Meet Dodger and Layla, two exceptional English Setters. Here are some shots from a fun afternoon on preserve chukars. It was dastardly cold, but the light was wonderful. Dodger is six, at the top of his game, and Layla is about 7 months. She performed well, naturally honoring and retrieving. I hope you enjoy these beautiful bird dogs.Continue reading
Category Archives: Bird Hunts
We are leaving behind a tough year. You all know what happened, so I won’t go into that here, except to say the low point was the departure of my dear hunting buddy Tex. A sweet giant of a dog, he almost made it 9 years. Tex had a great life. He hunted in 9 states, was provided with $9,000 worth of knees, and was a much-beloved member of our family. He gave us great joy, and he enjoyed life to the end. His nub of a tail wagged all the time, even when we took him for that last terrible visit to the vet. We miss him very much.
So now we move on, and thankfully our bird hunting future looks very bright! Two elements warrant this optimism.Continue reading
This was our second year to hunt with the great guys of West Texas Quail Outfitters. It is a terrific hunt in the most beautiful place on earth! This was our last planned hunt for the 2019-2020 season. It is sad to see the season end. The birds were a challenge from Wyoming to Arizona to Texas, but we had a great time doing all we could to find them! I hope you enjoy these pictures of the hunt.
A pair of scaled quail, taken by the good old Armas Garbi
Back in 1999, my pals and I hired an Arizona quail guide to give bird hunting over pointing dogs a try. We found a guy named Bob Krogh out of Phoenix, an excellent guide and dog handler. Back then, he charged us $250 per day for the hunt. Man, I sure miss those days! We watched Bob work his excellent English Pointers and experienced the magic of these motivated, hard-driven dogs as they worked the land, sifting the air for scent and then transforming from a blur of energy into living statues. We would then witness the heart-pounding covey flush of little feathered rockets! It is hard to describe how intense and exhilarating it is. This hunt was a pivotal event for me. I have been enthusiastically pursuing wild birds ever since. It holds all the best elements of the sporting life – camaraderie, beautiful dogs, fine shotguns, and skills to be learned in awesome, wild places. On that hunt, I clearly remember thinking . . . “Man, THIS is what I want to do!! It is nice to find that in life.
An Arizona quail hunt over two decades ago.
Finally, after a 21-year wait, I had the great fortune to return to Arizona for a guided quail hunt with the wonderful gentlemen from Classic Bird Hunts. This Orvis endorsed outfit operates out of the Babacomari Ranch just southeast of Sonoita. This is a terrific hunt, in the most beautiful country, with great dogs, perfect accommodations and excellent guides. We really enjoyed this hunt partly because it is not elitist or opulent (but very nice!). You hunt hard every day because it is real bird hunting at the mercy of luck and Mother Nature. For sure, at the end of the hunting day you will savor getting out of your boots and the post-hunt cocktail! Learn more about them HERE.
A beautiful Mearns quail and the good old Armas Garbi 101 bird gun.
There had been twenty years of pointing dogs and upland birds before I had the great fortune to join on a flooded timber duck hunt. This hunt was a first-class affair at the Five Oaks Lodge near Stuttgart, Arkansas. Hunting ducks instead of quail means trading walnut for plastic, pointing shorthairs for retrieving labs, lead 7 1/2s for steel 2s, leather boots for waders, blaze orange for camouflage, and dry ground for shin-deep water. This truly was an amazing experience. I now understand the deep enthusiasm so many have for hunting ducks and how one can be smitten by the culture that goes with it.
The day begins early, 5:00 am for us on this hunt. We suit up in camo everything – booted waders, shirts, coats, hats, neck gaiters, gloves, and some even use face paint. As with most hunting prep time, there is a palpable excitement, an anticipation of what the day may hold. The guides arrive, and we grab our camo or black autoloading, 12 gauge shotguns for a short drive to a levee that borders a section of flooded land. We follow the guide and his dog into the water and slosh our way to a “hole,” which is a small clearing, where we set up to ambush the incoming ducks.
The guide sets the decoys in the clearing, and you pick a tree to stand next to. It needs to be big enough to hide you from the ducks that will soon be dropping in from the sky and keep your face in the shadows, so it does not shine in the rising sun. Then you stand there, in the water, gun in hand and wait. It is still dark, but you can start to make things out as your eyes adjust and the dim glow from the coming sunrise starts to lighten things up. This is a very peaceful time, punctuated by a hooting owl, and then the far off booms of gunfire from other hunters. The trees must filter out the higher-pitched sound because the distant shots sound like artillery or rolling thunder. Very cool, very exciting!
Then a bird comes darting by in the pre-dawn light. You can tell it is a duck. My fellow hunter, who has been here before and knows what he is doing, fires and downs a wood duck. Melly, the guide’s sweet black labrador retriever, dives from her perch and retrieves the duck. The wood duck is a beautiful-gaudy bird and a bit of a prize, ensuring an afternoon trip to the local taxidermist. Melly is back on her platform, and the guide starts to work his duck call – an art in itself.
Soon, the first squadron of mallards come dropping into the clearing, cupping their wings to land, and the guide yells “TAKE ‘EM!” The shooting is fast and exciting, over in a few seconds. Melly is back in the water, fetching the downed ducks back to the guide. Five birds are now hanging in the game carrier straps. This is repeated for an hour or so until the limits are filled. It is like a roller-coaster ride, super exciting action, but over all too soon.
Hunting at this club stops at 9:00 am, which leaves 9:01 am to 11:00 pm for drinking, eating, and napping! There is a nice Skeet / 5-stand for clays, and a lot of time for comradery or maybe an afternoon goose hunt. The food at this joint is insane. Southern breakfast after the hunt, unbelievable appetizers (mostly creative uses of duck), and astoundingly good gourmet dinners, not to mention a full bar. I gained 8 lbs on a two-day hunt.
Here are the pictures from our hunt. I will say this was tough from a picture-taking standpoint. Not so much worry about dropping an expensive camera into the water, though that crosses your mind, but that a large part of the hunt happens with little light. Low light results in slow shutter speeds (blurry images) and high ISO (grainy images). I did the best I could, and happy to not put the camera into the drink!
Melly scans the skies for the next group of ducks.
So far, this hunting season has been fun but a bit challenging! A near birdless hunt in Wyoming, some preserve hunts thrown in for fun and then slim pickings on Kansas public land. We had high hopes for the Kansas hunt because the talk was that this could be a good year. The local biologist proclaimed that we would see “a covey of bob-whites per hour”. I knew that was optimistic but having the local state-employed biologist make that pronouncement seemed a pretty good omen. One expert we ran into at the local Kansas donut shop said it was back to “pre-drought bird counts” and that too sounded like a good thing. Not to get melodramatic but 10+ hours of hunting through some of the most perfect habitat imaginable yielded a mere 2 coveys of quail. Two sweet bobs were taken, enough for a small appetizer. Anyway, we hunt with a terrific group of guys and always have a great time but the bird tide has got to turn. And I am sure it will! We have some great hunts on the calendar and this season is far from over. I did get some good photog and below are the pics . . .
Tex has his game face on!
My favorite Son-in-law, Kyle, and I went to Wyoming to hunt Hungarian Partridge, Chukar Partridge and Sage Grouse. First, you should know that the birds in Wyoming are WAY down. Three and a half days of hunting, 20+ miles of hiking and plenty of road hunting and we saw zero Huns, zero Chukar and only a few Sage Grouse. We were checked by a Wyoming game officer and he confirmed that this is a pretty dismal year for bird hunting. Not quite what I expected given that all the great plains states are no longer in a drought but the game officer thinks that these things go in cycles. I hope he is right and we look forward to better hunting in the future. Despite these depressing statistics, we had a terrific hunt. Kyle is a new bird hunter – he has not yet enjoyed a game rich hunt and he was elated when we succeeded on sage grouse. It was time well spent and a great hunt in all the categories that matter!
There is nothing like a Modelo Especial after a 4 hour hike of futility!
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.