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The crack of the 20 gauge split the morning silence and as I gathered the plump Gambel’s hen, I could not help but smile. Normally when tromping through the desert I like to have the heavier 12 gauge which I know has a little more “umff” and, when the birds are spooking farther, can really prove advantageous. Since my decision was last minute, I was out of shells for the 12 and decided to take the smaller 20 gauge for which I had a few more boxes laying around. The 20 gauge is a Mossberg 500CT and will never win any beauty contests. Whenever I show up to hunt with some buddies, it always raises a few eyebrows and looks of disdain. Sure it has more than a few nicks and scratches and sure after every use I have to tighten up the stock so it stops wiggling, but this shotgun has sentimental value, as most older “well loved” guns often do. This particular scattergun used to be my grandfather’s who I am guessing put most of the signs of use into the gun. It was passed to my father who ultimately passed it on to me. Every once in a while, like yesterday, it is nice to break out a classic and go hunt some birds.
The weather held cool and sunny and made for perfect walking weather. Early in the morning, I hunted several large coveys and pulled a couple birds from these groups. These large coveys were scattering far ahead of me and took some stealth to get into a respectable distance. Birds were very vocal and there were several times that I had to stop and try and isolate the closest group of birds which was actually difficult with all of the birds calling at once.
I hunted several ridges out into the desert and then swung around to hunt several adjoining ridges back. The style of hunting changed dramatically and I think it was due to both the hunting pressure that the two different ridges receive and the hour of the day. Regardless, instead of large coveys flushing many yards out, birds were sitting in singles and doubles and would flush literally at my feet. I imagine that this style of hunting is more in tune with the rest of the country’s bird hunting or how it would be to hunt with pointing dogs. Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed jumping several different sets of birds and bagging a couple in the process.
This will probably be the last quail hunt for me in the 2010 calendar year. I did not do as much quail hunting as I normally would and I think it is safe to blame fly fishing for that. I have been getting geared up for another archery javelina season and I hope to avoid another pig-less debacle like last year. Several new elements are coming to the Arizona Wanderings site and should be going into effect in these next few days. Please check back often and bear with me as I get everything up and running.
The weather has been a little bit funky here in Arizona and my Christmas break is being threatened by rain and snow in the high country. In spite of the predicted elements, my good friend Pete and I loaded up the truck hastily made our way to Red Rock Country and the fabled Oak Creek. While driving creekside, we caught glimpses of a high, turbulent, and off color torrent that did not look very fishable. Regardless, we had made the drive and were not easily deterred. I had brought my 5 weight knowing that with high winds predicted, I would need a little backbone to cut through the wind and throw some heavier streamers.
With no insect activity, I opted to strip a simi-seal bugger through the first pool and on my third cast through the pool, saw a large head engulf my fly. Luck was on the fishes side and he spit my fly quickly. After several more pools, hook-ups, and fly changes, I rigged up a mini hopper and a copper john variant and drifted it several times through a likely lie. I was extatic with a firm hit on the dropper and was soon cradling a gorgeous Oak Creek Brown trout. I always feel extremely blessed when catching brown trout out of this section of Oak Creek, because I know that these fish see so many fishermen and their offerings.
As I continued fishing I saw a few sporadic rises, but the high, milky water made it difficult to fish small dries that wold match the small winter bugs that were hatching. Occasionally a bigger specimen would fly by and tempt me to tie on something smaller but I refrained.
Making my way upstream, I found myself again stripping a leach through a larger pool and had several larger hits on the streamer. On one last try, a strong fish nailed the fly and head shook his way to my net. At this point I was feeling very lucky as I held this football of a brown for a quick photo.
With half a dozen pools left before our access point to leave, the day began to get colder. Thankfully, the inclement weather had held off and no precipitation ruined our day. As I followed the course of the stream I came upon an extremely long pool with several obstructions in the center of the pool. I worked the lower section of the pool with my bugger and had several fish follow it in but ultimately refuse it. While contemplating my next move, a fish rose and sent large ripples radiating to the banks of the stream. I quickly tied on a #16 parachute Adams, said a little prayer, and dropped a perfect cast just to the side of his previous rise. Within moments, the trout nonchalantly sipped the dry and I was latched into a large fish. Luckily, I had my 5 weight and was able to muscle the fish away from several large rocks and half submerged logs and stabbed my net a fish that could barely fit inside of it. I had heard of large fish in Oak Creek and have spooked and occasionally tied into some, but have never been successful at getting one to hand. After this fish, I did not need to fish the rest of the day. This is one of those times I wished I had a measuring tape, so without going into guessing on numbers, all I will say is that it was a big fish.
Streamers, nymphs, and dries all seemed to be the ticket for the day. The high water conditions made it some of the toughest and most frustrating fishing but the outcome of the day was extremely rewarding. Quality day spent on the water with good company is a great way to spend time off from work.
The weather report prophesied cloudy skies and a chance of rain, not really the perfect start to my first day of winter break. I decided instead of risking the treacherous drive into my favorite spot, I would check out a new area that was more accessible and see what it held. Rain dotted my windshield, and I fought the urge to just turn around and go back to bed. In the end, I am pleased that I persevered, because as I put the truck in park the sprinkling stopped. I donned my vest, marked the coordinates of my truck, checked my water supply, and set out. The morning started eerily quiet and I walked about a mile before I heard the Gambel’s waking up.
The walking is never easy nor quiet on the crunchy desert floor, but the recent rain kept my footfalls relatively quiet. Even though this area is more traveled than a couple of my other spots, there was no shortage of birds. They were a little spooky and it took great care in getting close enough for shooting range. I ended up with three birds in the game vest, but I rolled two more that I searched high and low for but could not locate. Credit must be given to the Gambel’s quail. They are some of the most rugged birds that even when downed never quit. Usually after I have a bird on the ground, I waste no time in moving right in for many times even though mortally wounded, they still have enough kick to flop or run into a crevice or into a bush, never to be seen again.
While after the quail, other wildlife was in abundance. I jumped 3 different herds of javelina and upset a wild burro with my bird hunting. The javelina scattered as they usually do, but it was nice to see several piglets in the mix. Unfortunately, my January javelina tag is in another unit or I would take advantage of hunting pigs this close to town.
At this point, I have a nice batch of birds in the freezer that will make a perfect feast, once a few more are added to their ranks. Hunting Gambel’s quail is extremely rewarding even when the amount of birds taken home is small. I cannot help but admire their beauty and tenacity for survival in such a harsh climate. With this nice break from teaching, I am hoping to get into some fish on the Rim, but I will be back chasing some birds shortly.
With a busy weekend ahead and one more week of school before Christmas break, I opted to stay in town and see how the desert looked. I had not been after quail since opening weekend and as I entered the dry wash and rumbled my way to the spot, I pondered how broken up many of the coveys would be. The season has been open for going on three months and often at this point many of the birds are so skittish it can be difficult to get into range. As I parked the truck and and gulped down the last of my coffee, I could not hear a single bird calling. With this less than advantageous start, I began slowly picking my way through cat-claw and palo verde trees, and as the sun began to peak over the hills, the birds slowly started to wake up. Even though I located many different coveys, the birds were definitely on edge and I had to take great care in moving slowly and quietly in order to begin closing the gap.
The morning ended with several birds in the game bag and more than a few miles put on the boots. It was pleasant wandering through a familiar area and checking on the usual spots. There was a considerable amount of water in the several springs that I checked and there were plenty of birds in the desert.
Even though fly fishing has quickly taken over my life and thoughts, chasing quail around the desert is very rewarding. Without a bird dog, my mornings usually consist of locating a vocal covey, stalking in to an acceptable distance, and then letting it rip. After breaking up a covey, I visually follow their flight path and make haste to catch up. After one or two times of this, the birds tend to get real quiet and during these brief intermissions, I enjoy the moment and usually have a seat in the shade while the quail catch their breath. The desert can be extremely beautiful during these restful moments.
This serenity is generally forgotten as I mistakenly blunder my way through a patch of jumping cactus, hence the reason I carry tweezers in my bird vest.
I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who once said, “A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be your constant companion of your walks.” Now, in no way do I consider myself exceptionally strong and I do like a good football game, but I think Jefferson was definitely on to something.