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Posts Tagged ‘quail’

The e-collar battery was dead after one furtive bleep. We were hunting “unplugged.”

After a few steps, the pulse of this intimate draw suddenly filled my ears. Enough snow to muffle boot steps, but not mask the tinkle of Buddy’s collar tag as he floated nimbly among the sage. Each puff of breeze rattled the dry leaves of mountain mahogany.

Collar off; perception on ... ever notice how that works?

A songbird’s call I didn’t recognize. A flockmate’s tiny wingbeats as it flushed from a nearby juniper, magnified. I could hear everything.

See it, too. Once ears are wary, so are the other senses. The play of light on rock and snow almost dances. A looming basalt column grows before your mind’s eye. The buckaroo’s line shack in pre-topple mode, cries out – roof boards resembling a crone’s mouth with more space than teeth.

That tang assaulting my nose must be a plant I don’t know … taking me back to high school with notes of an old girlfriend’s perfume. A hag of an apple tree breathed sickly sweet, all but one now brown or purple or black. 

We flew valley quail at the base of this draw where the ancient cottonwoods stand guard. Even their flush was distilled to the essence found in dreams: quivering stalks and crackling leaves, staccato alarm call, drumroll of wings and lightning-crack gunshot. 

The birds will be accompanied by the one good apple in a recipe I’ll devise tomorrow.

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What a view! Does it compensate for no birds?

Time for my annual skunking, maybe appropriate it took place at my nearest quail covert. It’s usually good for a couple coveys, sometimes even a mountain quail.

Mother Nature had done her part. The prior day’s weather forecast called for showers until noon, sunshine after. In the early morning, the bunchgrass shed its frosty carapace with every step, showering us and the ground with tiny, short-lived jewels of ice. The distant palisades of ancient lava pierced the sky as if in high definition, every crack and crevice amplified by pure light against a cobalt sky. 

After a couple weeks away from hunting, my psyche needs close-to-immediate gratification. So, we started at a wide spot in the creek bed that has produced before. But not today. A long walk upstream was likewise fruitless.

The next covert gave Buddy a lot of exercise, but nothing to get the tail twitching, until he crow-hopped like a rodeo bronc when he sighted a headless mule deer crumpled along the stream. Not a mark on him besides a bullet hole likely delivered in the dead of night from behind a poacher’s spotlight.

The beauty of this place helps no matter what the birds do, or don’t. The smell of wet leaves, crunch of frost on the ground, cold stone’s magical scent, all help distract from the absence of quail. Besides, Buddy didn’t know there wasn’t a covey around each bend in the creek, just waiting for his nose to detect them as he slammed into a heart-stopping point. It was in a way, better in that I could drift, mentally, and drink it all in.

And while I don’t want to make a habit of it, there is value in a birdless walk. You see and hear things you don’t when focused on the next flush. You can marvel at the small things … burble of stream or a meadowlark’s trill. You savor a sunny fall day when the weight of work and the world are spirited away … perhaps to the same place the birds went.

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A screen shot you'll likely see on the air this season

A screen grab from HD footage you'll likely see on the air this season

Sure, there’s the glamour of airline food, missed connections, lost (expensive, camera) luggage and ever-present doggie breath on the set. Don’t forget the surly airline personnel, rain, cold, gale-force wind, and a spate of bad shooting.  Just kidding!

I’m going over all the raw footage from last year’s hunts, the first step in lining out episodes and writing the voiceover for the new show. And boy, how it can drag when you’re not actually out there doing it. But that’s why we get the “big bucks” (hah!), because we take all those ingredients, add a little seasoning, stir, simmer, and create entertaining, educational, informational, motivational wingshooting programs.

Most of you know it takes hours of hunting to get minutes of good television, and I’m being reminded of it – big time – right now. We don’t have a real one anymore, but there is a big digital “cutting room floor” here, fast becoming cluttered with reject footage. But there’s also the flip side: reliving good times with friends new and old, great dogs, beautiful places, and some adrenaline rushes that ought to be bottled and sold in dark alleys for big dollars.

What’s on the screen now:A South Dakota grasslands hunt with shorthairs, coping with high winds and running ringnecks. If you’ve been there and done that, you know how tough it’s going to be to make a show out of dark skies, sketchy points and wild-flying birds. There is hope, though, as later in the day we salvage it with a new strategy (more later) and additional personnel including South Dakota’s governor and my friend, Mike Rounds.

On a positive commercial note, two new sponsors will help bring you the show, TriTronics (the collar guys) and ESP (hearing protection). It may sound trite, but it’s also true. Without sponsors nobody would be on the air, so get off your high horse if you’ve mounted up and are looking down your nose at the rest of us. I’m grateful to these folks as well as the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Native performance dog food, Black’s directories and artist Ross Young. So, spend some money with them when you have a need!

End of commercial. It’s back to raw footage … as duty calls!

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Don’t hold back.  Tell me how you really feel.

About wingshooting and hunting dog TV shows, that is. What really, really, makes you mad about the current fare? Anything you wish a producer would include, that isn’t? Places that should be featured? What do you want more of, or less? What trips your trigger, or is a pet peeve when you’re watching those other shows?

Go ahead, tell me what you want.

Go ahead, tell me what you want.

Here’s your chance. I’m putting the finishing touches on my next TV series and it’s as good as YOURS. That is, help me make it the best wingshooting and bird dog series … ever. I can’t promise to list you all in the credits, but you’ll watch knowing you had a hand in the creation of the show.

Go ahead. Spill. Right … down … there, in the comments section. Or in the poll, above. Or both.

And thanks.

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Anyone else call this a hunkie?

Anyone else call this a hunkie?


Every region has it’s quirky names for critters. Time to compile the ultimate list of those we shoot at as they fly away. What do they call a ringneck pheasant in Montana? Is a timberdoodle in Vermont a bogsucker in New Brunswick? And what the heck is a mudbat?

Offer up your upland and waterfowl colloquialisms in the comment section … and if you can’t come up with a “real” one, feel free to make one up.

I’ll start:

Woodcock: mudbat, bogsucker, timberdoodle
Pheasant: ditch parrot
Merganser: flying liver
Up yours!: (anything we miss)

Your turn!

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Not to get all new-agey, but a great place to get "centered" and end the season

Not to get all new-agey, but a great place to get "centered" and end the season

We talk a lot about “closing the loop,” reaching a logical and finite ending to all things business, social, financial, etc. The term is appropriate for yesterday, the last day of wild bird season here in Oregon.

I began the season at a spot that holds history and pre-history (read: dinosaurs), fond memories, and a sweet spot in my heart for the peace it brings me. I closed the season in the same place. And once again, it didn’t take much to bring satisfaction.

Buddy hunted hard, making up for too many road miles and not enough field time. He tore from objective to objective along the little creek laced with beaver dams and head-high brush. Once the breeze finally stirred he worked it well, and soon the beeper’s hawk scream signaled a find.

Trembling on the opposite bank, nose vectored into a tangle of reeds and marsh grass, Buddy’s right front paw saluted the hidden birds. From the other side, I praised him then wondered how the heck I’d get across to make the flush: three feet deep if it was an inch, the dark water held no attraction in late January for an involuntary dip.

Rather, I staked out a brush-free spot on my side and hoped the bird would blink first, offering a shot through one of the corridors in the creekside vegetation. A fruitless search for rocks, sticks, or anything else to lob into the bird’s hideout led to my throwing an empty VitaCal tube, but no flush resulted and now I had a cleanup project following any shot I might get.

Buddy held steady, even when released to flush, and I reveled in my brilliant training methods (hah!). I wandered the bank, finding half a beaver dam that might lead to a hummock or sunken log to get me all the way across. The mud-and-stick barrier held – sort of – and I was three steps into the crossing when two mountain quail fought their way free of the tangle. One arrowed upstream through the tunnel of alders arching over the creek. The other buzzed, kamikaze-like, straight for my forehead before firing the afterburners and launching for the stratosphere. 

Pivoting on the muddy dam, I slapped the trigger and watched the most beautiful game bird in the world fall to earth, still as it landed, the silence returning to claim my attention and focus my gratitude, at the shot, the bird’s contribution of life, and for not falling in.

This mystical place, full of spirits from woolly mammoths to shamans, delivered to me a perfect end to a season full of challenge and beauty. I think I’ll start next season in the same spot.

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Historic Mission Creek Lodge, at Ravenwood since the Civil War era

Historic Mission Creek Lodge, at Ravenwood since the Civil War era

Good friends often do make the hunt. That was the case along the edge of Kansas’ Flint Hills at Ravenwood Lodge. 

I’m often happiest hunting alone, nobody else determining the direction, pace, nor “helping” handle Buddy. But after a week on the road, friends are a welcome change from solitary pursuit. This stop on the Awesome Upland Road Trip was all about that.

The Corbets, big and little Ken, tend some of the best habitat in the Midwest. That, in turn, offers challenging yet satisfying hunting. Buddy cast left and right, first with the wind at his back and doubling into it on each turn. One memorable buttonhook pattern yielded a quail-ringneck double that little Ken and I shared

Even Buddy’s well-honed sense of smell was challenged and after several wild flushes, I asked that we get to the downwind side and do it right. I am glad I did. 

Have you ever argued with your dog about where the birds are? I learned long ago to follow the hunter with the longest nose, and after a fruitless pass through head-high CRP, I let Buddy lead us to the fencerows.

The Tri-Tronics beeper with hawk scream earned its recharge that night. We never saw Buddy lock up once. But we heard him, and followed our ears into bobwhite after bobwhite. True to form, Buddy never griped about the tough conditions.

Maybe you’ve experienced that day in the field when your dog is at his best, even if your shooting isn’t. And you had witnesses who appreciate it. That was today, and it reminds me that hunting dogs are simply four-footed miracles.

Take a moment, and remember when it happened to you …

You’re welcome.

We wore our Irish Setter boots through thorn thickets and grass that pulled at laces all day. Where would you take your new pair? Tell me in the comments section below, and you might win a pair!

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