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Posts Tagged ‘quail’

How’s your hunting season going? Has it met your pre-season expectations? Exceeded your wildest dreams?

With nut-cutting time around the corner in most states, what is still on your hunting to-do list, gnawing at your psyche, nibbling at the toes of your subconscious? Is it one more 20-inch rooster? Elusive Arizona scaled quail? Or a final, lung-bursting climb to a favorite chukar spot?

Hoping to chase valley quail here, one more time this season. What's still uncrossed on your to-do list?

What about your dog? Had enough bird contact? Of the right kind? I need to work on Manny’s backing Buddy. He’s been sneaking up on his uncle and that needs some attention before it becomes a habit. Buddy could use some encouragement when Manny sticks the bird first – he’s a notorious point-stealer.

As we get down to the dregs of this season, don’t we focus most often, laser-like, on the places we’ve neglected? There’s a sparkling ribbon of stream breaching a rock face I’d like to walk at least once … dancing redband trout under a canopy of venerable alders, massive basalt blocks looming, it’s right out of a Lord of the Rings movie. Manny needs exposure to the diminutive valley quail that dazzle us in the draws tributary to a legendary steelhead stream. And there is a café I’d like to visit way south and east where my arrival changes the population from nine to ten and I’m treated like family, and expected to make the coffee if I take the last mug full.

Do you have places like that on your Blackberry calendar? Where are the red dots on your mental map?

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Okay, we can finally spill the beans on the upcoming season of Wingshooting USA. I hope you have lots of DVR space, and plenty to eat and drink while you watch – there is a lot in store!

Starting October 1 and every Friday morning at 9:30 a.m. Eastern, you can watch the show on VERSUS. In January, you can also watch on the Pursuit Channel Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. If you’re stuck in the seventies and watching via digital “rabbit ears” on your local TV station, check for AMGTV Sundays 1 p.m. or TUFF TV Saturdays 10 a.m. or 4:30 p.m.

Bring plenty of ammo and dog food – we’ve got an incredible lineup of destinations: Idaho pheasants, Montana huns, North and South Dakota sharpies and pheasants … California pheasants and quail, Oregon valley quail and pheasants and more!

In addition to the hunting, Wingshooting USA is loaded with fun, educational and motivational feature segments:

– “Buddy & Me” sponsored by TruckVault is our continuing adventure as my wirehair and I learn how to teach and learn from each other. Watch sample here:

– TriTronics “Young Hunters Afield”  encourages families to get outside together, rewarding those who send photos of kids with their dogs with a chance at a TriTronics e-collar. Watch here:

– Native Performance Dog Food’s “Conservation Showcase” raises funds for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. Learn how you can help, here:

– ZoomDog’s BuddyCam provides a fascinating look (literally) at a dog’s perspective in the field and at home. Watch here:

– And carrying on our tradition, the National Shooting Sports Foundation offers parents  and children a chance to win a hunting trip on the show with me in their “Take YOUR kid hunting” sweepstakes.” 

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The drive home ... one tired pup

I played hooky Friday (maybe you did too) and got on the chukar hill in time for a two-hour hunt. They called, we climbed, put a sneak around the rocky top, and scored. Buddy had to search to the bottom of a thousand-foot ravine to produce the bird. 

A last-minute cancellation meant I got one of  two rooms at the motel – especially welcome as the snowflakes started falling. An old writer friend greeted me in the parking lot, and Sandy held supper for me at the café. There were more old and new friends in the general store, where the beer was plentiful and cold. The population of the town doubled overnight to 18, most from my own town five hours away. 

My hunting partners arrived to trade secret spots. A neighbor pulled into the lot. Soon five wires, a couple pointers, shorthairs and a Lab, were all sniffing butts and peeing on bushes. And not one dogfight. Do you own a male dog? You can sense the relief.

That night, an impromptu Italian dinner was offered and accepted, jokes were told, and the one stranger at the café ended up being a fishing companion from almost 20 years ago.  

In the field, birds were pointed, some were shot, retrieves were made. By the end of the snowy weekend the sun was blazing, illuminating the desert from a vantage six hundred feet up a rocky draw. Life is good. 

Now, how was your closer?

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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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