Outdoors

Sometimes it’s More About Friends Than Birds

One of the greatest hunts of my life, without ever seeing a bird

Making excuses for limited success on hunting trips is my eternal burden, and I’ve got a whole new batch of excuses after my annual Christmas break expedition down south.

What’s different is this time I believe my reasons are legit.

Excuse No. 1 is I explored new country. I’ve heard rumors of scaled quail throughout southeastern Colorado and found plenty of evidence. The birds are apparently fairly common on the outskirts of Pueblo, and friends have shared photos of scaled quail living in the suburbs of Colorado Springs.

You can’t hunt in backyards, however. There is plenty of public land to the southeast, on the Comanche National Grasslands. I haven’t hunted scalies much over the years, and their numbers have been down for a while in Arizona where I was most likely to find them, so I was eager to uncover a new spot.

Colorado isn’t exactly known as a quail hunter’s paradise, but there are three species native to the state. Gambel’s quail overlap scalie range in the southeast, and bobwhite, in limited numbers, exist hard on the eastern border with Kansas. The best bet for bobs may be the South Platte River Valley, where the bird’s range expands up river. But there’s limited public land and the river bottom is a jungle, which makes shooting tough even if you’re able to find the birds.

I hunted two days on the Comanche, which really wasn’t enough time to sort out a big, brand new chunk of country like that. Doll and I didn’t find a single bird or covey. She never even got birdy. I did find quail tracks in the wet soil near a pair of cattle tanks. We hunted concentric circles around the water, without any luck.

Still, there are multiple definitions of success. While parts of the grassland were cow burnt and bleak, other areas looked like the kind of country I imagine scaled quail love. Sandy, desert country, with grass cover, but grass that’s not too thick. Scalies are runners, after all, not plowers like pheasant.

The grasslands were studded with soapweed yucca and buckhorn cholla, which was especially beautiful around the holidays as the stems of the branched cactus plants were tipped with bright yellow buds.

Walking about these grasslands for the first time, even while failing to work out the bird stuff, has to qualify as a success, just not the one I was anticipating. I’ll have to go back to find quail.

Excuse No. 2 is that I have old friends from when I lived down south, and sometimes friends are the priority. Last year was a tough one for my old pal, the Dog Whisperer. His year started with a throat cancer diagnosis, which he beat back. But the battle with cancer is never an easy one. He’d only recently regained his voice, and his body is still recovering from the ravages of chemotherapy and radiation.

It turned out we were both going to be in northern Arizona at about the same time, so I adjusted my schedule to make sure it was exactly the same time. We had a day together, hunting east of Sedona in a spot where, I suspected, the prospects would be slim. But it was one of the Dog Whisperer’s favorite Gambels quail spots when he lived in Sedona, 30 years ago.

This was his first time back, as well as the first time he’d been well enough to hunt since his diagnosis. It rained the night before, and a half hour into our hunt it started raining again. We walked and talked in the rain and that beautiful country for three hours, never seeing a bird. We were wet to the bone when we made it back to the truck.

It was one of the greatest hunts of my life.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.