Opening-day foray beats staying home

It still was dark when the obnoxious alarm on my cell phone went off. I hate the alarm tone, but I don’t change it because it does the job. I found the snooze button and for several minutes lay under the warm covers and listened for the wind, all the time hoping I wouldn’t hear it.

The weather forecast called for cold temperatures and high winds. I don’t mind hunting when it’s cold, in fact I prefer it, but I hate hunting in the wind. The wind makes it difficult to hear natural sounds such as the gathering call of a Gambel’s quail, my intended quarry. The wind also makes it tough to find these fast-running birds because they don’t like to fly when it’s windy and they hold tight to cover.

Despite my hopes to the contrary, the winds arrived as predicted, and I found myself debating whether the quail hunting would be worth the effort to crawl out of bed, get dressed and load up the dog. That’s when Miss Maddie, my 8-year-old black lab, started yipping below an open window. I suppose she wanted to add her own two cents to the argument waging in my head. Somehow Maddie always seems to know when it’s opening day of quail season, and she soon convinced me to get up.

An hour and a half later, I turned the truck onto a dirt road that led toward a series of upland game guzzlers, devices that trap and store rainwater for upland game and other small critters. After passing through an opening in the fence line, I stopped the truck and shook Hyrum, my youngest son, awake. An unfinished Hunter Education book stands between him and a hunting license, but I brought him along for the company anyway.

Just east of where we parked the truck, I had nearly filled up on quail in less than 30 minutes a couple of years earlier and hoped to find similar results.

Maddie hit the ground running, and we followed her into the desert. She got birdy a couple of times, but we didn’t jump a single quail. Nor did we hear the gathering call I was listening for.

We traveled another mile or two and parked just down the road from a guzzler. I didn’t expect to find quail right on the guzzler but thought there might be some in the washes and rolling hills nearby. We covered a lot of country without success and just started a wide loop back to the truck when Maddie struck scent. She worked back and forth along some brush that lined the edge of the sandy portion of a wash. Suddenly she pushed her nose farther into a bush, and a quail burst out from the other side.

It was a beautiful rooster with a tall tassel. He disappeared down the wash while Maddie kept working the edge of the brush. Then a hen broke loose. My guess was that two hunters we had seen near the guzzler had ridden through the area not long before and probably had scared most of the quail. The two birds Maddie pushed out of the brush probably were stragglers.

Maddie led the way down the wash as we searched for the runaway quail. After several minutes, I thought we had lost the birds, but Maddie wasn’t about to give up. We passed a small rock outcropping accented with a single straggly bush when the wind suddenly shifted and Maddie wheeled around hard. She reached the bush just as the rooster flew out on the far side. Almost without thinking, I pulled the shotgun to my shoulder and squeezed the trigger. The bird fell, and Maddie was there to pick him up and deliver him to hand. Hyrum thought that was pretty cool.

After placing the rooster in my game bag, we resumed our walk down the wash. About 50 yards later, a hen broke brush and flew to my left. Again the shotgun at my shoulder bucked at the shot and the bird buckled. Back at the truck, I dressed the birds and put them on ice for the trip home.

It wasn’t the opener dreams are made of, but it was much better than staying home in bed.

Doug Nielsen is an award-winning freelance writer and a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. He can be reached at doug@takinitoutside.com.

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