Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Cooking Quail on Tailgate New Mexico

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

"Times Not Forgotten" by Mills Morrison. A Book Review

 

The Book

When I was growing up, my father would regale me with stories of coon hunting in the swamps of southern Mississippi.  He would tell me about the dogs, "They are not pets, Randy.  Don't touch them, and don't call them or try and tell them what to do.  There is only one "dog man" on a coon hunt.", the people, the swamps, and the challenges of coon hunting in the '40's and '50's of the last century.  He was a Naval Aviator during the early '40's.  Later, he was a young man with four children looking for work after the war.  He would tell me of the times they would use Carbide lanterns, crude affairs that would combine water and carbide to produce a combustible gas that could be lit to provide a flame positioned in front of a mirror.  These were worn on the head like a coal miner. Another lesson I learned was how to navigate by the stars.  It was part of his Naval Aviation training and he told me of times when they were absolutely turned around in the swamp, and he would be able to find Polaris, the North Star, or the Seven Sisters, pointing roughly east, and they could find their way out.

All that was a precursor to my inevitable introduction to southern quail hunting when I turned 40. My wife bought me my first bird dog for my birthday.  I immersed myself in the lore and history of the sport.  While my history only runs 33 years, personally, and 73 years for my family, I'm reading that the Morrisons can trace their Southern roots back hundreds of years.  

Mills Morrison displays a deep appreciation for the Southern hunting way of life, and bird hunting specifically.  The title of his hard-covered book, TIMES NOT FORGOTTEN Reflections of a Southern Sportsman is absolutely appropriate. 

The first chapter, The Burden and Beauty of Hunting in the South, tells a short history of the plantations, their history, creation, demise, and resurgence. He doesn't shy away from the issue of slavery (as he puts it: "enslaved persons'), but confronts it head-on, as it is integral to the formation of the plantations and deeply intertwined in the story of the South.  I was chilled by the story of his great-great-great grandfather "killed by bandits for his money" on the way home from selling cows.  "This left his wife, Polly Lane, with a young family, enslaved laborers, and a working farm, surrounded by the same hoodlums who killed her husband".  Polly was tough. Women were tough and courageous and determined.  These were pioneers, not "sipping a Mint Julep on the porch of a columned mansion."  This was a dangerous wilderness, then.  Polly survived and succeeded in raising several successful children.  

As a bird hunter and an (very) amateur historian of the South, I enjoy reading the history of the Red Hills of the Georgia/North Florida area.  There is a reason so many quail plantations survive and thrive in the area.  Julia, Mills' wife, and Mills take us on quail hunts, dove hunts, deer hunting, etc, throughout the area.  Their stories bring back the smell of the woods and grassy slopes with cool mornings and warm afternoons.  They even include two book reviews by Harry Morrison: The Education of Pretty Boy by Havilah Babcock and The Old Man and the Boy by Robert Ruark. both are must-have books, in my opinion. 

I confess I did not know what to expect when I opened the book the day after it arrived.  What I found was a thoroughly good read that brought me chills, head-nodding in agreement, laughs, and wonder.  There is so much more inside.  This is a wonderful gold mine of history and love for the Southern Hunting way of life.  It is a hard cover book of 445 pages with numerous photos.  My recommendation is to obtain it, read it, and slide it into the bookshelf next to Babcock and Ruark.  It was thoroughly delightful.    


Disclaimer: I did not receive any type of material compensation. I did not receive a free copy of the book for this review.  

To order a copy:  Message: Julia D. Morrison, or email: juliadmorrison@gmail.com

Friday, November 10, 2023

Injury! Blue and his CCL tear and subsequent surgery and recovery.

Blue injured his right rear leg after a run about a month ago.  The vet diagnosed CCL tear (equivalent to an ACL tear in humans).   I am a huge believer in Medical  insurance for my dogs.  As luck would have it, CCL surgery is one of the exceptions on the policy.  $3500 (+or -) later, he's been fixed up and is home for therapy.  He had TPLO surgery. The doctor carefully explained all the different methods to fix the tear, and we chose this method.  So, all is good now and he should be ready to go in about a month.  Caution is the name of the game, and less is better than more.  

 
#upland hunting
Water Therapy


#upland hunting
Cool X-Ray.

Home treadmill therapy. 



Sunday, October 22, 2023

A True Story

 

 

The old dog and I put out on a day that was cool, as the sun was about an hour above the Montana horizon.  This was a special spot.  Last year, he and I moved 16 coveys of Huns and Sharptails in the alfalfa fields, along the creek and below the hills that rose up from the north edge of the water.  He moved slower now, but still watched me and bounced around, and woofed at me to hurry up.  All he needed was for me to take a step in the direction I wanted to go, and he would move out, nose up, quartering in the wind, searching for the scent of whatever game-bird this particular piece of country had to offer. Ten seasons, almost forty trips, tens of thousands of miles driven, added up to a wise, old bird dog that had seen and done it all.   





 

As a young dog, he was blazing fast.  He never out-ran his nose, and he was all business.  In NSTRA trials, he would make an initial cast and loop back around to me as I left the start line.  Many was the time the judge would make the mistake of staying with me, instead of going after the brown blur off the line.  After a minute, with him still gone, I would tell him, "You'd better go find him.  If he's not back by now, he's on point."  Sure enough, I'd watch the judge head out and eventually raise his hand, "Point!", he'd yell, and I'd hustle to get to my big Brittany.  Now, he wasn't so fast, but the heart was just as big, the desire to please me just as intense.   

 

We left the truck, and the howling dogs still in their kennels, and I stepped into the knee-deep alfalfa, watching the old dog work the wind.  It didn't take long before the head came up, the movement became precise and calculated to put that nose right in the middle of the scent cone.  A few minor adjustments and he froze.  The point lacked the quivering intensity of past years and, perhaps, some of the style, but the nose was deadly and the knowledge of how to treat these birds was still spot-on.  A single bird got up, and the old boy watched it fall and put it in my hand.  A stroke on the side of the head, a drink of water, and a "Good boy!" and he was off again, quartering the wind, checking objectives and glancing at me (so quickly, it was hard to catch) to stay in front.   

 

After a half-mile of this and another bird in the bag, I gave him a long wail on the whistle to call him in  and we took a break on the top of a levee.  We shared some water, and he allowed as to how I was shooting pretty good today.  I accepted the praise gracefully, knowing he's seen quite the opposite many, many times.  I took off my beat-up hat and thanked God for this old dog and the time I was allowed to hunt with him.  We are reminded, in the Book, that life is nothing more than a vapor in strong wind and is over in a flash.  How much stronger is the wind regarding the lives of our hunting dogs! It’s a terribly cruel joke, I think, to love something so much and have it last but a minute. I struggle to my feet, leaning on the old double gun as the dog took off into the wind once more.   

 

He slowed up considerably and limped constantly, now. But, he knew where he wanted to go to find the birds.  It pained me to watch him with the swollen elbow and lack of the grace he had in abundance as a younger dog.  Almost to the truck, at the end of the last field, he turned and locked up once again. Breathing hard, I could see he was tiring.  The thought crossed my mind, this might be his last hunt. I quickly discarded that notion, "No.  Surely he has a few years left in him!", and quickly walked to where he showed me the bird was hiding.  The big Sharpie got up and I unloaded both barrels at him, managing to hit him but not knock him down,  He glided down through some trees and in to the field below as I lost sight of him.  Ace watched him, too, and looked back at me before trotting down the hill, through the trees and out in to the next field.  I quickly followed, not willing to be chastised again by the old campaigner for not keeping up.  His nose picked up the scent and he went straight to the bird.  He brought it to me and, this time, he set it on the ground and dropped down next to it.  It was the last bird he would retrieve.  



Photo by Gary Thompson
 

 

He faded fastThree weeks laterwe took him to the local University Vet School to see if there was anything to bedone. Later that same daythe doctor called and said there was no hope.  The cancer was too far gone.  I said make himcomfortableI'm coming to take him home.  They let him walk out from the back.  He saw me, and his tail startedwagging.  He staggered a little bit walking to me.  “Where’ve you been, Boss?” He and I drove home in our usual spotsme driving and him curled up in the passenger seat. 

 

Three days later, he walked into my den and lay down at the foot of my desk.  The drug patch for pain meds wason his side and his shaved leg and bandaged other front leg were all a testament to his last day in the hospital.  He was in his spot, I was in mine. I sat down next to him and took his head in my lap.  He gave me a huge sigh,  “I’m so tired“, he said, “Are you going to be OK, Boss?“   “I’ll be OK, Ace.”  It was the only time I ever lied to him 


For more bird hunting and dog stories check out my two books on Amazon, Endless October and Endless October Season 2.  Endless October (Finishing October) out soon.  

 

A cruel joke, indeed.    

 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Texas. Quail Mecca.

 Texas

 

I’d like to hunt Texas more. The reason I don’t is simple.  I can’t afford it. That’s not a reflection on the folks in Texas, it’s just the reality.  Compared to most western states, Texas has an insignificant amount of public land.   They have some huge, well-managed Wildlife Management Areas, but the hunting pressure is overwhelming in good years.  Western Texas does have BLM and State land available hunt. To really enjoy the bird hunting in Texas, a lease or a day-hunting fee on private land is the way to go for me.  Leases can be affordable, and the day hunter fee is usually not prohibitive, but I end up saving my nickels and driving to states where public hunting lands are plentiful.  One notable exception happened back in the early2000’s. 



I wanted to hunt the wide-open west. 

It was a great year for Bobwhites, and all the publications were touting the advantages of Texas.  I read all the information I could find, and finally settled on the Panhandle as a likely location. Most places offered up leases and/or day hunting fees.  I didn’t want to get locked into laying out several thousands of dollars to hunt one area, so. I explored the day hunting idea.  At the time, $100/gun/day was the average going rate.  (Dirt cheap by today’s standards.). I finally called a few places for more information and found them to be full up.  Finally, I decided to call the Chamber of Commerce of a good-sized town and asked about “day hunting” a ranch.  “You need to call Will,” she said.  She gave me the number.  No last name- just Will. 

 

Will answered the phone and was friendly and likeable.  He told me the family had around 9000 ac. just outside of town.  It had a few cows on it, and a few pumpjacks, and a lot of quail.  He was not a bird hunter, he explained.  He guided on the place for deer and Pronghorn. No one lived there. “Meet me at the gate at eight in the morning, and I’ll let you guys in,” he said.  The next morning, Will took us on a tour and said he’d be back before dark, and drove off.  That was it. 

 

We parked on a hilltop and put our dogs out at 10 am.  It was near the end of the season, cold and windy, but there was water in the stock tanks and the grass was tall.  By the end of the day with two guys walking with two dogs on the ground, we had 17 pointed coveys.  I didn’t keep track of the singles.  It was getting dark, the wind was picking up, and the temperature was dropping. On the walk back to the truck, we had to leash the dogs, or they would point more birds.  

 

Will was waiting for us at the trucks.  For not being a bird hunter, he enjoyed the tales of the day as much as we enjoyed telling them.  Finally, he said, “Well, I got no idea how much to charge you guys.  What do you think is fair?”   Questions like that are enough to tempt a bird hunting Baptist Preacher.  “Will, this was an amazing day.  Honestly, I think the going rate might be up to $200/gun/day in parts of Texas this year,” I said.  “OK,” he said, “why don’t we call it $100/gun/day?  Here’s my address.  When you get done, make sure the gate is locked, and send me a check.”  We shook hands and that was the last time we saw him, although we hunted that patch for a few more years.  “You might want to check out our other place by Amarillo.  It’s 32,000 ac., and it has plenty of quail, too, but they are a different kind.,” he said on a phone call later.  “Talk to the Ranch Manager.  I’ll call him.  Same deal for money.  Good luck you guys,” he said as he hung up the phone.  

 

 I was driving out after a frustrating day hunting Blue Quail in the Texas Panhandle near Amarillo. A drought gripped Texas, and I was thinking about moving up to South Dakota, when I saw a bird flush to my left close to the truck. I stopped, grabbed my gun, my dog, Ace, a handful of shells, and stepped off the graded sand road of the ranch. The world exploded when 30 Blues Quail got up all around me.  I stepped into the middle of them, and more ran off into the brush.  Ace stopped to the flush, and I watched as they scattered out along a stretch of flat, brushy, sandy, grazed-over pasture. The sun was at my back, the breeze was in my face, it was 30 deg., and I wore a big grin as we set out to some of the most fun shooting I ever had.   It was cold out, and the ranch picked up a little dusting of snow that day. After the birds landed, I could see their tracks running into clumps of grass or cactus. I laughed when I saw a set of tracks run into a clump of grass and not come out.  Ace locked up time after time pointing two or three of the little buzz bombs before they erupted out of the pointed cactus, shin-oak, or grass patch. We took our time, easing along and hitting all the cover, ditches, and vegetation. After what seemed like 5 minutes (an hour plus), I grabbed for more shells and came up empty. Ace was pointed, the sun was low on the horizon and the temperature was dropping like a stone. I had one shell left in the A.H. Fox 20 ga. double and was one bird shy of the limit here in TX. (Limits never held much fascination for me. I rarely got close enough to worry about them on quail. But today it would be nice to round it out.)  Ace pointed the base of a cactus as I eased on up alongside him. I glanced at his face, and it was set in that stony look bird dogs get when they are dead center of the scent cone, mesmerized by the smell. I kicked at the shrub and 5 gray blurs came out of that cactus heading to all points of the compass. As a lefty, I locked down on the one heading from my left to right, checked his location down the barrels and pulled the trigger to a satisfying little “whump” when he hit the trace of snow-covered sand.  Ace brought the bird up and put him in my hand.  “It was a pretty good day, after all, Boss,” he said.  We headed to the truck on the horizon. 

 

Texas will always hold a soft spot in my heart.  Wide open, rugged, with a ton of quail.  

 

 

 

Monday, October 16, 2023

Tent Camping in the Mountains for Old Men

It's been over a half-century since this boy spent any time in a tent.  This hunting trip, I decided to revert to the basics in order to save a little money on the ridiculously sky high diesel prices across the country and use a tent versus my camper.  In light of the fact I would drive over 6000 miles, a little saved at the pump could be significant.  Waterproofing, ease of setup, comfort, and cost were all factors in my choice of tent.  I found several I thought would be perfect, but they would take two people to erect. I ended up with this tent by Magellan.  Not only was it amazingly easy to erect by myself, but it allowed me to stand up inside, it came with LED lighting, it had plenty of openings for air flow, came with a separate rain cover, and appeared durable with heavy duty zippers and substantial ground spikes and tie lines. I took the liberty of sealing all the seams with a spray waterproofing sealant, and I bought a ground tarp and cut it to fit.  Set up was fast and easy.  The tent, when properly staked, seemed to be able to take a substantial wind, although I did not encounter anything over a stiff breeze.  I did have a rain event the third night that dropped an inch of rain in the mountains.  I noticed a small drip at the base of one of the zippered windows- nearly insignificant. 

It packs up into its own canvas bag (first picture), weighs 20-30#, and is approx 6' long.  It fits perfectly in the back of my truck.  It's not for backpackers.  Two adults with cots would have an easy time of it.  For just me, it was like a room in the woods.  I would have liked a tarp over the entrance, especially during the rain event.  

In retrospect, I'm really amazed at how comfortable I was.  With the rain, sun, breeze, and temps in the 30's-40's at night, I had a blast.  Made by Magellan, I bought it at Academy Sports.  I think next time, I will ditch the Tent Cot, for a regular cot.  I will put a tarp over the door, and bring my (super quiet) generator for a small heater and coffee maker.  I probably just went from camping to glamping with those additions, but that's fine with me. 



abirdhuntersthoughts
Start



bird dogs and bird hunting











bird dogs and bird hunting
Finished in 10 minutes

 Note:  I'm not compensated in any way by Magellan or Academy Sports. 

Friday, October 13, 2023

Product Review: Lick Sleeve- an alternative to the 'Cone of Shame'

Unfortunately,  Blue tore his CCL a few months ago.  One month before we were due to leave for Wyoming and Montana. Throughout the process of diagnosis, surgery, $$$$, etc., one bright point was when the vet told us about the Lick Sleeve.  It replaced the Cone to keep the dog from licking the incision site. What a great product! It's so simple, and works so well, I'm amazed I'm only hearing about it now. 



Blue out of TPLO surgery.  The incision is inside the knee. 


Blue with the sleeve on- no cone!


It's made from a slick and tough fabric that discourages dogs from tearing it off.  And they can't reach the wound to lick it.  So simple!  Washable and fits either rear leg.  They have one that fits the front legs, as well. Only one snap.  It isn't available on Amazon, but I went to their website (Lick Sleeve) and ordered.  It arrived in 2 days. 

Most highly recommended!

Note:  I'm not endorsed or compensated by this product.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Awesome Open to the 2023-2024 Hunting Season

I loaded the dogs and drove to meet friends, first in Wyoming, then in Montana. I waited a little later in September to try and avoid the stifling heat.  To a large extent, I succeeded.  The first week I camped up in the mountains at 7500', hunting for Blue Grouse.  We were very successful, and I learned all over about camping in the cold! Then we drove to meet 5 other friends for Sage Grouse, Chukar and Hungarian Partridge.  The hunting was exceptional, but best part of this portion of the trip was the food! With at least three "foodies" in the party, we cooked our birds in tasty and creative ways every night.  After a week, I said my goodbyes and drove to Montana to chase Sharptail Grouse and Hungarian Partridge.  The weather was excellent and all the dogs did well on the Sharps and Huns.  Overall, it was a tremendous way to kick off the season! 

Shack and me after Blue Grouse

JD and 3 Blue Grouse

Marker Cairn

2 Sage Grouse

JD Retreiving BlueGrouse

Lunch Break on the Prairie

Double on Hungarian Partridge

Out on the Prairie



Rest Break

Saturday, September 9, 2023

The Beast

@abirdhuntersthoughts
2013 F250 Lariat




The Beast has been everywhere and done everything I’ve asked of it. Many of those situations I look back and just shake my head. Over 400,000 miles now, and still rolling down the road. I’d like a new one, but the prices are nearly prohibitive. #Ford

I just turned of 405,000 miles on the Beast.  I'm super happy with it.  That is not to say it's been all sweetness and light,  But, I've had nothing other than expected repairs.  The routine maintenance is expensive, but less than a $900+/month new truck payment.  So, I'll keep it until it dies


Friday, May 26, 2023

Graduation Day

Today was the day. JD and I headed out to the barn. Graduation day! I put her in the with the big dogs while I eased out to the bird pen with a couple of mesh bird cages in my hand. The big dogs knew exactly what was coming, and they started making a ruckus. The fur-missile just sat at the gate and watched me.

 

I grabbed two quail and headed out to the fresh cut pasture. I put the two birds down quite a ways apart, then returned for JD. I took her to the edge of the pasture, told her "bird in here!" and turned her loose. It's fun to watch a young dog just torn up with bird finding! 

 

She hit the first one a lttle loose, then locked up. I waited a bit, then stepped on the edge of the cage. The bird flushed, but low. Too low to shoot, so I let her chase and then yelled "leave it" and watched her pull away and return. "Let's go. Bird in here, JD!" I said. Off she went. It didn't take long at all for her to wind the second bird and point. This time the bird got up high enough to shoot. It dropped and she was on it, and flipped over on her back, then came back to pick it up. It was right to hand. 

 

That was the first killed bird over her for a retrieve. It's been about 2 months since I started her on the training table. At this point, she is showing a great deal of promise. September is coming.....

 

JD One year old, today.

JD One year old, today.

 

 

New Podcast with snake expert Jason Clark!

What to do, and more important, what NOT to do when your dog is bitten by a snake! Click the link below to listen to the podcast.  


 SNAKE Bite!




Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Whatever Happened to Antonio?

Whatever Happened to Antonio?

 

Mearns Quail are special.  Many years ago, through a friend of a friend of a friend, I was introduced to Wally. “Hey”, he said, “if you are going to Arizona, why don’t you call my buddy, Wally, down there?  He’s a specialist hunting those Mearns Quail in the mountains south of Tucson.”  I rang him up, and he agreed to shepherd us along to see if we could find a few coveys of the elusive birds.  It was a serendipitous introduction.  


Male Mearns Quail

 

Wally and I had nearly identical military careers, with a few major exceptions, one being that no one, that I know of, ever tried to shoot me down.  The other major difference was that he was an Air Force pilot, while I was a Naval Aviator who proudly wore “wings of gold”.  Wally never hesitated to remind me the Air Force had standards and required its pilots to read and write and use cutlery at the dinner table.  I would retort loudly that the Navy required the parents of aviators to be married.  And so it went as we scoured the hills and mountains of southern Arizona for quail.    

 

Our first meeting was at an exit off the local interstate.  “Don’t be late.  We have a long way to go,” he said over the phone.  The four of us in our party were waiting for him when he drove up before sunrise.   Right away I could see he was serious about his bird hunting- one Brittany face peered out the passenger side with two more in kennels in the back.  “Let’s go!” he said.  What followed was more akin to a motocross race over smooth pavement, then rough pavement, then smooth gravel, then rough gravel, then 4-wheel-drive-holy-crap-hang-on, Manzanita paint-scouring two-track.  Ninety minutes later with queasy stomachs, wide-eyed dogs, and thoughts of undercarriage damage to the Beast, I exited the truck to an amazing place.  Rolling hills, brown grass, low spreading oaks, and blue sky from horizon to horizon.  I’d seen a place like this on the other side of the world- in Spain. I was captivated. 

 

That first trip, my main dogs were Ace (Brit/M) and Bo (Setter/M).   Ruby (Brit/F) and Cap (Brit/M) were along, but barely 6 mos. old. Ace and Bo did their thing for three days, and I learned a lot about the Mexican Quail. We were at the northern limit of the Mearns habitat.  Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas have populations of Mearns quail in the high, grassy areas in the mountains.  Their range extends south into Mexico, and I have Spanish-speaking friends who fly to Mexico yearly to hunt huge coveys of them.  But, for us, this is Mearns Quail central.  What looked like gentle, grassy slopes revealed themselves, many times, as rock-strewn ankle-breaking areas leading down into broad, smooth, easy bottoms between the hills.  The bottoms all sloped gently south, to Mexico.  

 

Some days the birds would be in the bottoms, some days on the slopes in the rocks.  One characteristic I noticed immediately was how tight they would hold.  Over the years, it was not uncommon to see the coveys before the flush.  One day, watching Wally’s new puppy hesitate for a bit before moving on, I was commenting that it would be nice if she would have had a covey. I looked down to watch my step and stepped into the center of a covey of 8.  It was not uncommon to turn around to locate a dog and find them pointed behind you on a covey less than ten feet from your track. The birds would much rather you walk on by than flush.  Mearns Quail eat mainly tubers growing under the oak trees.  They have an extended claw to dig for the tubers, and we know to look for the little holes around the base of the oaks indicating a close-by covey.  They are smallish compared to their desert cousins, the Gambel’s and Blue Quail, and males are marked by a unique pattern of black chest covered with white spots.  How in the world they can disappear into a brown rock-strewn world, I don’t know.  But they do. Ten to fifteen coveys in a hard day’s hunt was not unusual for many years, but those are the “good old days” now.  Recently, I had a 7-covey morning before rain cut our day short.  It was my best in many years.  

 

Wally and I parked at the base of a draw, not far from the border fence.  The fence itself was a barbed-wire affair mainly designed to keep cattle from straying.  We started uphill, north from the trucks, passing a large stock tank covered in mossy slime.  One of Wally’s girls struck first and pointed out of sight on top of a cut out riverbank.   Wally climbed up and over.  Not long afterwards, I had several high passing shots as the birds flew over me, at speed, to escape to the opposite hillside. We compared notes and birds while standing in the shade of one of the small, spreading oaks.  A little farther up the draw, the canyon split, and so did we, agreeing to meet in about an hour.  I had my little puppy Ruby down.  Mearns, to me, are the absolute best birds for very young dogs.  They hold tight, don’t run, and are in beautiful country.  I never hesitate to work my young dogs on them.  (A close second would be Sharptail Grouse in the Montana grass.)

 

Ruby worked well, crossed the canyon from one side to the other, then she ran up one side wall about halfway before she stopped to locate me and dropped back down.  It was fun to watch her and think of things to come.  I was following a trail in the bottom of the canyon, it was most likely a cow path, but it occurred to me it might have been a smuggling trail coming up from the border.  Throughout the area, backpacks, shoes, blankets, and water jugs littered the ground.  Some were so old, they were falling apart.  Some were shiny and new.  All the years hunting the area and I never saw an illegal immigrant, and I was unconcerned.  Ruby suddenly spun around and pointed in the center of the canyon, nearly under a huge fallen log.  Her first covey of quail.  I managed to drop one, and she retrieved it to me with no drama, just the workman-like, “Here’s your bird, boss!” attitude she would display for the rest of her life.  It was a monumental moment for me, so I took a minute and loved on her while I sat in the grass.  Then, we went back to business, and I climbed over one side of the canyon to drop down and meet Wally in the parallel wash.  I heard gunshots earlier, and I recognized his 20 ga. semi-auto.  I looked forward to the stories as we shared our bird encounters.


Wally and Antonio check the map.




We turned and started back downhill to the trucks.  Another hunting friend of ours left the trucks and hunted south towards the border, and we wondered if he found any birds.  We usually didn’t hunt together, since he used pointing Labs, and he didn’t want our dogs messing up his.  Wally and I chatted as we approached the trucks parked in the shade in a washout near a corral.  I saw Vince (our Lab friend) sitting under a tree not far from the trucks.  Jokingly, I held up my shotgun and yelled, “Hold it right there, pardner!  Explain yourself!”  It was then I realized “Vince” wasn’t Vince!  The man sitting in the shade jumped up and raised his hands.  I quickly lowered my shotgun and laughed, although I don’t think the man saw much humor in the situation.   I noticed he was Hispanic, dressed warmly, and didn’t appear to be injured.  He was also very attentive to the crazy gringo with the shotgun.  


Wally approached him as I went to the trucks to load Ruby and stow my shotgun.  I heard Wally ask where he was going.  He said his name was Antonio.  He spoke a fair amount of English, and I overheard him tell Wally he was lost, had been there a week, had no charge on his cell phone (none of our chargers would work), was out of food, and didn’t want to drink from the stock tanks (smart!).  His group left him after telling him to go to Tucson (50 miles in a different direction).  It was just before Christmas, and he wanted to go home.  I walked up then and told him to walk up on any of those roads and Border Patrol would pick him up and take him to the border, but strangely he wasn’t interested in that.  I also thanked him for not disturbing our trucks.  His response was interesting to me.  He said, “No, SeƱor, those are very expensive trucks!”   We gave him a gallon of fresh water, an awesome ham sandwich I made that morning, a can of Red Bull, and Wally pointed him to the border fence.  He headed on his way, thankful and relieved, but not before I commented, “So, let me get this straight.  You want to break into Mexico?” We all chuckled for a minute, but I noticed he kept an eye on me the entire time (Hey, the gun thing was a joke!).  

 

It wasn’t until after Antonio was long gone, I realized I should have asked for a home cell number and given his wife a call to tell her Antonio was on his way home for Christmas. Meet him at the fence.  I can only imagine how that phone call would have gone.  I often wonder about Antonio, and I wish I had his number to check on him. I think we could have been friends. I think he loved his family enough to risk his life to better theirs.  I wonder if he ever thinks about that meeting in the Arizona mountains with the crazy gringo and his awesome ham sandwich.