Thursday, January 31, 2013

General Recollections

You know, every trip is different, and they are all the same. I have indelible memories that will be with me forever, or until my hard drive crashes, and I still value pictures. Each one brings back sounds, smells, temperatures, wind, and impressions. Such as, Skunk wrapped around herself, with Ruby backing, on her first Gambles quail across the river from Truth or Consequences, NM. Cap standing tall and tense on a Gambels in Arizona. Ace working a covey of Blues in the desert near Halfway, NM. Ug locked down on Blues from the same covey as we battled 50 mph winds and a sandstorm.

And the people: All the friends we met again or met for the first time. Tim Bartlett in Hobbs, NM, John Ashbaugh in Truth or Consequences, NM, the ladies at the Patio Cafe in Oracle, AZ (best Portabella Mushroom Sandwich in America), and two fine, young men who stopped and told us of a forever-secret valley that held covey after covey of those little devil birds, Gambels quail.

I fondly remember humping steep, tree covered hills and encountering my first Mearns quail. All the dogs pointed while we were yacking and huffing and the covey coming right over the top of us!! One little rooster didn't quite make it by.

The land was amazing..dry and harsh, then mountains, and huge trees, then White Sands Missle Range and more mountains. John took us to a secret valley that held some 60 bird coveys of Gambels and on the way Ruby pointed a nice little Scaled quail and made a perfect retrieve to hand. I took the diesel beast up steep hard scrabble roads, through rivers and over steep dips I would have never done on my own. But, I couldn't turn around and the only way home was straight ahead. I'm smiling now, but I was nervous as a pointed quail when it was happening.

It was an awesome trip! I called my wife midway through and thanked her for understanding. Somehow, she knows me and let's me wander around doing this many weeks every year. She says she can tell by my demeanor when hunting season is close and she knows it's an important part of who I am. Thank God for an understanding wife! A wise man said happiness is mostly about marrying well. Amen to that.

Guess what.....only eight months to bird season!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Last Day

The effort to achieve the Grand Slam of New Mexico quail, Scaled, Mearns, Gambels and Bobwhite, fell short today. Although we visited areas that produced Bobs in the past, the weather and drought worked against us. The temperature never hit 45 degrees and the wind velocity hovered at 30 mph with gusts to 50!! The pictures show the dust storm coming out of the desert as we drove to the hunting area. We did manage to find a good sized covey in the morning, but not Bobwhites. By late afternoon, we realized the area drought more severely affected the Bobwhite than the Scaled (Blue) Quail. We never laid eyes on Mr. Bob all day. Maybe in another year, there will be another chance.

Bob, Robert and I finished up with our top dogs on the ground, the temperature dropping and wind howling. We managed to scrape together some fine China goblets for a toast to good fellowship, bird dogs and quail. Another bird season is in the books, as we packed up and headed home with worn boots, scrawny dogs and empty wallets. Plans for a new puppy, with a breeding of Ace to Ruby, were discussed, as well as a stop by the Jones Trailer store in Woodson, TX for minor trailer fix-ups.

Georgia on my mind...

Monday, January 28, 2013

Moving the Operation and The Grand Slam

Cap got his Gambels Quail yesterday. I saw him throw that head up and start marching upwind, tail up and cautious. Right then a bird flushed, off to my left, and I swung and dropped it. Cap came flying back to make the retrieve. We started back to the place he heated up, and, he went to work. A few minutes later, he locked up on a patch of cactus, looking like a million bucks! I really meant to get his picture, but, I confess, I was excited, too, and I walked in from his right side, kicked the edge of the cactus and a good-looking quail ran out 5 feet and took off. Cap was on him when he hit and made a picture perfect retrieve to hand.

Today, we are moving back to New Mexico. I would like to bag a Bobwhite there. If I do, I will have harvested all four species of quail in the state, in one week. Mearns, Gambels, Scaled, and Bobwhite. It's probably been done many times before, but certainly not by this old bird hunter, and probably not without a guide. I killed a Bob there two years ago, and I will head to the same area. Tomorrow is the day for the Grand Slam of New Mexico!

Also, I will not miss the cholla cactus! Hate the stuff.

Tires and Technology

In 348,186 miles of driving my 2001 F-250 7.3 diesel, these BF Goodrich All Terrain T/A tires are, by far, the best I've had on it. I used Goodyear, Cooper, Perrelli and the rest. These BF Goodrich tires got me through freeway driving, snow, rain, rivers, rocks, sand and mud....on this trip alone! I will get them again and they will always be on my hunting truck.

Using technology makes our hunting so much easier! Especially, when hunting an area for the first time. We used the map and satellite function of my iPad and iPhone to find tanks, elevations, power lines and trails here in AZ. Tech is supposed to make our lives easier. This is one more way we make it work for us instead of vice versa. Now, if only I could get an overlay of the BLM Land Use maps!!!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hunt pictures

The older I get, the more exhausted I am at the end of the day. What's up with that? Hunt, feed dogs, clean gear, sleep, water dogs, hunt..... I wonder what the jobbed people are doing??

Cholla Cactus


It took a days drive to move up off the border, but we found an area of a reasonable population of birds. We put out with about 2 hours daylight left and moved some birds right off. The cactus are problematic, but the dogs will adapt. I draw the line at vast fields of cholla, however. I see cholla, I keep on truckin'.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hunting the border

We left Douglas, AZ and headed East on the Geronimo trail about 10 miles. Along the way, we stopped and talked to several Border Patrol people. All of them were young (was I ever that young), polite and attentive. All of them tired to figure out why anyone would drive from Georgia to AZ to hunt quail. None of them were bird hunters- too bad. All of them said they never saw any quail around there...not good, I'm thinking to myself.... We put out in a little wash along the road, more to exercise the dogs than anything else. Immediately, we saw tracks- and lots of them. Well, that made things much more interesting! We walked that wash for about a mile, looking several coveys worth of tracks, but never hooking up with the nefarious birds. We did hook up with blankets, pants, shirts, water bottles, shoes, boot laces and more blankets just laying in the desert. This is cast off stuff from the illegals crossing the border. The BP said there was nothing to worry about, especially in the daytime. We can see the fence from a mile away, and Mexico, beyond. It really puts the stories in perspective when you see how harsh the environment is out here- and that is a Winter environment, not the summer one with temps in the 100's!

Back to the drawing boards. We will search to the West using my friend's information.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

First day NM

One young man and one young guy, 3 coveys, lots of singles. Yes, life is very good.

New Mexico Mearns

I harvested 3 species of quail this trip. So far, all of them in only one state. By far, the most difficult for me was the Mearns Quail. In New Mexico, they are found in the grassy hills and mountains. They use their powerful claws to dig for roots and tubers under the soil. The area we are in has large areas of this disturbed soil around the bases of trees. After several hours of humping these hills, I was beginning to think Robert had me on a "snipe hunt". Our dogs were tired and I still wasn't over a lingering cold; we were heading downhill to the truck. The three of us gathered and discussed our next move when I heard the flush to my left. Dogs came up the draw with the birds as 4 Mearns flew over us. I picked one, shot behind it and dropped it with the follow up shot. A nice retrieve by UGG, Bob Wendling's Wirehair, completed the action. I do know there are some Bobwhites over in SE NM....

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Honeyhole

As promised, we met our newest friends at a roadside cafe on a minor road off the Interstate. After a few minutes of chatting, we loaded in to 3 vehicles and drove for hours along roads I wouldn't normally even walk. The crystal clear, blue sky contrasted with the light brown of the dried-out hills stretching to the horizon. Under that backdrop, we found Gambels Quail, Scaled Quail and 4 new kindred souls. Ruby picked up another Scaled Quail. Ace added Gambels Quail to his list and Cap tried with the heart of a champion, but came up dry.

And that is all I can say about that.....

Tomorrow, we are on our own.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Three to four coveys per day...

My local friends leave their dogs in the kennels and don't even hit the desert. Not worth their time, they say. Back in Georgia, three to four coveys per day is a good day, anymore. I'm OK with it and we are having a blast! Of course, the sand spurs, and thorns through the pads are making it tough occasionally, but this is what quail dogs do. We are careful and take all the precautions we can.

All the dogs are experienced and are working well, individually and together. No pups on this trip. It makes me appreciated the value of having three broke dogs to play with.

Today we are moving the operation over the mountains to Truth or Consequences, NM where a friend of a friend will put us on Gambels. We will get acquainted with the habitat, etc. Super secret location tomorrow,so I may not even blog in the area.

Stay tuned.....

Local Cafes. Gotta love them!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Arrival..thank God! Hello, New Mexico....

What a trek! In the old days, I could do this 1000 miles standing on my head! Snow, temporary confusion, map discombobulation; all contributed to a long drive. It took a while to get all the buffoonery of the first day organizing complete, but everything is charged, watered, filled and loaded, marked and stored.

The dogs have been here often and are bouncing like ping pong balls. Now, the big question! Who is up first? Me, I go with seniority, which happens to be my best dog up front, Ace. This works well, because having him pee on my leg when I return from the first cast without him is very embarrassing.

The banging on the motel door is an indicator that my hunting companions are ready for the chase. Stay tuned!!!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Usual...January trip snow..

It seems inevitable. When I start packing, the weather is unseasonably warm. But, when I turn the nose of the diesel West, then the cold and snow arrive. Many times over the last few years, my January hunt has started with a "Winter Event" at the farm. In the past, I have pulled out of the driveway with temperatures in the teens, snow falling, or black clouds signaling a mean storm just over the horizon.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Pound Puppy

This is the best retriever I've got. I don't even know what breed she is. Probably, part poodle. She is 22 pounds of fierce protector! I am really tempted to take her out and put her on Quail.

We used to have a West Highland white terrier. She would wait until my Brits went on point, then she would run in front of the dog and pick up the bird and bring it to me.Stella has that streak in her,also. I know people that use Cocker's as flushers and retrievers. Maybe that's the way to go.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Field Trials or Bird Hunting......or both?

Bo, Field Trial and Hunting Champion
Judges ready for the trial.
Hunting Woodcock

I do both, but, at times, it's a real pain.  After hunting Montana and Idaho for 2 weeks, I will come home and turn the dogs loose in a field trail.  It's hard on them to go from being semi-independent and using their heads to produce game, to staying in bounds, listening to the whistle and surrendering a lot of the independence.  The birds smell different, the setting is different, they are leashed a lot more and expected to be 100% perfect immediately off the line. Yep, it's tough.  However, the good ones make the transition quickly and easily.  With a little preventative training, you can make it work, if that is your cup of tea.  Many guys figure, "Heck, I'll just hunt my dog and not fool with all that." or "I'll just field trial every weekend, where I know the terrain and game.  It's much safer and predictable!"  I prefer to do both, but it's not without it's hazards.  

Typically, the hunting dog will come back in to the trial grounds "loose", meaning he's not as staunch and may even move on birds after the point.  Or they may not pay a whole lot of attention to the whistle, or they may run by birds you know they should have smelled. Usually, all these problems can be addressed before they ever leave the hunting area.  I will ensure my dogs continue to back the other dog on point, no matter the terrain, etc.  I will insist they turn when I whistle, and retrieve all the way to hand.  I insist they are staunch on point and do not let them, ever, chase birds.  In other words, I hunt them like I train them!  That will keep the small adjustment problems from growing in to huge problems in the field trial.  Notice, I've not addressed any problems going the other direction, from FT to Hunting? That's because the problems are usually small and self-correcting.  For example, most FT dogs won't get out and range 400-600 yds ahead- more than that if game is scarce.  But that is what you want them to do to locate the birds. After an hour of hunting, you will see them start to head out more and more, until they are making long casts, just like the big boys. 

Yep, it's tough to do both.  But, the rewards are great and field trials do extend the hunting season, which was the original intent...