Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Fitting Arizona Quail Season Ender

The last day of the Arizona quail season dawned clear and clear and cold. The previous day's stormy weather gave way to cloudless blue skies and a light ground frost. Johny and I were watching the sunrise and munching on a couple of McGriddle sandwiches in the warmth of the truck while we discussed which direction we wanted to try hunting in. Being desert rats, neither of us wanted to go out into the cold so we were kind of wasting time while we ate the last of our breakfast. We finally decided on a general that way direction, turned off the truck, and stepped into the crisp morning. We unlocked the guns, and loaded our vests in near silence as we were listening closely for the tell tale chattering of Gambles quail waking up. This was the last hunt until October and we wanted to make the most of it. 

I was reaching into the truck for one last sip of coffee when we both turned toward a soft Chi-Caaa-Go sound coming from near by. We turned to each other and grinned sheepishly in anticipation of a good hunt. Both of us were excited as we finished getting our stuff together and set off toward the call stopping frequently to listen for more calls. We followed the birds for about a quarter of a mile when we finally got close enough to hear them chattering in a nearby bush. Johny and I split to either side of the large bush and crept up as silently as we could. Our guns were at the ready our wits were tight with the desire to knock one out of the sky, and we met each other on the far side of the bush without even hearing a bird. We searched for that covey for another half hour before we gave up on it. I have no idea where they went but we never saw them, and they kept silent after that. These birds had a doctorate in hunter avoidance and got away clean. 

A Green Spot Amid The Brown Of The Desert
We decided to go farther afield in this area than we had in previous hunts. The idea behind this was to see if we could find a covey that might be a little less educated then the closer to the road. After about an hour hiking out away from the familiar areas and found ourselves taking a break at the top of a hill. we hadn't heard a quail call since leaving the ghost covey. We were staring out towards the mountains and a striking feature jumped out at me. There was a small patch of vivid green right in the middle of all the brown foliage on the side of the mountain at the bottom of a large saddle. In the desert that can only mean that there is a pretty constant source of water in that spot. The two of us were needing an adventure, so we decided to go see if there really was any water up there.

This Type Of Moss Shouldn't Be Here
From our vantage point on the hill it didn't look like it was very far away, or a very steep climb. We were wrong on both counts. We hiked for about an hour and had to cut across several fairly deep washes and skirt some rather large rock piles before we made it to the base of the mountain, and then the hard part started. The bottom of the saddle was a narrow steep sided canyon. The sheer walls were about four feet across and rose about forty feet at their highest. starting at the base of the mountain the canyon zigged and zagged into hill side staying fairly flat on its sandy bottom and only rising where large rocks and debris created shelves in the canyon bottom. Then we reached what can only be described as a dry water fall.  rising almost vertically about twenty feet or so. at the top was our green spot, all we had to do was get up there.
A Look Down The Water Fall

We looked up at the top trying to decide if we really wanted to make the climb or not. I took a sip of water and was looking at a rock when I realized it had some moss growing on the underside of it. That little tidbit set the climb in motion. Now I had to see what was at the top so we took the ammunition out of our shotguns and scrambled up the steep rocky water fall. At the top we wed treated to some more damp sand and an incredible view of the valley spread out below us, but no water to speak of. Disappointed we headed back down the mountain.

The View From The Top Of The Waterfall
At the bottom of the hill we started heading out across a grassy knoll with a few scattered trees and about sixty yards out about thirty quail erupt out of a bush and head out over the next wash and land on the next hill. "Did you mark them?" I asked.

"Yes, I know where they went" came the excited reply.

"Well, lets go get them then" I said with a smile.

We carefully headed over to a large set of bushes where we saw them land. We got to within fifty yards of the bush and they flushed again. This time they split into two groups. The first group of about eight birds flew almost directly out in front of us across to the next hill. The second group flew to the right of us over a rather steep hill side and into a lower valley. We decided to follow the group that went out straight from us and started walking that direction. when we got to where they flushed a single erupted from a bush just a little ways ahead of me. out of instinct I shouldered, fired, and missed. In my excitement I didn't make sure I kept good form and my head stayed kind of high. I forgot to aim and missed the first shot I had all day. But the quail did something very strange for a quail. He stayed in flight and took a slow circle at about twenty yards out from me. This allowed me to carefully aim at him, and I missed him a second time! At this point I lowered my gun tipped my hat and thought "Well played little ninja quail, well played.

We topped the hill where the last covey flew and found it to be a patchwork of close but small bushes and prickly pear cactus. We slowly started dow the hill side with our shotguns shouldered and at the ready. We spaced ourselves about 25 feet apart and slowly zig-zagged down the hill side stopping beside every bush and cactus patch we passed trying to crowd the quail into a flush.  about ten yards down the hill I stopped at a bush for a second and listened carefully for any sounds that might lead me in the right direction. I knew in my gut that there were birds here somewhere, but they also knew we were there and were keeping quiet and still. I started walking again, and just as I got past the bush a bird flushed out of it directly behind me. I turned and fired at him, but he flew over the top of the hill and dissapeared unharmed. Again, in the excitement of the moment,  I had kept my head up instead of putting down on the cheek and getting a proper sight picture.

I heard Johny's shot and turned to see him flustered about missing his quail as well, that was the first shot he had ever gotten off at a bird, so he wasn't really all that heart broken about missing it. We canvased the area for another half hour trying to scare up a few singles, but had no more luck. Time was running low, so with reluctance we headed for the truck. We didn't come across any more quail on the long hike back so we loaded the truck kind of sad that we ended the last day of the season empty handed, but satisfied in the many miles we put on our boots. we also felt accomplished in having found a mossy, damp, (with no running water) waterfall we found.

This season is over for the year and between the three of us that were going this year, we managed to bag about a dozen or so quail in all. about a full meal for one of us, but we will cook them up at a bar-b-que and split them up so we can all share in the spoils of our efforts. Now it is definitely time for me to concentrate on improving my fly fishing skills, and Johny needs to work on college, and Tim will continue doing what he does least until the first fishing trip. I think Tim is itching to get up to Roosevelt Lake for some spring bass fishing. I plan on tagging along and trying to catch a few myself.

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Cotton Tailed Quail Hunt.

North Side Foot Hills Of The  Santa Rita Mountain Range
 This entire quail hunting season I have been searching for a good area not to far from my house for Gamble's quail. There are quite a few articles about depicting the north side of the Santa Rita Mountains as a hot spot for quail hunting in Arizona, so I jumped on Google earth and went looking for some open land in that area. I found an area that looked promising. It had every thing good quail habitat should have. Plenty of open areas for them to run in, jagged canyons with flat sandy bottoms separating relatively flat plateau like areas with low berry bushes for food and shelter, and a lot of sparse grass, plus the added benefit of a couple of nearby (1-2 miles from where we were) high end neighborhoods with plenty of people that like to feed them. It was the perfect area to go check out so I called my son and set up a hunt for Saturday morning.