, I used both nostrils and zeroed in on the little dead flying thing real quick. Ooh, there is nothing sweeter than holding them, tasting, inhaling, drinking in the feather smell after the stick goes boom and we find them on the ground. Or in this case, caught in the sticky parts of a bush only a Big Dog could reach. You won’t see The Pup doing that … at least for a while!

Yep, it’s a ruff life. But I can handle it.


Three Devils Yankee’s Buddy

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Psychologists say a quality life has many “peak experiences.” I just had one, so life is getting better by the day.

This is the place.

Got to the place I’d been craving to hunt all season on a crisp, 15-degree day … shirtsleeve weather, if the shirts were made of polypropylene and wool. But weather wasn’t the point behind the epic hunt … instead, it was the setting, the dogs, the birds … WOW! We snake along a small-but-raging creek, the bed a tangle of willow, alder, cattails and wild rye. The valley quail were in scattered bunches, their heavenly scent wafting upslope to Buddy and Manny when they were running the top bank, clouding in the thicket to tempt them when they were busting the brush.

Points were rampant, often followed by covey flushes then the suspense of sussing out singles. Three weeks away from the hunt, the pup soon glommed onto his job, working independently of his uncle. Buddy was his usual incredible bird-finding self, ghosting from brush patch to willow thicket, crossing the creek confidently to seek and ultimately fly valley quail from their streamside hiding places.

Manny backed, even brought a few birds almost back to me. I remembered a lesson from trainer Doug Burnett, and gave them back for a few minutes. Dead bird soon lost its allure and he raced to the stream for more live ones. He leaped cross-creek with abandon, bird scent beckoning.

The only point I was willing to risk a photo on!

A wild flush at my feet was quickly followed by a shot and Buddy was all over it. Then, silence. He didn’t return from where it dropped.  I hustled over to find both dogs on point, a dead quail in Buddy’s mouth. One bird flew upstream and soon fell to the gun’s report. That triggered another flush from the same sagebrush, the cockbird rocketing downstream until it splashed it into the creek at my shot.

I caught my breath, looked at the robin’s egg blue sky, the massive stone pillars watching over us, two panting wirehairs at my side, and a brilliantly-colored quail in my hand. Time to go, as it couldn’t possibly get any better.

So, have you had any “peak experiences” lately? Spill!

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What does a guy do after two weeks on the road hunting in front of television cameras? Um, well, it was opening weekend of chukar and valley quail season, so take a wild guess.

Manny carries the torch: every dog I've owned has posed with this ridge in the background.

Despite viruses (two out of three of us), sweltering weather, traffic jams and honey-do’s, we convened in the usual place for the usual activities. The upshot? Challenging. Fewer birds, scattered from valley floors to rocky peaks and everywhere in between. Young birds (multiple hatches, we hoped) seemed to dematerialize  after vigorous chases. Dry beds where creeks usually provide life-giving fluid to animals great and small. 

The view from chukar camp

Birds flew – virtually always away from me, but Dave and Mike got shots. As the sun climbed, so did we … into the lava rock that seemed to hold vestigial heat from it’s original source. We heard chukars, flew many at a distance, ultimately earning a few long and desperate shots.

The next day, more of the same, Buddy and Manny racing in a doggie pas de deux, sometimes in unison, other times mirror images on opposite sides of the draw. As Mike and I wheezed up a slope Buddy locked solid, uphill from a flat boulder a football field’s length away. We hightailed it, still slower than the rattled nerves of a trio of partridges. They skirted the ridge. We followed, sidehilling over shale and sloppy soil. We flew that bunch twice more, me taking a couple Hail Mary shots to no effect.  

Mystery bug - anyone know what this new one (for us) is called?

When both dogs sought the scant shade of boulders every time we slowed, I knew it was time to head for camp and the creek, and call it a day.  A small rattlesnake reminded me how warm and early it was in the season, standing (slithering?) his ground as I directed dogs away and left him to his quest for a den.

The small pool in the stream was a welcome sight to all parties, dogs slurping and splashing in relief and joy – their human, too.

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(There’s a golden eagle soaring above the rimrock, the river harboring quail near it’s edge. The ice looks benign from up here and Buddy’s about to find a single quail. time to put down the camera and pick up the shotgun.)

Day One in the Mountain Time zone was warm, dry, and sunny and harbored the largest covey of valley quail I’ve seen in five years. Not sky darkening, but big enough to create the deep whirring only four or five dozen birds’ wings can make. Buddy was in the zone, finding and pointing like a field trialer (but much prettier). Lightly coursing among the boulders, through the head-high ryegrass, and up and down the forbidding slopes above the Owyhee River.

Then it happened, one of those mistakes you can blame on nobody but yourself and rife with dire consequences you may live to regret for the rest of your miserable life. I dropped a bird over the river. It bounced and slid over the ice rimming the bank, and Buddy was on it. He slid off the edge into swimming depth water, eyes locked on the dead bird bobbing another 20 feet out. What happened next I hope never to witness again, and I hope you don’t either.

Bird in mouth, my hunting partner bumped his chest into the ice, perplexed at the resistance of what to him must have looked like simply more water. A few more tries, and he was beginning to struggle, doubling back and swimming in a tight circle. Frantically, I waved him toward a bare patch of bank 40 yards upstream. His rear was riding lower in the water now, and he was reaching with front legs onto the ice, scratching for purchase then slipping back.

I stood near the ice-free shore, calling hoarsely as he did what he thought I wanted him to do – deliver the bird – once more leveraging himself onto the slick surface, bird still held firmly, only to slip back a little deeper into the dark water. As I dropped gun and vest and headed for the ice myself, he vectored toward me and was soon in shallow water, walking slowly to the bank and dropping the bird gently into my trembling hand.

If you’ve had an experience like this, you know the feeling that washes over you at that moment: lightness, giddiness, and a gratefulness that knows no bounds. A get-on-your-knees moment. As a result, the rest of the trip was even more of a blessing than usual, I marveling at his every point and incredible resilience, he hunting as if near-drowning was an everyday occurrence in a bird dog’s life. I guess that’s what I’m most grateful for.

Buddy, I promise never to draw a bead on an ice-bound bird again. Ever.

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