You might think with six weeks of hunting lined up we would be wiped out and ready to come home by the end. If you did, you would be mistaken. I did have to miss a day of hunting to retrieve Robert for his Christmas break visit with us, and we elected to take the following day off to do family things. We did have a few days of heavy rainfall threatening to take a day away from us, but it all worked out and we made at least a short hunt work somewhere.
As mentioned, it was a big trip, with 6,606 miles driven in total, 3,498 of which were put in over 39 days of hunting. The dogs smashed 165 pounds of dog food and we hiked 180.44 miles in the pursuit of these little birds. We made new friends, had some good times with old friends.
It was clear many of the coveys had late hatches. In the early season, several birds that had been harvested were surprisingly small, covered with copious amounts of pin feathers and even bare chests! Oh my, if only we had been able to “shoot and release”, some were so small. This only reinforced our normal hunting practice of hunting only covey rises, doing what we could to deliberately leave singles and flushed birds be where they were and move on to the next. This tactic worked well for us overall, and we managed to locate 83 unique coveys of Mearns quail during our time.
The dog-by-dog report:
Fowler: did his typical work, which is to say, he did a nice job. Sure, he’s almost twelve now and he’s slowed down a bit. But his nose still works, and if he smelled them, he had them. He found his fair share of birds, made nice points, and of course did a fine job of locating and retrieving downed birds.
Powder: had another great Mearns season even though she started this season very overweight and out of shape due to the late season Singleton she gave birth to. We had also hoped to work her using the Higgin’s Method to improve a few elements of her performance, namely steadiness after the flush/shot, but that too was sidelined by a bad shoulder injury and then her pregnancy. Despite losing that opportunity Powder crushed her eighth Mearns season. Moreover, she has done a fantastic job of teaching our other dogs the ways of the Mearns given her deliberate and consistent style of working and reliable points.
Tule: had a banger early season and upon retrospect we made some errors that didn’t help her end on the note she deserved. Tule ended her summer wonderfully steady and cooperating with our other dogs with a remarkably high level of fidelity. She was a total rock star for me while guiding at Sage Canyon Outfitters. The key was, we believe, she hunted with our dogs. Dogs she knew and trusted. Dogs managed in our way or the Higgin’s way. We thought she was ready to hunt with others, and well, we were wrong. As her Mearns season progressed her performance slackened. It was unfortunate and it’s on us 100%. We will get right by her this coming summer!
Ila: man, she had a rough go of it. She had a disproportionate number of hunts that held little to no birds. We even back hunted a number of those areas with her mother to again come up empty handed. Her performance was good, she did her job. But after so many dry outings it seemed to affect her confidence towards the end. As a side note, I so desperately wanted to capture video of her work for my mentor, and somehow it translated to my worst work with my GoPro, ever. And that is saying something. A videographer I am not. I recorded countless hours of the inside of my pack mostly… Jenna did begin to record us occasionally with her phone towards the end. Ila’s feet are as if set in concrete on a covey rise, and after shots are made. She even caught a quail on a covey rise without moving a foot! Ila also did great work on her ‘alright’ queue, which is the opportunity to relocate or even flush when given the queue, little more than a step or two mostly just to observe the bird flying away – just fantastic. We were frustrated for Ila. Overall, she did the work one would expect when there was work to be done from dog that will hopefully soon become a recognized Higgins Gundog. We intend to expand upon her Field skills this summer, again using only Higgins/LIMA methods. I am excited!
Fizzy: now here is our success story. We started her with the Higgins System as a young pup, and she did great. Maybe a little too well. She very quickly and easily became steady to release with essentially no effort. Then she kinda seemed to stop caring about birds. With that we backed off and focused on letting her be a puppy. Not that the Higgins Method uses high pressure or the use of any lightning to get the job done. It just happened to be too much too fast for her, and we needed her to ‘love’ birds more. Fizzy started her Mearns season following, but not dogging our more experienced dogs. Due to Powder & Folwer’s pronounced stalking behavior, and me making improvements in consistency with my handling she just began to naturally co-hunt with and back them. From her earlier exposure, she knew putting up birds never pays the bills. She was a killer on singles, the only dog we intentionally hunted on flushed birds. As season progressed, she began to work more independently until one day I blew her off, opting to pay attention to Fowler & Powder. Fizzy had the covey, but overcooked it, and found herself in the middle of them when they flew. She stood there and watched them fly. As the birds flew off, I called her over and praised her for returning. After that, she knew the deal with coveys. When in doubt hang back and point. She went on to have a killer puppy season and we look forward to finishing her out the Higgins Way this summer.
My mom and son visited for the holidays; we did some cool stuff and saw lots of rainbows. I caught a flushing bird in my hand! It was a good trip, and it all went by far too quickly. We are already looking forward to our return. Until then take care,
Brian & Jenna
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I'm just a guy suffering with an infatuation with gundogs since childhood. Forty some years later this is what you get.