In memory of Fowler: 10 May 2010 - 26 April 2023
Since you are reading this, it is a safe bet we are back in cold, dark, and wet Spokane and we are no longer in the business of shoveling sunshine and hunting quail in the high desert. I could make this the shortest recap ever: we had a great trip. But then that isn’t a lot of fun now, is it?
A week prior to heading South for the big Pheonix dog show, Jenna had gone to Oregon to help our friend Stacey. It was an eventful stay, and to say the least, Stacey was helped, as was Mr. Kim & Laura. A made for TV drama if there ever was one. As an added kicker, she contracted COVID and it hit her while on the 9-hour drive home.
Jenna did a turn and burn move, and we left with her having barely 24 hours at home. It is a full twenty-hour drive from Spokane to Pheonix, and all was going well until we were about five hours out – the VID hit me like a freight train, and I had to pull off the road. Driving was no longer possible for me. Day one I missed the dog show, then life began to return to me. We wore our masks, and stayed away from people, which was pretty easy to do at the enormous West World horse pavilion. Ila did pretty good in her Open shows, and Fizzy did well in all of hers, as we have come to expect. After the show cluster ended, we headed further South and got started with some desert quail hunting.
My buddy Jacob had invited us to check out an area he liked for desert quail, and it turned out to be an amazing time. In the low spots there were Gambles quail in abundance, on the ridges, there were plentiful numbers of Scaled quail. Wow! I even took a Scamble, a primarily Gambels quail with Scaled quail feathers on its chest – super cool! The different species in this location literally were a few yards apart in many places, very easy for overlapping and Scambling to happen. Good times were had, and we are still grateful for the opportunity to hunt such a cool place.
With the Mearns opener on the horizon and a hunting buddy from Spokane coming down to fulfill a lifelong goal of hunting Mearns quail – we were hyper focused on getting into birds. Not just hunting our usual coverts. But to continue something we started last year. Jacob and I had a friendly competition running on finding new and unique coveys. I had stopped marking coveys a long time ago, and had just hunted haphazardly here and there, and many times into the most rugged and insane habitat the birds would live in. A sure-fire way to find birds in the hard and down years. After a few friendly jabs, I started marking my covey finds last year. We ended that season with over 80 new to us finds, which was pretty cool. More importantly it got us thinking more deliberately about where we hunted, and how we hunted the areas we did hunt. We were never really keen on repeating hunts, even in the tough years, but this new game really got us thinking.
Jenna and I spend our summers training, showing, and fooling around with our dogs, but also, we have an unusual hobby of tracking rainfall for the areas we prefer to hunt in Arizona. Mearns quail populations are tied directly to the summer monsoons. So, knowing when and where the rain fell would likely help us to produce more finds. One might think this would be easy since rainfall data can be found with relative ease on the internet… but not if the primary area you hunt, over a million acres, doesn’t have any rain gauges! We use a myriad of odd sources, and spend time watching the active weather radar, which helps us to identify areas of interest. I then draw borders on these areas in OnX for us to go and investigate using boot leather.
This past season was a high-water mark with how extremely systematic we were with this approach. In all we located and identified over 140 new and unique coveys for us during our thirty days of Mearns hunting. We did hunt a few Old Hunts so our total covey count was a good bit higher, but what really interests us is the “new to us” category. It serves to validate our methodology and makes the exploration into the unknown even more rewarding. We rarely hunt past noon, that more or less makes us “half-day” hunters down there. Say what you will, but we aren’t there to make money. Making it back to the house by one or two in the afternoon to eat, shower, relax, and enjoy some of what the area offers is also part of the package for us. We are proud of what we do and how we do it, one or two dogs on the ground at a time, a casual pace, and short-ish days. If you are running three or four dogs at a time, doing a crew swap at lunch to have fresh dogs on the ground and hunting until dark – well, I’d hope you are finding more – better yet, do some better hitting and you’ll have to stop! Most folks I compare notes with find much fewer coveys and spend a good bit more time walking…but I digress.
We’ve also always kept a soft count on covey finds for each dog, but this year, and the number of birds we were finding got a little more serious in this department as well. The Leader Board Emerged. We established a few easy rules. Coveys would be counted even if the dog made errors, it just happens e.g. bumping. If we were running two dogs and they both pretty much tied into the covey at the same time both got credit. If one was on a covey first, they got solo credit, the backing/cooperating dog was along for the ride. We joked about figuring out a handicap in the event a dog with a bunch or errors passed a dog with few to none…it was close, but it didn’t happen. So, for now that will remain a project for another day.
You may find the results surprising. The Old Guy Fowler came in last, but also with the fewest days hunted by far, with 14 coveys. Tule was 4th with 15 coveys. The Queen of Mearns Hunting (8 seasons), Powder, came in 3rd, with 35 coveys. Ila was second with 51 coveys. Fizzy, in her 2nd hunting season, came in 1st with 54 coveys – also with the fewest errors by far!
What does it all really mean? Well, having several months to reflect on this I can say we had a grand time! We hunted with new and old friends, had dog work I couldn’t have dreamed of just a few years ago. I my shooting was always on point (that’s a joke kids), and at times it was the things that fuel the creation of colorful memes, but I also had days where my hitting was literally the stuff that gets written into song. If I never had a Mearns season like this past, at least I had it as an incredible high-water mark to remember contemplatively while enjoying some fine libations with the sun on my face.
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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.