Well my friends, every once in a while it is imperative to go somewhere new. Venturing into the great unknown in pursuit of new adventure is always a many splendored endeavor. Uncertainty and apprehension are trumped by enthusiasm and impending joy that only comes from experiencing "firsts".
A good number of years ago a friend told me I should go to Arizona, where he grew up hunting birds before moving up this way to big game country. Back in high school I dreamed of hunting the quail of the deserts, and have hunted Valley quail a few times, bagged a small number of Mearns, and one heck of a pile of Scaled quail. However, I only had five Gambels to my name, taken near the home of friends on the Mexican border.
Over the past year or so, friends have pressured me to go to Arizona, mostly in the zone known primarily for Mearns. I pondered it seriously, but two things changed my mind-recent popularity combined with the fact that Covid time was making crowds grow most places...and the fact that the Mearns had a rough year. There were options for Gambels and Scaled quail not far from there and a friend who stayed with me for sage grouse back in September almost talked me into it.
But then I remembered Chad's stories, stories of country he knew well. One of these spots was entirely public for quite some distance and not known for drawing crowds. Was it the best hunting in Arizona? I doubt it, but it was more than good enough for me, especially considering the dove bonus.
Shortly after Christmas I loaded what little I needed to camp under the topper on my Ford Ranger and headed south, with Mr. Rusty, the Cogswell 16, and the Derby 28 ga.
I fell in love with the country there (so varied!). I fell in love with the Gambels quail too, even if they only take flight to cool their feet. Seriously, I think the only reason they have wings is to fan their burning toes. Rusty makes them fly though, and they go like bees! So much excitement. Add four afternoons of "dove blizzards" before that season closed and what we have is a home run. Shooting a double consisting of a mourning dove with the right barrel and a rooster Gambels with the other barrel was pretty cool too.
I hunted eight days, which means I froze for ten nights in the back of the truck. Worth it? Yep. However, back home, when I realized that after two days of work, I had nearly two weeks until the next work day, I wrapped up a magazine article and headed back!
I ventured back home through the famed Monument Valley (and scenic points north), where all of those great John Ford films that featured John Wayne were filmed. Wow! Really neat stuff. The coolest? Not sure, but seeing my road seemingly dead end in the side of a cliff then realizing that I was about to drive up switchbacks on the face of the cliff ranks pretty high. I will include photos of these places too. Some of you will recognize Hat Rock from the Roadrunner-Wile E. Coyote theatrical shorts produced during the golden age of animation. Yep, the place actually exists, Maurice Noble's wild backgrounds sometimes came from imagery of real places.
This time I burned a hole in my wallet and pulled the camper south with the '79 Ford. Yes, I know the pictures show a '76 but guess what? The grilles are all interchangeable on that body style, so it lies to you. Sleeping and resting in a camper between hunts was so much nicer. I added the Fox 16, a Win 23 in 20 ga. (which I never got around to using), and kept the Cogswell in the rotation since it is definitely my favorite quail gun now.
Weather was a bit wet the second go around, great for dog work but lousy for wearing glasses and not fun when things got muddy. Thankfully, it wasn't always raining. The mud of course was drying very fast, at first. After 6 days, the mud wasn't drying so fast and the forecast called for three solid days of rain. Cats like rain more than I do. The big concern was snow, several feet worth, about to arrive, starting just north of camp. I was looking at being stranded and pulled out early. I left early, but not quite early enough.
I almost stayed 20 miles north when I found 3" of snow near another location known for good quail hunting, a dream come true. Then I thought about the fact that I would soon be hunting in 12-15" of snow without my deep snow boots/ pants (something I stitched up with breathable wader legs). Wet snow. The kind that men sink in and quail stay on top of. Bad idea, keep going. I ended up towing the camper in four wheel drive for nearly 200 miles before getting north of the storm, ahead of the real heavy stuff...barely. At one point I did see truly big snow flakes falling, like silver dollar size. I was glad to get out of that.
Overall, Arizona was everything I ever hoped it would be. I hated paying so much for the license, but there is a silver lining to that. The license is good for 365 days from date of purchase. Yes sir, I plan to go back next winter. Now for the photos you all have been waiting for, a tidal wave of them.
This first photo has a story. 30 years ago, Grandma brought me this shirt when she visited family who used to live in one of towns nearest to where I camped. It is faded, and getting worn around the edges. I still wear the shirt to this day. It only seemed appropriate to take it with me.
Something else with a story, that I do not know, is the little memorial out in the desert, a tribute to three men who loved quail. Toward the end of the sets of photos you will see these. Anybody know more about these "Quailmen"?
Last edited by WyoChukar on Mon Feb 08, 2021 12:06 am; edited 3 times in total _________________ Only catch snowflakes on your tongue AFTER the birds fly south for the winter...
Joined: 17 Mar 2017
Location: Endless Mountains of Pa
Simply fantastic photography, I love the pictures of the Quail flying over the desert.
From what I understand the Quailmen were from my generation, they hunted all over Arizona and New Mexico. They were pretty much a south west legend, I believe there were 5 of them all together. I never was fortunate enough to run into them, I mostly Mearns Quail hunted in AZ, while stationed at Ft Huachuca. I agree the Gambles Quail only fly when absolutely necessary, great that Rusty would put them up for you quickly.
Fantastic you found their markers, I was almost convinced that they really did not exist, and that the legend really was not true, fantastic to know they really did exist and were very serious sportsman.
all the best,
L.C. Smith Man
Last edited by Pine Creek/Dave on Sun Mar 21, 2021 4:48 pm; edited 4 times in total _________________ "L.C. Smith America's Best" - John Houchins
Joined: 18 Aug 2010
Location: Ballymoney Northern Ireland
Wonderful, this post made my day , my car was reading 0 degrees this morning when I parked at work and our shed was Baltic so this warmed me up a bit .
Nice t- shirt I have a few faded ones myself and I did recognize hat rock from the roadrunner cartoons , it's good to see it fixed up again I'm sure I can remember it getting toppled over with some Dynamite at one point.
Seriously though it looks like you had a great time and thanks again for sharing your trip with us guys . WJ.
Joined: 19 Jan 2019
Location: Idaho & South Dakota
Enjoyed the photos. The desert is amazing country. Surprising how cold nights are! I used to spend winters in AZ team roping. Carhartt coveralls were standard roping attire after the sun went down.
Finding the markers was very interesting!
_________________ "A gun should be a thing of beauty, something which gives its owner pride and pleasure. For that reason, most men will buy the best gun they can afford. With a good gun on his arm, a man becomes a sporting gentleman, both on the field and off."
Joined: 17 Jan 2014
Location: Denver, Colorado
Brings back some great memories! Hunted Gambel quail back at the turn of the last century while working on a big job in Phoenix. I was stuck down there over several weekends for several months and made the best of it. Didn't have the greatest guns there (was concerned about the security of my little apartment so I only used more entry-level stuff). No matter, the Sonoran desert is like hunting on another planet. Wore heavy Orvis chaps to keep from getting beat-up from the cactus and catsclaw and still had to extract spines from my legs later. Snakes were a significant challenge at times as well. No matter, everything seemed so exotic to me. The geology, the flora, and of course, the fauna was amazing.
_________________ 'Tis better to burn out than it is to rust......
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