Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My First Quail Hunt

Last October my wife had to go out of town on business, and took our two kids with her leaving me with a whole weekend and very little to do. I don't get a lot of opportunity to go to a larger lake so fishing was the first thing I thought of, but I didn't want to go alone. Tim, my younger brother, is about half crazy, always fun to hang out with, and loves fishing almost as much as I do, so I called to see if he wanted to go down to Arivaca Lake with me. His response was "It's quail season, and those little buggers are making fun of my shooting skills. I was going up by Red Rock to go hunting, but you can come with me, if you want."

I have never had a problem with guns or hunting of any kind, and often went target shooting with my brothers, or friends, but I was married young and had little kids at home. I had more important things to spend what little money I had on than hunting and guns. So I have never owned any guns myself, and honestly didn't know much about them. Tim offered to lend me an old bolt action 410 shotgun on the condition that I would supply my own shells for it. That seemed reasonable so with that agreed to, my biggest obstacle was out of the way so I agreed to go quail hunting. All I needed now was ammunition and a hunting license. 

The night before the hunt I went to the local Walmart  to buy a hunting license, and a box of shells. After a half hour wait at the gun counter for someone to come and help me i finally found a young lady that worked the sporting goods section. After she wrote up the hunting license I asked what shells I should buy for quail hunting. Twenty minutes later and a PhD in what the girl didn't know about shot shells for the 410, I called Tim. He recommended I get a box of 3" #7 or #8 shot shells. I had no idea what that meant, but the girl reached back and pulled out a box of shells and handed them to me. I paid for my license and the shells and I was ready for my first bird hunt.

I got up early the next morning and loaded my shot shells and a bottle of water into a plastic bag and headed over to Tim's house. We had agreed on about 6:00 AM to head out from his house, but i was a bit excited and got there a little early. The lights were out and nobody answered the door when I  knocked, so i went and got a cup of coffee. the lights were still off when i arrived back at Tim's so I got turned on the radio and settled down to wait for a bit before trying the door again. Not even two minutes later Tim called me and asked if I was coming in like he thought i was an idiot for waiting in the truck. 

Tim started pulling out all kinds of gear and making sure he had everything he thought he needed. At that moment I realized I was woefully unprepared for what was coming and started asking questions about what all that crap was. He told me not to worry about it, and handed me an ancient looking shotgun and asked if I knew how to use it. After a quick lesson we loaded up the truck and he asked if I had brought any water with me. I showed him my water bottle and we quickly decided to stop at another Walmart on the way out of town to buy some more water and a hunting vest for me to wear.

We left the store and headed north on the interstate to a small exit that lead us through a little neighborhood before the pavement ran out. Once on the dirt road we passed a cattle ranch and some farmland before crossing the Santa Cruz River and entering state trust land. another 5 miles or so saw us at a wire gate just off of the main road. We went through the gate and on down the smaller road a ways and parked the truck next to a dry wash. As we unloaded the truck I asked him which direction he wanted to go and he pointed up in between a large hill standing just our side of a rather imposing mountain and said "I thought we could check out what was on the other side of that hill". He then set off cross country through some of the roughest terrain I have ever walked through.

We traversed the valley floor at a fairly good clip stopping every once in a while to listen for the soft call of the quail we were after, but moving on quickly when we didn't hear them. Crossing the small steep sided washes, and snaking our way among the cacti. Eventually the hard packed dirt and cactus gave way to porous, red, cantaloupe sized volcanic boulders and mesquite trees while the shallow, dirt sided, washes slowly turned into sheer rock walled canyons. We only stopped occasionally to sip some water and listen for the ever absent quail, then trudge along again.I was lost in the beauty of the surrounding and never thought to wonder where all the quail were until Tim smirked and said "look under that tree".

I peered up under the stunted paloverde wondering what he was trying to show me. It took a moment for my eyes to focus into the shade from the bright sunlight but slowly the desert tortes came into focus. It was roughly the same size as most of the rocks around the tree, and a shade of dark gray that made it hard to distinguish from its surroundings. We took a quick picture and headed up to the top of the saddle.

Desert Tortes

 We reached the top of the saddle and I looked out at the awe inspiring beauty of the valley below. I knew that not many people had stood at the top of that rise among the rocks and cactus and appreciated the rugged desert below. We stood there for a few moments and listened for quail, but the silence spurred us to move on. we wound our way down the steep back side of the slope and followed the base of the hill down until we came to a flat field filled with cholla. we split apart and walked that field being careful to be aware of where the other one was. we crossed a small wash and set out across a large flat area that had a bunch of dead paloverde trees and found the road again. we crossed the road and headed for a line of mesquite trees we thought might carry some birds. 

As the morning wore into early afternoon we rested under a tree, and I realized that I was running low on water and we had no idea how far away the truck was. With the temperatures in the high 90's or low 100's we started for the truck. It seemed like it took forever to get to the road where I opened my last bottle of water and took a small sip. We tuned south on the road and started walking. Not wanting to run out of water I wasn't drinking enough, and as the time went by my mouth got dryer, and the shotgun got heavier. We stopped for a rest under a tree where my brother found a bottle. He wasn't as bad off as I was and he decided he wanted to shoot at the bottle with his 9MM pistol.

Tim handed me his shotgun and pulled out his pistol. He let out three quick shots and giggled as the bottle disintegrated. he put his the gun back in his vest and turned to walk up the road. I had his shotgun resting with the but on the ground and as I tried to lift it and hand it back to him I realized just how bad things were getting. I couldn't get it off the ground! He took it from me told me to drink the rest of my water. I did and we set off again.

This time the walk was mercifully short. We crossed a small wash, and as we went around a bend in the road the truck came into view. That last hundred yards seemed like a thousand miles before it was over. once at the truck i peeled off my vest, unloaded my gun, turned on the truck and the AC and sat there and drank two full bottles of water from what we had left in the truck. then i was quickly startled out of my stupor as Tim pumped out three rounds from his shotgun as quickly as he could. my head popped up as he turned around grinned and said, "that the prickly pear was laughing at me!"

Even though we didn't even see a quail, and I was on the edge of heat stroke, but I had a good time. Tim taught me a lot about hunting on that trip, and I did some research on my own before our next hunt. Now I am hooked on bird hunting and can't wait for the next quail season to start.      



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