Friday, October 12, 2012

A Tough Opener For Arizona Quail Hunting

Quail Hunting Cowboy Style
The sun was still low in the sky and barely visible through the thin cloud cover when I parked the truck on the side of the road just in front of the gate blocking the entrance to an old gravel mine that backs up to the steep mountains on the west. The gate looks formidable but if you climb the dirt embankment and follow the low rock wall for fifty feet on either side you find out that it is little more than just a gate across the road. About a half a mile to the west Back down the rutty dirt road nestled into a rotting wood and wire structure, once used to sort and load cattle into a trucks, stands an ancient looking squeaky metal windmill that still pumps fresh ground water into a large metal cistern. The tank is just as old as the windmill and long ago became far more patch than original tank, but it still holds water. The mine and the windmill are situated at the back of a small relatively flat bottomed valley. Low steep mountains surround this little slice of desert heaven on three sides and create a well protected sanctuary for the Gamble's quail I am after.

I am in this spot on the second day of quail season, quite alone, and happy about that. There are a few campers and some motorcyclists several miles back down the road, but I have not seen anybody else this far out. As I step out of my truck I can hear several different types of birds calling out their songs. I happily take a brief moment to listen to the cacophony. It was loud but not at all unpleasant, and I could hear the soft cooing of quail mixed in with the rest. I quickly surveyed the area to see if I could see any bird, but the area was thick with wolf berry bushes and mesquite trees preventing me from seeing very far at all. What i did notice were the hoards of bright red berries on all of the bushes, and a thick layer of mature grass leaving seed everywhere. Hearing the quail and seeing the foliage made me anxious for the hunt and I set about loading my shotgun and filling up my vest with the necessities of a desert bird hunt. One last careful listen for the quail calls and I decide to head south on the flatter surfaces of the valley and stepped up the dirt embankment and into the Arizona desert. I catch a glimpse of my shadow on the grass The theme song from "Two Mules For Sister Sarah" goes through my head and I feel like Clint Eastwood tracking the bad guys in an old western movie.
Berry Bush

The grass is about ankle deep and thin, but it is brown, dry, and punctuates every step with a loud crackle. As I walk almost due south I am listening carefully for quail, but the noise from walking is muting most of the bird sound. I cross a shallow creek bed and once on the other side I stop and take a sip of water and hear quail off to the east. as I turn in that direction and take a step forward the bush next to begins to belch out a flapping mess of birds. I react as quickly as I can, but by the time my gun is mounted the birds have disappeared behind a nearby mesquite tree. I spent the nest few hours chasing quail up and down this small stretch of desert. Walking slowly and stopping frequently to listen, I chased flush after exasperating flush, and covey after beautiful covey. Stopping and waiting to hear the calls and then moving towards them as quietly as possible. Most of the time I hear them flush behind a tree or a bush and never see the birds. The crunchy grass gives me away, and I can hear them take flight but never lay eyes on them. Some times they flush 20-30 yards out in front of me and are gone before I can shoot. They seem to stick to the lower shrubs and bushes, fly low, and instinctively put the nearest tree or bush between me and them. Birds were everywhere I went, but with the thick vegetation and the loud grass it is nearly impossible (for me) to get a good shot off in time. I don't know when but at some point I even started carrying my shotgun half mounted. With the barrel pointing at the ground and the stock at my shoulder I felt more ready for the quick flushes and thought I could take aim faster. What I achieved was a quicker miss.

A Hard Won Success
In spite of all that was going against me I did manage to get a few flushes practically under foot in relatively clear areas.  I completely miss most of them and manage to go through the better part of a full box of shells. I was getting more and more frustrated until I managed to flush a small covey of about five birds out towards a small clearing. I snap the barrel of my shot gun up and more point and hope then aim I fired a shot towards a pair of birds flying hard at a tree. I see feathers fly as one fat female folds just before vanishing into a tree. I felt elated as I picked her up and put her into my vest. Running short on water and time both I started to make my way back toward the truck, but couldn't resist chasing a few more coveys on the way. It was to no avail though, and got back to the truck with my one bird and about six shells left in my box. I am considering this an extremely successful first hunt of the season, and can't wait to get back out here. Next weekend I will bag more than one.



  1. Hello Rick: I am really happy to hear you found some birds around Tucson. The last few years have been slim to say the least.
    I am heading to Tucson Sunday Can't wait to get out Quail hunting. I have hunted Az the past 20 years.
    Maybe we can get out together some day soon

  2. Max,
    Thanks, it has been a pretty good year down here so far. The birds are there, it is just a matter of finding them.
    I would love to get together and swap some secrets sometime. Drop me an email when you get settled in and maybe we can figure out a time to meet up.

  3. Rick
    I can only imagine how fantastic the quail hunting is out that way. I am looking forward to some of you post on your hunts. I mostly read about the hunts now. There is no place to hunt for quail here in the South because all the land is leased by deer clubs---or unless you got big bucks to pay for a private hunt----but I still have my fly fishing.

    1. Bill,
      I am sorry to hear that you do not have a good place to hunt for quail out your way. Maybe some day you will wander out here to Arizona and find all the open land you could hope for to hunt quail on. If you ever do drop me a line. In the mean time I will try to post as many quail stories as i can between now and the end of quail season. I am looking forward to hearing all about your fly fishing as well.