I set off in December with a goal. Before the month was out I planned to hunt all six species of quail in the U.S.
I told myself that “hunting” each species was the goal, but I knew I really wanted to kill one of each, completing a single season quail slam.
At least as far as hunting each species goes, I succeeded. I hunted bobwhite for the first time in western Oklahoma after I got a good tip from a state wildlife manager and stumbled into some great hunting.
Then I headed for the boot heel of New Mexico to hunt Gambel’s and scaled quail. Unfortunately, the wind howled from Albuquerque to Hatch as I drove across the state. I wasn’t optimistic.
It turned out the wind might have worked to my advantage, scrambling the radar of notoriously hard to hunt scalies. They seemed befuddled by the wind, allowing Doll and I to move in close enough to shoot without having to sprint after coveys – scaled quail are notorious runners.
I knocked down my first bird, but it wasn’t until Doll fetched it back that I made out the namesake fish-scale pattern of the bird’s feathers.
It was my first scalie after many fruitless trips in the Arizona desert. Later I killed a Gambel’s. Suddenly I was half way to six … and ready to leave.
I hunted another day, then left for Arizona for Mearns quail. My first day there I hunted in an unfamiliar spot with an old friend, the Dog Whisperer, in country that didn’t look like it would hold too many birds. It didn’t, and the one solid point from Doll was spoiled when the Dog Whisperer’s young German wirehair busted the covey while we were still out of range.
I had a great day with an old friend hunting what is really my favorite country to hunt on the planet, yet all I could thing about was my empty vest. Fortunately, I killed a Mearns early the following morning. Then, once again, I was ready to leave.
I was counting the days down to the end of the month. I’d reserved six days – bookended around Christmas – to hunt California. There I’d find the final two quail – California and mountain – and I expected mountain quail might be the toughest of the six to hunt successfully. I’ve only seen a handful of mountain quail, and I’ve never fired a shot while hunting the species.
Still, I was four-sixths of the way to my quail slam.
That’s when the wheels came off. My first morning in California it started raining, hard. It was a cold storm, meaning the rain fell as snow in my favorite mountain quail spots.
But that was just the start of it. While having coffee with my mother that morning, she got a call from the hospital. Her husband was being raced into surgery. He’d had a heart attack and they needed to install a small pump in his ticker to keep him alive until they could schedule a bypass, which came the day before Christmas.
At that point the final two-sixths of my quest evaporated. In retrospect, I might have just stayed in Oklahoma for a week, enjoying what might be the best bobwhite hunting I’ll ever experience. But in another way the quest for a slam, a quest that seemed to twist my better hunting judgment as I rushed to California chasing a vain obsession, might have served a real purpose after all.
I didn’t kill a bird in California, but I spent a lot of time in the hospital with my mom as her husband battled to survive. He did.
That wasn’t the goal when I started my quest. Turns out, this one was better.
The third in a series about our reasons for hunting, limits, slams and targeting trophy animals.
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