Don’t let yourself turn off that alarm and rollover. It’s so easy to just hit snooze, sleep in a little and have a lazy morning watching premier league soccer with a warm cup of coffee. Especially on a solo outing, with no one to shame you into waking up and going. The onus is on you to honor the four legged member of your house with a day doing what she knows best. Lace up those boots in the dark, scrape the frost off the windshield, load the dog and the gun in the truck. I never regret leaving for a morning of hunting, fishing or skiing. When I take the easy road to the couch I often wonder on the day that could have been. As my friends would say you gotta “earn the couch”. I need to wonder less and wander more while I still have the legs to do it. Today we only had a few hours and so we left early, the early bird gets the worm, or the bird in this case.
It was cold when I opened the front door, a bitter and humid cold that gets into your bones. The light from my flashlight reflected off the jagged surface hoar that covered the ground in tiny crystalline spikes. The only one excited to head out into the dark cold morning was the dog, but when the gun case is out she’s always fired up rain, snow or shine. A molten cup of gas station coffee and stale donuts do wonders to my motivation and we were headed south to relatively warmer temperatures (around freezing).
Bouncing down the two-track had me happy that I chose to get up. The high desert was covered in a layer of frost, an ethereal sight not often seen in these parts. An hour later arrival and I would have missed it. That water has melted, evaporated or been absorbed by some crafty desert organism. The cool air had the dog running quick and the humid ground held scents that had her running nose down.
There are not many easy birds in Arizona so searching out areas without easy access is my favorite way to find them. Plus on a day out hunting the best thing to not see is another person, wide open and empty country. What makes the West great. The uphill, diurnal winds were pushing the warm valley air up onto the hillsides and into the dog’s nose. The first point of her day was on a covey that were a little over 100 feet downhill of us in a shallow mesquite covered swale. It took three seperate points before we were close enough to flush the birds. I didn’t get a shot on the flush but over the next ridge we found them again and I was able to get off two shots, missing all quail involved. While my shooting isn’t spectacular, the loose rocky hillside certainly didn’t help my case.
While still walking and cursing myself for the missed birds and a cottontail, the dog started showing a lot of interest in another draw. I’ve learned time and again to show interest in what the dog shows interest. I always need to remember why I got a bird dog, to find birds! Listen to the dog stupid! I finally remembered and sure enough, wild flushing birds. I missed one straggler but the dog was hot on the tails of the birds and she was quickly on to find singles. On the back side of the next ridge the GPS beeped “dog on point”. I hustled over to where she was and off flew the birds! I connected with my first shot, relief that I didn’t blow another great piece of work by the hound.
If you’ve ever tried to find a grey bird on the grey ground in a grey bush, you’ll be thankful for a dog with a good nose. After my first shot I told the dog, “Dead bird!” and she was off searching, nose to the ground. Within a minute or so I saw here head buried in a bush with flapping wings, she found it! She emerged proud as can be with a beautiful male gambels.
Good advice I’ve heard is to never leave a shot bird for the chance at another shot. Find the one you know is there before trying to find another bird to hunt. That obvious bush on the hillside where it went down won’t be so obvious in another few minutes. One in the hand is definitely worth a whole covey in the bush, especially when I’m shooting.
Once we had a bird down we were off to the other ridge where the covey split. There were around 15-20 birds in the covey so I figured we may get a shot at another as long as I followed the dogs nose. Sure enough the back side of the opposite ridge had the dog on point yet again. Three birds flushed and the first shot connected with the second shot missing not by much, almost my first double!
A hen this time, all soft greys edged in light tans, a beautiful sight to hold. Again the dog was instrumental in finding the bird, this one fell in some thick grey scrub and she drug it out for me. Luckily my dog is a hell of a hunter because I don’t amount to much on my own. With two birds taken from this covey I broke the barrels and started to hike out. Two birds is enough for a side dish to the meat I had thawing in the fridge at home and I’m looking forward to finding that covey and it’s new generation next season.
We walked out along an ephemeral road bed, closed many years ago and nearly fully reclaimed by the high desert. What was one a rutted out two track is now a mesquite covered swale. If that doesn’t give you a little hope I’m not sure what will, from road back to bird habitat.
By the time we made the truck my legs were feeling the hill and the dog hadn’t slowed a beat yet. Apparently she could have used a few extra miles, but when isn’t that the case? If I’d have slept in I would have missed it. Two beautiful grey birds, found by a strong running pointing dog and a break action 20 gauge in a frost covered desert. What a shame that would have been..