Texas quail are by FAR our favorite bird to hunt! We had the pleasure of spending 3 days with West Texas Quail Outfitters hunting near Alpine, Texas. Chasing scaled quail in the shadow of the Davis mountains on crisp west Texas days is about as good as upland bird hunting gets. The guides, Ryan and Josh, are hard working guys and did all they could to put us in the right places. They were an absolute pleasure to hunt with.
But know that hunting wild birds means that bird counts are at the whim of the cycles of mother nature . This year finding birds at times was a challenge and required covering a lot of ground to hit the coveys. It reminds you that every bird is indeed a gift from God.
Last year, our guide called to say that the bird counts were down and the hunting might not be so good. We went anyway and had a terrific hunt! This year the guide called again and said “hey, seriously, this year is going to suck” and advised that we skip again but we still went. After all, these bird hunts are much more than hunting birds. . . right? You know . . . camaraderie, communing with nature, getting away from accountability for a while, riding in pickup trucks with shotguns, hunting-camp cuisine, etc. We were pushing our luck! This year, we were rewarded with a dastardly cold hunt and the lowest bird count in our 20 years of chasing roosters. All part of the game though. The great hunts are appreciated because of the tough times endured. This was definitely not the worst and we are glad we went. Everyone is looking forward to a future of more birds and less frostbite! Of course, bird dog Tex has no idea what I am whining about. He had a terrific time!
Here are some pics from our hunt on the rolling prairie a few weeks ago. This is a good year for Hungarian Partridge. Not the covey counts you find on Texas quail but enough to keep our interest and make this a great hunt. I am thankful that we live in proximity to such beautiful, wild country!
The Hungarian Partridge is a fast flying covey bird. They don’t hold as well for a point like quail or pheasant but when they flush it is some fast shooting. Beautiful bird!
The bird hunting season is upon us and most have already hit the fields but I was forced to spend the first of September on vacation in Boston. Sometimes sacrifices are necessary to keep the peace in the marriage! Check out this quaint street . . .
This is Acorn Street, one of the most photographed in the country. Boston is an awesome city and we had a terrific time. Highly recommended!
Then off to another world – our favorite western state in search of sage grouse. This was our first time in an area that holds more sage grouse than anywhere else in the country. Even though, this land is vast and we of course had to learn first where they weren’t before we stumbled into where they were.
Tex on a staunch point, happy that the slow days of summer are over.
Tex went to southern Colorado yesterday to find a quail or two. The quail were sparse but the cactus were not! Here are some pictures from the day.
Solid point on a cholla cactus.
We spent some of December looking for quail on public land. Hunting public land can be challenging because of . . . well . . . the public. But birds are there if you are willing to work to find them and the price is right! Here are some of the pictures of that effort . . .
A bird in hand.
The forecast was that this hunt would suck. Because of a drought and tough winter and summer, the bird counts were down by 60%. We discovered this when the outfitter, Cannonball Company, called to ask if we wanted to skip the year and try again in 2018! I must say the folks at Cannonball are first rate. They made sure we knew what kind of hunt to expect and were ready to accommodate if we chose to do something else. Half of our usual hunting party did just that and spent the weekend on the couch at home. Before the hunt, the weather outlook predicted highs in the mid-30s with high winds. There was ample reason to skip this hunt!
Despite the dismal predictions, the 5 hunters who chose to make the hunt were treated to one of our best hunts yet. The hunting was certainly more challenging but, out of a possible 45 bird limit, the group harvested 41 birds. We could have nailed the other four had we wanted to. 🙂 The weather on day one was cold and windy. The other two days the wind died down and we had near perfect sunny days in the 40s and 50s. Having to work for our birds kept us in the field longer than usual and we all enjoyed that, especially the dogs. You never know what is going to happen on a hunt and this year persistence and a bit of blind faith paid us handsome dividends.
After a dove hunt in Texas and a long walk in a Wyoming prairie, we thought it would be fun to hit the local hunting preserve before the next season opens. Another reason to get on “bought” birds is that after those two out-of-state hunting trips I have yet to fire my gun! I can understand tough bird hunting in Wyoming, but no dove in Texas?!?! The bird forecast for the upcoming pheasant season in North Dakota is dismal as well, so this interlude was good for the dogs to be reminded what game birds smell like.
Appreciation of the good things in life is intensified by contrast. These lean seasons give us reason to appreciate the seasons of abundance. So far this is a year of paying dues, hoping that we will be rewarded for our persistence. Happily we are old enough and wise enough to understand that the joy of the hunt is not a carcass count. The real satisfaction of bird hunting comes from the time afield with our friends and our dogs . . . but a covey flush every now and then would be nice!
Tex on a serious point!
Those fortunate enough to live in one of the western great plains states have access to the massive tracts of public BLM land (managed by the Bureau of Land Management). Last weekend we took bird dog Tex there to try out his new knees. During the past year, he blew out his two back knees and had TPLO surgery on both to put him back together. This nasty, invasive surgery is a big deal and I was anxious to see if he could hold up to a full day of heavy duty hunting.
The magnitude of this vast land is hard to grasp. It is a bad place to loose your keys.
Colorado weather is awesome. This weekend was in the 80s, we wore shorts to the Rockies baseball game but last weekend we had a foot of snow! We took English Setter Oak out on that snowy Sunday for a spin on some chukars.
Another year of great weather! This makes two in a row. We have been hunting ND pheasants for 15 years and this annual event is like a dear old friend. We can’t wait to get back every year and are always a bit sad when the hunt is over. This is one of those things that you know, at some point, will come to an end so we savor every minute, every bird, every point, every step in the field and every moment of comradery with our friends and fellow hunters. As we grow older, the hunt is cherished simply because we are here, in the vast openness of North Dakota – away from the grind, away from the responsibility, away from the noise. This time afield, immersed in God’s creation, is our connection with what is real and what matters. I hope you enjoy these pictures from a perfect hunt.
A picture perfect lay-up.
The real hunting is over for now but we are fortunate to have some very nice preserves or hunt clubs on the Colorado front range. Kiowa Creek, The Bluffs, Quail Run are all great venues, but this weekend we tried Rocky Mountain Roosters . This is a great way to extend the season and get the dogs a little more time in the field.
The biblical drought that tormented the western quail country for the past decade has subsided for now. The moisture provided the basic life elements (water, plants and bugs) allowing the quail to return to areas where they seemingly were gone forever. This is a wonderful testimony to nature’s amazing ability to recover when given a chance. We took advantage of the bird rebound with an end of season hunt.
A beautiful cock and hen
What a difference a year makes . . . .
Our annual North Dakota pheasant hunt last year, sub-zero temps and blowing snow. Not so fun!
This year was sipping beer in short sleeved shirts! Much more fun!!
Hunting grouse and partridge on the vast plains of the west distills bird hunting to its base elements. . . persistence, stamina, skill and luck. No planted birds, no limiting out in an hour, no horse drawn buggy, no easy walk through a food plot – this is hiking for miles, wearing the dogs out, sweating the finish off your shotgun and putting your boots to the test while looking for the needle in the haystack. The hope is that when you find that needle fatigue does not rob you of the ability to wing shoot a fast flushing bird that is a bit farther out than you like. This is hunting for the die hard bird hunter.
But there is a peaceful joy in hunting limitless land. The dogs run unfettered, you seldom see another hunter and your only responsibly is to follow your dogs and perform when the opportunity presents itself. If you keep at it you will find them and when you do it is because you paid your dues. . . . you didn’t buy it, you earned it.
The excellent camouflage of the Sharptail grouse
Neither Tex or I had ever set foot in Montana until this trip so we were excited about hunting a new state. We made it up to the Hi-Line area near Hinsdale in search of sharptail grouse, hungarian partridge and hopefully some sage grouse. “Hi-Line” refers to rail line that runs through the area. It is the northernmost rail line in the country and is only 42 miles south of Canada.
We ran into birds every day, but not nearly as many as we expected especially given the great weather this year and rosy bird hunting forecasts. Maybe we need to realign our expectations when chasing grouse on the Great Plains! All things considered we had a great time. A terrific bunch of guys, nice weather (but a bit too warm), and an impressive amount of open country for the dogs to hunt and run made this worth the 13 hour drive from Denver.
One thing about these prairie birds, once they have been hunted it is tough to get close to them. They vacate quickly and typically leave no one behind. We found sage grouse by glassing the country with binoculars. That was a first for me and I was amazed that we spotted them.
These vast, empty plains are quite beautiful and you have to respect the folks who call this home.
Yesterday was a picture perfect day to visit one of Colorado’s many walk-in hunting areas. Colorado does a nice job trying to provide hunting opportunities and has enrolled about 215,000 acres in this program that allows hunters to access private land at no cost. In addition to free hunting we had perfect weather – highs in the mid-40’s, partly cloudy with a slight breeze.
Historically, we have pretty decent weather on our hunts but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. Our North Dakota hunt was at the apex of an epic winter blast from Canada. Only one of the four days had high temps that flirted with double digits. On that day we traded a few degrees for 30 – 40 mph wind and blowing snow. Despite the brutal cold we still had a great hunt. We took our limit of birds each day, no worry of the dogs overheating (only worrying about them freezing to death) and because we were ready and well dressed, we were over all pretty comfortable.
There was some trepidation at getting out of the warm truck and braving the elements.
Lots of boot leather and tireless dogs found us four species of birds on a weekend hunt out west. Hungarian Partridge, Chukar, Blue Grouse and Sharptail Grouse all found their way into our game bags. This is big country, a sea of rolling grass and sage, and I was surprised with our success at finding birds. This is bird hunting in its purest form. No guide, no released birds, no food plots – just birds where God put them. You have to work hard, but when you find them and connect it is hugely rewarding for both the hunter and dog.
The dramatic, vast country made for some terrific photographic opportunities.
Tex on point.
The bird counts were way up over last year but so was the temperature. We had terrific weather with blue skies and temps pushing into the low 80’s. The unseasonably warm weather was great for the hunters, but pretty hard on the dogs. We had to keep a close watch on them to be sure they did not overheat.