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Out of Bounds

Living With Imperfection

It was too nice a day to get angry over an earnest, however misguided, English setter

By Rob Breeding

I was hunting with an old friend this week, a mentor who long ago gave me a lift in the outdoor writing business. 

I was in town and the quail report was decent so I sent him a text offering to pick him up on the way. He was game but wanted to bring his dog along as well and asked if there was room.

I replied: “There’s always room for another dog. You, however, might be left behind if it gets tight in my truck.”

I keep a kennel in the bed of my rig, but it’s used mostly for emergencies. I worry a dog might tangle with a skunk, though I’ve never seen one while hunting. So dogs ride in the cab, on the rear seat. There’s plenty of room for two, I figured.

I was surprised The Outdoor Writer wanted to bring his dog along, however. The pup’s a fine-looking English setter with the typical friendly disposition of the breed. But Ben is something of a rescue dog, once owned by a hunting guide who couldn’t use him because he ran too long (a fixable problem) and had a propensity for pointing tweety birds (a more challenging correction). 

When you’re guiding for a living you need certitude when your dog locks up on point 300 yards off that it’s California quail, not towhees, that have fixed his attention.

So my friend took the setter in and has been working with him for a few years now. Ben still runs long and has retained his odd fascination with towhees, but he’s a sweet pup who is learning to find real birds too.

The Outdoor Writer and I took our setters up the mountains to the spot where I killed my one and only mountain quail a few years ago, completing what folks in upland bird hunting circles refer to as a Quail Slam. In other words, I killed each of the six species of quail hunted in the United States. 

A seventh U.S. quail, the masked bobwhite, is endangered and lives only on a refuge in southern Arizona where, of course, hunting isn’t allowed.

It was a great day to hunt the mountains of Southern California. The expected El Niño monsoons haven’t yet hit the region so there wasn’t much snow and it was sunny, shirt-sleeve weather. The hunting spot is right where the Mojave Desert collides with the Transverse Ranges, a series of mountains in Southern California that run east-west rather than north-south, as most California mountain ranges do. 

This intersection marks the path of the San Andreas Fault.

There’s the flats, filled with cactus and Joshua Trees, where we find California quail, bordered by the steeply rising flanks of the San Gabriel Mountains. If you want to hunt mountain quail you have to climb. 

There are a series of canyons that flow off the mountain. They are dry other than during runoff. We often hunted up to what seemed the end of those canyons, looking for mountain quail. But the sheer frustration of unsuccessfully chasing those birds for as long as I did forced me to climb higher, beyond the fall line of those box canyons, to steeper canyons above. You can’t see these upper canyons from the flats. 

That’s where I found my mountain quail.

Just below that fall line is where Ben went on point deep in a canyon we had already climbed out of. We waited a good long time to see how much he believed in his point, eventually buying into his conviction. When we finally made it down to him, Ben broke and a couple of towhees flushed out of the juniper.

The Outdoor Writer and I had a good laugh. It was too nice a day to get angry over an earnest, however misguided, English setter.

So we turned and resumed our climb up the mountain.

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