Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Day in the Life of a (Blue) Quail Hunter

The rains came on time and in quantity.  SE New Mexico was awash in grass, Cowpen Daisy, Sunflowers, mesquite, shin-oak and, now, Blue Quail.  According to the harvest we took throughout the week, I can say there was more than one hatch, as well.  Some birds we took were very small. Multiple hatches would explain the significant increase in bird numbers.
Dropping off the cap into great habitat.

Driving the local roads in the oil patch, I dropped off the cap down into some of the nicest looking habitat I'd seen all week.  The day was cool and clear- you could see all the way in to next week.  Cowpen Daisy, Sunflower, mesquite, grass, sand all combined to make this a quail heaven.  Quickly, I pulled in to a pump-jack location and grabbed Ruby to boot her up.  I parked and walked around to the back of the truck, dropped the tailgate and, immediately, out of a mesquite bush fifty feet from the truck, 30 blues flushed out and flew 50 yards to another bush.  Many more ran out of the bush following the initial, flying crowd.  Trying to put boots on a dog in a hurry is problematic, at best.  Hurrying to boot a dog that's seen 30 birds flush 50 feet away is pretty close to impossible!  They can move their legs, feet, bodies in ways I'd never thought possible! 

Finally, we got it done, and Ruby and I started West toward the flushed covey.  Almost immediately, she locked down, smelling the covey remains. I honored her point and kicked around a bit, reached over to her, tapped her on the head and said, "OK, girl, let's go find 'em."

We worked up to the next shrub.  Up the dunes, over the top, and out in to the flat loaded with Daisies and grass.  What a perfect place, I thought!  For 20 minutes, Ruby hunted hard and came up with nothing.  I started South, thinking they might have run toward some bigger dunes.  Ruby picked up on my idea and dropped into the dune bottoms.  She spun around just as the covey flushed up and over the top, heading West.  We watered and conspired and commiserated for a few minutes- finally, I turned her loose again and up over the dune she went after the covey.
Taking a break. 
Humping sand dunes is a great aerobic exercise, by the way.  I got to the top and looked out on a flat area with mesquite bushes and lots of grass.  Also, I saw a dog on point.  Ruby was locked up on a mesquite bush about 100 yds away!  I moved as fast as I could to get to her, but about 40 years away, the covey flushed again- going farther West.  I saw some of them land on the top of another dune about 100 yards away, and some more cross a fence and dive in to a mesquite bush about the same distance from me.   Ruby took off after them, as I trudged through the sand and shin-oak, gun ready, looking for singles.  Deciding to cross the fence and trap the mesquite bush crowd, I found a low area in the substantial fence, and stepped over the top.  I hurried to Ruby, again on point, at the mesquite! "Gotcha now, you little buggars!" I thought!  Lots of tracks and a locked down bird dog will get me excited any day, but they eluded us again.  I began to think these sly, desert runners had seen a dog before!
Boots are mandatory! 

I turned her loose, once again, and we started working the area making long loops through the grass and mesquite. We would go way downwind and turn back into the wind and crisscross along looking for scent.   Finally, we got back to the fence and bush.  I called her in and we headed to the dune where half the covey landed.  Another dry hole.  (The birds were whistling and gathering up again and heading back to the truck where we flushed them originally.  A little known tactic of the desert quail.)  Ruby was dry and I was out of water, by this time, and getting a little weary.  "C'mon, girl" I said, "Let's head back and find another covey."  I came to the fence.  It was a new, tight fence with good wire and there was no way I could step over it. I stepped on the bottom strand, right up against the metal fencepost, and started to heave myself over when the fence link broke, and I slid down on top of the post.  I had a lot of gear on and that probably protected me, but the top of that post hit me in the stomach and slid up my chest. I jumped back, took off my glove and felt the area to see if I was bleeding.  Even though it hurt, no blood showed.  Good to go! Finally, I dug a hole in the sand and braved sand-spurs by rolling under that blasted fence, came up the other side and walked off after my dog.
Where, oh Where, are you guys?
Ruby came up for a drink, and I put my gun down and took out every bottle I had to give her the last few drops.  We were about a mile from the truck, had 4 covey flushes (3 pointed) and no birds/no shots.  We chatted a bit and then I sent her on, put on my gloves, picked up my gun and looked ahead to where we were going- thinking about the wind direction, truck location, etc.  I walked directly into a four-foot high Cholla bush! You know, Cholla cactus is bad when you know it's in the area.  It is incredibly painful when you have no idea it's around and it hits your leg from ankle to belt! Of course, I wasn't wearing chaps that day.  Yowee!  I put my gun down, took off my vest and dropped my pants, right there in front of God and all the coyotes!  I commenced to pulling spines from my leg and thigh until I couldn't feel anymore sticking out.  As long as I was half naked, I checked out my fence-post scrape and it wasn't too bad- no gashes, at any rate.  I looked around and noticed there was ONE Cholla bush in the entire SE NM area, and it was 3 feet from me- I've always been lucky like that. Just then, Ruby's collar went off- she was on point 256 yards from me in a mesquite mound area.  

I made it to her in time for another covey rise, and I finally downed 2 birds for good retrieves.  One bird went down a hole.  By the time I got there, Ruby was up to her shoulders with sand flying everywhere and she came out with the bird in her mouth! We worked singles for about 30 minutes, generally heading to the truck. I dropped a few more.  Finally, I reached for some shells and came up dry.  I had two shells in my gun, the sun was getting low, the temp was dropping, we were out of water and the truck wasn't too far away.  "Here, Ruby, let's get back to the truck.  Good girl!"  She worked ahead of me into a flat grassy area and locked up again on a patch of grass.  Two birds got up and flew directly in to the lowering sun!  Boom, boom! - I thought I could see the one well enough, but, somehow, it kept on going, apparently unhurt!  (I know.  I'm as amazed as you.)  Worse, I was out of shells with an empty gun.  And, for the next 10 minutes, Ruby would point a clump of grass, and I would kick a few birds in the air to watch them fly off.  Laughing, I scratched her and loved on her as we headed to the truck.  "Ruby, " I told her, "we are going to need to get our stories together.  This is a tale no one would believe!  Just let me do the talking and you swear to it!  Nice job, girl!" 

I have no idea why I like that smelly, prickly, sandy, hot, cold, windy piece of dirty SE NM.  But I do.