The season is slowly working into shape, though the weather has been less than cooperative on the Great Plains.
It’s been hot out here. Lots of 70s and even some 80s. I’ve yet to scrape the windshield in the morning before work. Must be nice, right? Not if you want to chase birds.
The other day I did get out, reviving a now annual tradition of hunting pheasant and quail in Nebraska with The Long Walker, who has hunted these plains far longer than I’ve lived here. This made it three years in a row hunting together in central Nebraska.
It was 60 degrees with a stiff wind blowing out of the west. That’s not as cool as the dogs prefer it, and with the wind we expected the birds would be nuts. But it was our only opportunity this year as The Long Walker was leaving for Arizona the next day. So we went.
Our Nebraska hunts are a relatively new thing, but hunting with The Long Walker isn’t. We first hunted together in 2000, when I lived in Flagstaff and drove across Arizona to meet him on the shoulder of Parker Canyon. From our camp, you could peer south across the powdered plain into Old Mexico.
The next day we hunted Mearns’ quail, a bird that remains a mystery to many upland hunters. These quail are found across a limited range, in bunchgrass/oak savanna that stretches across border highlands from Nogales to Texas. Mearns’ quail — also known as Montezuma quail — are secretive birds that hold close in the bunchgrass and are nearly impossible to hunt without bird dogs.
We hunted Arizona many times and stayed in contact as I moved about. I have a few people scattered out across some of the places I hunt, but the truth is I prefer to hunt alone, just me and the dog. The Long Walker feels the same way and I suspect that’s why we’re so agreeable to hunting with one another.
We give each other space and split up from time to time. We also share an appreciation for the companionship of our dogs and neither of us worries too much if they don’t do their dog stuff by the textbook. Neither of us gets too obsessed about how many birds we kill, either.
And through trial and error, we’ve learned to navigate our sometimes strongly opposing political views — by navigate I mean we don’t talk about politics while we’re doing something important, like hunting.
We had to squeeze this hunt between my last class and the end of shooting hours. Three, maybe four hours at best. But I know these quickie hunts, shoehorned into the available space, often turn magical. That’s partly because they begin with almost no expectations. We’re just getting out, for out’s sake. Actual success seems a gift.
This hunt’s gift: we each took one shot and we both came home with a pheasant.
The Long Walker’s Brittany, Moose, hunted about as well as could be expected given the wind. He found the bouquet of pheasants that produced my bird. There were eight or nine, mostly roosters, and one got up in range, offering a crossing shot.
Jade is coming along but has suffered from months of limited activity due to my broken leg. It will take time to get her in hunting shape. We’ll also see how she progresses on retrieving. She ended last season on a high note, fetching our last bobwhite of the year, but remains prone to pointing dead. There are worse things in life.
Then the glow of sunset’s approach lit up Willa Cather’s prairie in the last light of day. Two old friends with two birds and two remarkable dogs, with decades of memories forged in one of my easiest friendships.
Until next time. It’ll be Parker Canyon, I assume. In Arizona’s January magic.
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