Yes, you read Part I right, Ila didn’t get to go Chukar hunting. Not quite a year and a half old, she still has to pass her OFA exams, prelims or not, and Fowler had been nursing a sore wrist. They were going to get to hunt Valley Quail. Sure, we have them in our surrounding areas at home, but not in places where you can hunt them mostly. In fact, one of the best indicators of Prime Valley Quail habitat is – can they be hunted here or not? If it’s legal, odds are you will not see them, and if you do, they will be like an apparition – did you really see what you thought you saw? If it’s not legal, the little winged turds will strut around with reckless abandon. Some say their call sounds like Chi-ca-go, all I hear is Suck-it-Monkey.
Jenna is becoming an adept habitat researcher. Juggling OnX, Google Earth, researching various blogs (seriously, I have no idea how she finds this stuff), and heaven only knows what. She decreed, “we need to hunt the area around the old center pivots up the road”, and so we did. We took the road to the west of the irrigation assemblies; it was a checkerboard of private and public lands. Which to me wasn’t exciting. But if you reference the above paragraph it had the effect of increasing the likelihood of finding these tricky little guys. As if on cue, we were approaching a break from private to public, and a covey was crossing the road – they were legal. Flirting with disaster, living on the wild side, all of fifteen feet of legal. If we got them to flush north, we could hunt them.
Quickly I got Ila out and let her work the covey – yes, straight out of the truck! Bam, she had them. I didn’t fool around and moved smartly past her point hoping to flush them deeper onto the public land, and maybe get lucky. Flush they did and just like the Rebel Fighters attacking the Death Star, they juked and jived through the sage brush as if they were rocking their speeders back home in Beggar’s Canyon, just like Luke Skywalker evading a squad of TIE fighters. No shots for me, worse yet, they flushed almost perfectly parallel to the property line – still barely legal (don’t Google that).
As Ila and I approached them again, many were easy to see, running on the desert floor here and there. She would point, look to me. Relocate. Point again. It was a chaotic scene for sure. She made a good point in front and pointing at me. The quail flushed at me, and regrettably I shot. The bird was rendered to a lump of quail-burger hurtling through time and space. I ducked so as not to be hit by it. The quail’s ruined carcass hit the desert floor with an unceremonious ‘thock’. Ila still steady despite all of this. I gave her the ‘hunt dead’ with quail still running hither and thither. She really didn’t know what to do, but she slowly worked towards me. Then abruptly the covey flushed again back to the truck. Clearly, they had the property line wrong by just the right amount! Ila located the crumpled bird and really had no interest in it. She literally looked up at me as if to say, “what is this”? I gave her a ‘here’ cue and stepped away. She grabbed the shattered bird ever so reluctantly and brought it towards me. Gawd, what a hit. That poor quail was a terrible mess. But hey, we were on the board!
We hustled back to the truck, where our friends were waiting. Ila picked them back up and quickly made a point. The quail were over this and began flushing north more deeply into the public land in desperation to get away from us. One bird abandoned the ‘Beggar’s Canyon’ mindset and flew high. It was an unfortunate decision for him. What a lovely little cockbird. Ila retrieved him with aplomb to hand. We decided it was time to let these guys be and departed for the area South and East of the old irrigation rig.
The southern edge was home to a large coulee running west/east filled with high brush, just the sort of thing valley quail love. It was a short out and back, and so we ran Fowler here due to his wrist injury. Within moments he was in the birds. They weren’t making mistakes and it wasn’t long before he was showing sign of being uncomfortable, so we wrapped it up. Another much larger but similar coulee system ran north/south joining the previously mentioned drainage not far from where we were parked. Tule and Powder hunted hard, but the only thing they managed to find were rabbits, and we discovered an ancient stand of giant sage. We took a moment to marvel these enormous bushes. Several of which exceeded ten feet in height.
Back to our regularly scheduled programing. All Ila, All the time. It was late in the day, and we wanted to give Ila another shot at the valley quail. We decided to put her on Fowler’s run and see what may come of it. She picked the quail up, pretty much in the same place Fowler did. She made her point between the steep edge and the tall, thick, and impassable brush. I gave her an ‘alright’ in hopes she might get them up for a shot. But what happened was she worked the birds through until she emerged on the other side where she went back on point. I was flabbergasted as to what to do next.
Thirty some odd yards away, but she may as well have been a mile away on the other side of molten lava – I wasn’t going to be able to get to her. The quail cracked first and flushed. A pair came back over towards us, I have no real idea where the others went. Ila stood steady to the flush. I waited a moment, then asked her to come in, which she did with great enthusiasm. I told Jenna I had an idea where the two birds went, and we set out in their direction. Ila canvased the desert floor then suddenly, she skidded to a stop ending with a dramatic point. Clearly the bird was pressured, and it flushed giving me a high-speed passing shot. The first shot caused him to rock in the air, the second caused him to fold up. I looked back, with Ila still standing, gave her the ‘hunt dead’ cue, and off she went. We searched, and searched and was near to giving up, when suddenly the little dog found the bird tightly nestled in a thorny bramble at the base of some desert brush!
In the area, we were able to cross over the channel cut in the desert floor without difficulty and began heading back to the truck. It wasn’t long before Ila became birdy. Point, go, point, go. She was managing running birds. Then somehow, they were visible. Possibly a dozen or more, running to and fro. Crossing one another’s paths with Ila standing in the middle of them. Picking her feet up like a cat on a hot tin roof. I gave her a recall since she about to lose her edge and start chasing them around. Then the quail went up and over the small ridge never to be found again. This is why it’s called bird hunting and not bird getting. The dogs are always learning and improving, just as I to continue to learn and improve as an amateur naturalist and dog handler. I suppose I too will only get a little better so as long as we continue to learn together.
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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.