Posts Tagged ‘valley quail’

Good boy!

Good boy!

Whirrrrrrr! A long, dry slog down canyon went from relaxed camaraderie to high alert as four valley quail flushed wild on both sides of us. Manny’s attention was seized, he arrived at the scene of the crime quickly, snuffling the lingering scent like a starving man picks crumbs to ensure there were no stragglers.

The remainder of the downhill stroll was like a night patrol in a Vietnam jungle, eyes and ears wide open for every peep and rustle in the pungent sage. Our Texas visitor thought birds had hooked left, so we sidehilled in that direction a hundred feet above the swampy creek bottom, sometimes on hands and knees. Then, barely perceptible, a rustle in the juniper preceded the bird’s fleeting escape, downhill and over the cattail swamp at the bottom of the ravine.

One shot, bird down. Right in the middle of a football-field-sized tangle of mud, creek, beaver dams, cattails and berry vines … the sharp, thorny kind. The graveyard of forever-lost quail, I thought. The shooter marked the bird and stayed put, eyes glued on the spot where the bird had fallen.

Hmmmm. This looks familiar. A classic NAVHDA duck search, sans duck. Manny and I slid to the bottom and I sent him into the mess with a “dead bird – fetch!” He was daunted by the head-high stalks that fought back, mud that sucked at his feet and berry canes that tore his hide. A few minutes and he emerged, dirty, wet, birdless. But he stood calmly facing the web of vegetation, waiting for direction. I sent him again.

It was then I remembered training advice from an Idaho trip. I scrambled to the canyon wall before finding throwing-sized rocks, whose plunks and plonks tempted Manny farther and farther into the mire. We all listened, intent, to brush rattling, panting dog, mucky footfalls. Sometimes he was so deep in the vegetation all we saw was the faint quivering of cattail tops marking his route.

Then, nothing.


Rustle of stalks, splash of feet, but no panting … but I soon breathed easier. A long two minutes later Manny emerged with – I swear – the most humble look on his fuzzy face I’ve ever seen on a dog. Maybe because he was gently holding the quail in his mouth.

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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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Where the retrieves are always a challenge.

I try to visit this spot twice a year, near the opener and to put a fork in the season when it’s done. But this year, duty called and I was in Illinois (or was it Nebraska?) or somewhere else for all I know, when our season launched.

A chance remark at the feed store led me to invite one of my training club friends to this special spot, which now that I think about it, is also becoming a tradition. Joel brought his French Spaniels Hank and Dottie; it would be my first chance to see this rare breed work. Weather, spectacular: azure skies with wisps of cloud to make the photos pop. Cool enough for good dog work but not bad enough for another layer of clothing.

But Mother Nature’s promise was, for our first stretch of streambed, unfulfilled. Dogs worked well (one  of Joel’s, one of mine), cover was varied and challenging. But the quail hadn’t received my memo, I guess. We regrouped at the truck and headed for the next stretch.

Truck by Columbia Overland. Scenery by Mother Nature.

Manny got the call from my kennel; Dottie from Joel’s. Soon, a quail burred out of the blackberries, dropping to Joel’s 28 gauge. Marked well, it was still a puzzle to both dogs, splashing back and forth in the creek and bucking the tangle of roots and willows along its banks. That’s when another pit-pitted from a cottonwood grove, falling to my instinctive shot (maybe you, too, shoot better when totally surprised). She dropped in the short grass on top and Manny skidded to a stop, grab, and retrieve to hand. He soon reinforced my admiration when I asked him to go back to the matter at hand (paw?), demonstrated a strong search and find on Joel’s bird and then we were back at it.

Watching the spaniels move so elegantly, I was reminded in turn of an English Setter’s grace, then the exuberance of a Springer (until they pointed, of course, for these spaniels stand birds just like their Brittany brethren).

Apparently, blackberries were the shelter du jour, because our first bonafide find was Manny’s, downwind of a head-high hill of the tasty fruit. From above, we watch his tail twitch into rigidity and one front leg come slowly to his chest. Birds up! Shots boomed! One tumbled into a ten-foot high tangle of alder, where I could see it, but would need a cherry picker to get it. Another shot dislodged it, and Manny slithered through the roots and branches and again presented it to my outstretched hand, where I held it while he inhaled more of the delicious scent.

French. Spaniel. Points.

On the way back, Joel dropped another quail in exactly the same spot as my first. A certain German Wirehair dashed from the streambed, ruffing toward the fluttering bird. A mouthful of feathers, race to his master, and another express delivery. Woo-hoo! I wonder if Manny realized he’d been there and done that just an hour before?

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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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What do you think this means?

I was beginning to wonder how the long, wet spring had affected hatch rates on our local valley quail population. For weeks, I’d been woken up by their calls, from every direction around the house, and watched pairs coming for the water in our backyard. But no chicks.

On a post or a plate, wonderful!

Here’s where it gets eerie: our monthly gabfest of guys was that night, and I was marinating some valley quail breasts taken from that dark corner of the U.S. I can’t tell you more about. Buddy’s turn to run, so the gate opens, he lights out, and … vanishes!

As I get clear of civilization, the telltale pitt-pitt of a panicked covey breaks the silence. Rounding a corner, there’s Buddy locked solid and a quail cock doing the distraction thing – three-foot flights that drive a pointing dog crazy. Then, the best thing that happened to me all day: a covey flush of tiny, feathered bumblebees – chicks not a few days old, all scattering to tree limbs, sage brush and the far horizon.

Buddy still locked, looking to me for direction.

Praise, heeling away, and a great run for us both. And then …

Driving to the barbecue with my marinated quail (see below), the black pavement of my country road is suddenly striped with an animated line of more chicks, mom riding point and dad riding drag.

It’s gonna be a great quail season.

Do you seek meaning in the little things? What’s your season looking like?

My go-to game bird marinade:

– Some red wine.

– Some Italian salad dressing (no parmesan cheese)

– Some Grey Poupon mustard

Mix them all in a Zip-Loc bag. Soak birds or bird pieces for a couple hours. Throw ’em on a hot grill until rare.

Serve with your favorite beverage and good friends, and bring enough to share with non-hunters.

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