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New and Improved

On the brink of the New Year, my mind wanders over the past 80 or so posts and I ask the inevitable question of what am I doing and where is this blog going. I have had numerous encouragements and proposals on what to do with my little world that I have created for myself and my valued readers. As my thoughts began to build into dreams of grandeur, I want to be careful and stay away from the pretentious mindset that my words are gold and everyone is hanging on my every post. At the same time, my number of readers is graciously growing and I wish to provide them with needed content and services.

With that stated, I have updated my site and domain name. All new content can be found on AZWanderings.com. Several plans are in the works and over the next weeks and months, regular readers will begin seeing some more changes to the site and additions to the content. The new site’s layout was constructed by my brother (JSumnerdesigns.com) who worked tirelessly to get things ship shape.  A new review page has been added that will slowly and honestly chronicle some of my favorite pieces of equipment that see regular use. I have also had several requests from readers to purchase a few of the flies that I tie which I take as a huge honor. Always content to tie for myself and friends, I relish the opportunity to offer one or two patterns for sale in the near future in order to gauge interest.

In conclusion, the support and kindness of my readers is invaluable to me. The whole idea of Arizona Wanderings was nothing more than a simple family communication device that has grown and become an exciting project for me that never strays far from my thoughts. I do not consider myself an expert or an authority, but instead a simple man who wishes to enjoy the outdoors and participate in the outdoor community.

Thank you as always and see you on the new site,

Ben

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Gambel's Hen

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.

Mossberg

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.

Quail Country

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.

Male and Female

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.

While I wait for the waters up north to calm down and return to a fishable state, I thought I would brag a little on how kind Christmas was to me. So in order to hold myself over until the next time I hit the water or the cactus strewn hillsides, here is a brief look at the quality items Santa brought me. I have had my eye on a new BBS reel from Orvis to upgrade my old reel that was broken and line that had large chunks taken out of it. The sweetest wife in the world found it easy to shop for me this Christmas.

Much needed upgrade for the 3 weight

As an avid reader, my Amazon wish list grows almost every time I am on the computer. This selection shows a heavy influence of John Gierach but also a Walt Prothero wild card showed up (arguably one of my favorite authors).

Updating the Library

My sister-in-law went above and beyond to make the perfect gift for a helpless fly fisherman and reader. This bookmark will definitely be utilized in my marathon of reading ahead.

Homemade "Adams" bookmark

With all of the traveling that my wife and I do back to New York, fly tying get-to-gethers, or a couple day trip up north, having my fly tying gear with me can be really convenient. I had eyeballed this Fishpond bag for quite a while but had never made mention of it to anyone. My in-laws really went above and beyond with this gift.

Fishpond fly tying travel kit

I have had an old foam target that when my wife said “I do” made the trip to our new backyard. It has raised some eyebrows, and the new puppy has really taken a liking to it. In the end it is still usable but life expectancy is not much longer. This new target will hopefully keep me in shape for the javelina season coming up.

My new lawn ornament

Another quality gift from the in-laws to keep my hands warm during our bone-chilling Arizona winters (but seriously it does get cold here.).

Winter Gloves

I do not know what my brother was trying to say, but it might be that my hunting game could use a little work. If you have not had the opportunity to play the Wii and especially the Wii hunting game, it will change your life.

Staying in shape during the off season...

My mom handed down one of my father’s old tie clips. I wear a tie maybe a half dozen times a year, but this clip will be worn at each of those occasions. This truly is a special gift that I will cherish and hopefully someday pass on to one of my boys.

Sentimental value

After this post, I think I will go do some damage at Cabelas. My wife thinks it is a real shame that the blasted store is so close…

One can never go wrong with...

Gambel's Quail

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.

Sunrise

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.

Cactus Jungle

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.

Last pig of the herd was all I could capture on film...

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.

Arizona Landscape

The footprint of my quarry...

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.

A workingman's gun...

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.

Water...

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.

A brief pause...

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.

Standard on any quail chase...

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.

The path...

Tools of the Trade

Spent a short morning in the field with good friends and plenty of birds in the air. Dove season is back on and there were no lack of hunters or birds out for the reopening weekend in Arizona. All four of us limited out (some faster than others) and made quick work of cleaning the birds. Dove is not my favorite game bird by any stretch of the imagination, but one of the guys cooks up a mean dove sausage. It was good to get out and dust the rust off of my shooting which is always in need of practice.

Signs of success

Morning

I spent Saturday with a hunting rifle slung over my shoulder picking my way through hillsides of cat-claw. The search was for a mule deer buck which have an uncanny way of disappearing into the endless miles of rolling hills and jagged landscape. Most of the day was spent hunkered down staring through a pair of binoculars in search of something moving. Having grown up in New York and Pennsylvania hunting deer, the spot and stalk style of western hunting has taken a bit of getting used to.  For the first couple of years in Arizona, I had an extremely difficult time spotting animals. Practice makes perfect and although perfection has definitely not been achieved, I have been able to glass more successfully the longer I am at it.

The Countryside

As the sun started to shed light on the surrounding hillsides, my morning opened up to a herd of javelina being chased by three coyotes. Watching the scene unfold before me was one of the most interesting and intriguing experiences of my life. As I saw these javelina scurrying in every direction and getting lost into the brush with coyotes hot on their heels, it took me back to the years of my youth and the movie The Lion King. Very “circle-of-life-ish” After working my way over several hillsides, I had just finished up grid searching a hillside and repositioned myself to check the hill across the canyon. As I turned, I saw movement through the thick cat-claw and as I drew my binoculars to my eyes, all I could see was antlers. The large mule deer paused several times and looked around, but did not appear spooked as he disappeared over the ridge. I quickly gathered my belonging, made a game plan and made a beeline for interception. Long story short, I made it to my intended destination out of breath and having walked through a mile of the thorniest terrain in AZ and could not find my intended target.

Arizona Sunset

It was enough to get my heart pumping and made for a positive day spent in the field. As I bounced my way out of the backcountry, I was grateful for another beautiful Arizona sunset that never seem to get old no matter how many I see. For a late season hunt I was just happy to see animals, but after seeing such big antlers on a desert deer, I could not help but being a little disappointed about going home empty handed. Next time…

Next time out, maybe I'll go fishing...

 

Bacon wrapped quail with a garlic clove tucked in the breast...Nothing else to say but delicious...

Opening Day

The second day of quail season found me side-hiking a hill trying to keep my feet under me without making an enormous amount of noise. This is much more difficult than it sounds in the cactus filled canyons outside of Phoenix. I was joined by my good friend Austin early in the morning and we bounced our way through a mesquite filled wash to a canyon located off the beaten path. This particular canyon is located inside a wilderness area which is means no quads or ranger which in the end means not too many other hunters are going to be wandering into this area. When we exited the truck on the wilderness boundry, our ears where filled with the coos and calls of quail all around us. After loading up at 6 am, we stumbled over and flushed more birds than we could count.

First bird of the day...

Birds began to fall quickly to our 12 gauges, but it appears I am not the better shot. Austin limited out while I ended the day with 5 birds in the vest. In my defense, I piled up several birds but was unable to find them (even as I write this I know it sounds weak).  In a desert where every crevice and rock is guarded by a wide array of thorned plants, quail have a unique way of escaping underground never to be found again. By ten o’clock, the sun was hot and we were running out of water, so we turned our course back to the truck.

Wilderness Area...

The little canyon was simply brimming with birds and the early morning was perfect weather for hiking and shooting, but unfortunately the Arizona desert heated quickly under a hot October sun. I appreciate the close proximately to home that quail hunting affords me, but I think that I will be waiting till the weather abates and the fishing turns off. Hopefully, I will be pointing the truck towards the Rim in the near future and take advantage of the cooling fall weather to chase some bigger browns on those crystal streams.

Final Bird

The Canyon

Deer season started Friday while I was busy at work, but my stands have been set for a couple of weeks to allow nature to get back to normal. I drove up early Saturday morning to try and sneak in before the sun peaked over the ridge. I had set up two stands, one a tree stand and the other a pop-up blind. Truthfully speaking, I really enjoy hunting out of the blind better due largely to the concealment factor. I make it a point to sit almost all day and I like to read, drink water, fidget, and lay down for several power naps without worrying about my movement throughout the day. So as I pulled my truck up to walk to my stand I notice another truck already parked along the road. As I walk down the beat up ATV path, I come across another truck and about the spot I would turn into the woods towards my blind, another truck is parked with 4 guys gearing up, talking loudly, and having a beer…at 5 in the morning. I made an executive decision to turn around and sit in the tree stand, but already my day felt ruined. My best laid plans had gone awry and my spirit was greatly deflated. A long story short, the only wildlife I saw was a pack of blue jays which squawked so loud all morning it gave me a headache. I sat until 11 when the sun was high in the sky and I decided to make another change of plans.

I was on the water by noon, fly rod in hand and a smile on my face. It was a Saturday, the Rim was crowded with weekenders, and I had the small stream completely to myself. The fish were eager and hungry even during the hot midday of August and the mini hopper proved again to be extremely effective. I fished every pool slowly, taking my time, until the monsoon rain opened up a few hours later. I took shelter under the large pines that guard this creek and as I stood waiting and watching, I took stock of my situation in life and wondered again why God continues to bless me in every way. I have a beautiful wife who does not raise her eyebrows when I tell her I am going fishing or hunting, I have a job I enjoy, I have a roof over my head and food in my belly, and I am standing next to a beautiful mountain creek catching wild fish on dry flies. God is good and I thank him for these things.

Lesson of the day: Always bring your fly rod when you go hunting, just don’t expect to hunt too hard.