It’s a short-form world out there, 280 characters or less. It needs to be easily seen and digested. Throw nuance out the window and replace it with a picture and a few words. The same can be said about how we pass the time, flip a switch and along comes instant gratification. No time invested equals no sense of frustration when it doesn’t shake out quite as you dreamed up.

Not much easy walking in these parts, spines everywhere

Then comes training a bird dog to hunt with you. There is nothing short-form about it. Every part of it requires patience and a lot of effort. The analog hold over in a digital world. There are some things where the technology hasn’t made the hunt any easier. It’s a place where walking around after a dog is still the most efficient option and no new technology is around to find birds for you. Just your feet, the dog and her nose.

The last few hunts out have come with some success, after a half a season of trudging through AZ’s backcountry it has started to come together. Most of the reason it has taken so long to come together is on my end. Whether it was learning to trust the dog, get us to the right places or improve my shooting. Luckily for me the dog came into the season firing on all cylinders, running well, holding her points and using her nose. The number of times I’ve not shot well or taken a point as seriously as I should have has been far too many. Recently though we have started to get into our groove.

December is a small game hunters dream in Arizona with all species of quail coming into season as the month progresses; as well as late season dove and rabbits frequently encountered all over the state. This along with plentiful public land access allows for some incredible days out.

Refueling stop at a rain filled drinker

We broke the streak when Sage found some doves along the edge of a stand of juniper trees and I was fortunate enough to take one as they flushed from the trees. After a few shouts to refocus her on finding the bird she quickly had it in her mouth and trotted towards me with her tail wagging furiously. A very proud moment.

She’s giving her ‘it’s about time’ look

About a week later we ventured south again with an extra friend, Mark. The day began fast with Mark taking a dove on the wing and slowed down after that initial excitement. We were thinking of heading back to the truck but saw a tank with water in it at the bottom of a draw about 300 feet underneath the ridge we were standing on. With a few ‘Why nots’ we headed down the draw towards the tank. Mark was able to hit a dove leaving the tank and we decided to head back to the truck. On our way up we stopped to look around and were surrounded by whirring wings and a quail seemingly sprung out of the ground around our feet.

Moving up below a tank
Wide open space in quail country
Very western find

Following the birds up into a rocky outcropping Sage locked up on a clump of scrub oak and I hurried up to her. After thoroughly kicking my way around and through the bush nothing came out and the dog had trotted to a group of yucca just down wind of the bush wagging her tail animatedly. As soon as I turned my back on the bush a whirr of wings and I reacted too slow to the quail leaving the brush. Turning to shoot after the bird I only managed to salute the bird as it winged its way over the hill. I must have kicked within a foot or so of the bird and it stayed rock still, these desert birds have me constantly amazed!

Here there be quail

After a few more missed shots from both of us, Mark thought he may have hit one that turned hard behind a juniper but wasn’t sure. We briefly looked for feathers and saw none. Looking around for the dog she has about 100 feet downhill and had her head buried in a colossal compound of prickly pear. I rushed over and saw she had cornered the quail in the cactus. It took some doing but we were able to haul the dog away from the cactus and work our way into the bird. I grabbed the bird and was rewarded with spines in my shins and arms. I can’t put into words how proud I was of Sage tracking down that bird because without her we wouldn’t have stood a chance finding that bird.

Sage after finding Mark’s bird
Beautiful male Gambel’s Quail (excited to use these feathers on some flies!)

It was a happy walk back to the truck with thoughts already turned towards the next time out and where we should go (and dinner). It is an exciting thing to go out with a dog that’s working well and finding birds. I have to say it has been more than worth all of the time and effort put into training Sage and in turn her training us. While short-form is all around, it is certainly worth finding the long-form.

Game bird poppers ready to head into the oven

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