Posts Tagged ‘quail hunting’

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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