Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Texas. Quail Mecca.



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.