Monday, January 12, 2009

Two Weeks: Texas Quail Hunting, Day 1

Last spring I was watching K-State try to put a second lick in a season on KU's basketball team when my phone rang. It was Chuck Wilson, Ike's breeder, dog man, quail enthusiast, and the proprietor of White Rock Kennels, located in Waco, TX. He was calling to check in on Ike as other pups out of that breeding had been doing very well, and he was interested in having a look at Ike for a potential breeding. Nine months later we sealed a date to hunt quail on Chuck's quail lease southwest of Wichita Falls.

My buddy Wes and his setter accompanied us through two days of hunting in Kansas beforehand, and then the two days in Texas. We met up with Chuck and a friend of his, their two sons, and dog trainer Keith Hickham, just south of Wichita Falls. We awoke early and arrived at the lease as the sun was rising. They do quail hunting a little different in Texas and it was pretty amazing to see the material investment. Right now I'm kicking myself for not taking some pictures of the setup, impressive as it was. Before I could even collar both my dogs, Chuck and company made magically appear about 20 dogs, mostly setters, from his trailer and K-Mule boxes. While on the chain gang they took some water in the cool and dry desert air; it was going to be a warm one.

A few minutes later and we had loaded 8 dogs in the K-Mule with Ike and another on the ground. Chuck, Keith, Wes, and myself all rode in the K-Mule while the other three volunteered to walk. At first I figured the three volunteers were eager to shoot some birds, but later I figured out they just wanted to do their walking during the coolest part of the day. Can't say I blame them.

Chuck had only hunted the lease one other time, on the opener, and only managed to move a few coveys of birds. He reported the cover as being thick and very green. This time the cover looked great and I was very optimistic. The K-Mule navigated the cactus and mesquite while we hunted the edge down a drainage. We followed in the Mule about 80 yards behind the walkers, Keith keeping a sharp eye for his sylish dog on the ground, and I for Ike. After a while Ike made what Chuck called a "look and see" cast to the front and over a hill. I was able to rattle off his range using the Astro, "he's over three...approaching four...beyond six..., there's 700 yards..." Eventually he got to another drainage and hunted that down to rendezvous with us again. It was apparent he was footsore from already hunting two days, and with the warmer weather he got put up after only 45 minutes or so. No matter, we had plenty of dogs to run.

The morning produced only a couple coveys despite plenty of legs on the ground; even when we found birds, the hot and dry conditions hampered any decent dog work. When we broke for lunch I had to put on the A/C in my truck, and the high reached a scorching 82 degrees! Sound familiar?

We returned after lunch and loaded some fresh dogs in the K-Mule and decided to look at some new cover--might as well, this pasture was 8,000 acres, so we could afford to be picky. The one thing all the coveys we found in the morning had in common was that they were near water, close to the lowest of the low terrain. So, we used that knowledge to focus our search.

One thing I should mention, out of the 20 or so dogs that Chuck and Keith brought along, the vast majority were less than 3 years old. Neither of them picked up a gun the entire time; it was their complete focus to get young dogs into birds. We all have our motivations for hunting birds, putting in the time, money, emotion, etc. It was obvious Chuck's big payoff is when puppies win, when they put it all together, sort hot from cold scent, point, relocate, hold steady, and the bird is put up and shot. I like to see it, too. I wish I could hunt a puppy every season, just to watch the progress and, finally, the big payoff. There's nothing like it.

Hunting the drainages offered some challenges. The biggest was navigating the K-Mule to where we wanted to hunt. There were plenty of small ditches just a couple feet across, cut by the rains throughout the years. They were deep enough to prevent the K-Mule from crossing, so we'd get to one and end up going uphill until we could get across. However, we did find a larger ditch that we were able to cross, simply amazing machines.

The tactic of hunting the creek bottoms paid off and we were able to move a few more coveys that afternoon, although the conditions remained tough for dog work, and it became obvious bird numbers were well below the norm. As we were riding the Mule we came across an interesting tree with a prickly pear cactus growing out of it.

The forecast called for a cold front to sweep through that evening, and Wes and I were amped for conditions that were closer to what we were used to in Kansas. We would have them...

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