Saturday, January 16, 2010

After Action Report

We had a good week in New Mexico.  Specific areas to be unnamed, however, the Sand Dunes area of NM in the South East corner of the state is where we hunted.  Some lessons learned from our one week and also from the other years I've hunted here follow:

1.) Put dog boots on your dog every day.  Once they hurt their feet, you are playing catch up for the rest of the trip.  My favorites are the Lewis Boot. They are not cheap, but they are excellent insurance that you will have a dog's nose helping you hunt blue quail.  Depending on the dogs you have, you may have just cut your trip short.  When you are out of dog, you are done.
2.) Carry a lot more water than you think is necessary.  Same warning about the dogs.  They drink a lot.  I use my hat as a bowl, but on cold days that can be problematic.  The big chain pet stores carry collapsible bowls that fit in to your vest, and that works great.  We stop and buy boxes of plastic water bottles for the dogs and never carry less than two each. Water is critical. I also put my water bucket next to the truck and leave it there when we make our cast.  The dogs learn that and know they can get water there, if I'm too boneheaded to give them enough. 
3.) Shoot the right shell.  I shoot at 20 ga. double with high brass 6's.  (Yeah, I know "high brass" don't mean nothin', but you know what I mean!)  These are tough birds and a far cry from those pen-raised quail you work your dogs on.  7 1/2's won't cut it here and these birds will run like a pheasant with a broken wing, if you just wound them.  Don't feed the foxes- kill them dead with 6's. 
4.) Wear the right clothes.  You will walk through sand, cactus, wind, sandspurs, mesquite thorns, heat, cold, wind, sun, glare, wind, rain and wind.  Up top, most bird hunters have their favorite vest or jacket etc.  Pants can be critical here.  The first time you get a cactus slap on your knee, you'll know what I mean.  Protect your legs.  I took my favorite Cabela's briar buster pants and they didn't do the job- stuff went right through them.  I ended up back with the old standby- jeans and chaps.  My recommendation is to go with the best and don't scrimp to save a penny- get Filson Double Tin chaps.  They are nuclear protection against everything, they are very comfortable (trust me on this one- they will form themselves to you) and they last- I've had mine since 1993 (with a few patches from barbed wire). I also have Double Tin Pants, but don't wear them much, anymore- I gravitated to the jeans and chaps thing.
5.)  Buy and use a Garmin Astro.  Listen, I know all about training gun dogs and trial dogs and yard dogs.  And I know what a perfect bird dog is supposed to do.  If you are a purist and hunt your dog with no locating device, I admire you.  I, too, dislike the beepers and cowbells, the whistles and horns and all that distraction.  The Astro cuts all that down to zero.  You can finally hear and enjoy where you are.  On that 300 yd. cast your dog makes, if you want to, you can watch him and see him turn back to you. If he strikes a covey in the coulee over the hill, you can head over there without the angst of not knowing where he is, as well as not having a beeper push the birds out of the area.  (Yes,these birds will vacate the premises, post haste, when you turn that beeper on.)  Another feature, I really like is the download feature that lets you put the tracks into your computer at the end of the day.  For example, it showed me where we missed a spot in our coverage of an area- when we hit it the next day, we found 3 coveys! Ease your mind- enjoy your trip more- get the Astro.

6.) Call the DNR and get an update of the quail forecast and best areas.  Glean every bit of information you can from them.  Call the DNR game biologist in the area you want to hunt, ask him if he is a bird hunter (if not, be respectful and call another one), call the Chamber of Commerce and ask about local bird hunting celebrities (small towns know these things).  In short, get as much info as you can before you ever set foot in the area.  I have plenty of time to waste- you probably don't.  Do your homework.
7.) Gloves- wear them, even when it's hot outside.  Boots- DO NOT scrimp on good boots.  You ain't hunting in running shoes here, my good friend.
8.)  This trip was hard work.  The dogs got tired and a few are limping due to my ignorance (see dog boots, above).  We found 4-6 coveys per day and walked 6-10 miles per day.  The dogs ran 20-30 miles per day (as per the Garmin- cool, huh?).  In a good year, that number of coveys will be 15+.  This isn't one of those years. Glen, shown above, was on his initial trip and I'm glad he saw this type of hunt.  He will forevermore appreciate a good quail day with 10+ coveys. 

Note:  I'm telling you my personal experience with products I use.  Some good, some bad.   If you disagree with my assessment, I certainly can understand that I might have missed something.  Email me or send a comment.