One of the lessons I’ve learned as an extremely mediocre fly fisherman is to be willing to work areas that others don’t. Because if you put my ordinary skills on a virgin pool with naive fish, I’m a really super good fisherman.
Out of orneriness or just not knowing any better, I’ve been taking the same approach to quail hunting. Quail hunting is supposed to be a sport of gentlemen, casual strolls with pipes and brandy in tweed coats, expensive antique guns with wood burl stocks, led by a salt-of-the-earth guide on someone’s private spread, but I just don’t have the patience (or taxable income).
What I want to do is find wild birds in a wild land. That’s what I find most enjoyable. I want to see critters doing their own thing on their own terms, and if I can get birds (or deer, or elk, or pronghorn, or javelina…) on those terms then I feel like I’ve accomplished something, and gotten closer to earning their sacrifice and protein. A form of penance, perhaps.
It is usually easiest to find these wildeor (self-willed beasts) in places that people don’t visit. Sometimes it is a matter of mileage. Sometimes it is a matter of thinking, “Geez, I wonder what’s on the other side of that hill, off the trail, that no one ever seems to go.”
I am no mountain man or commando, but I am curious, and that curiosity will kick my feet uphill. Sometimes it pays off.
A lot of preamble. Short of it this past weekend I followed an elk trail 1,000 feet up over a ridge and found a high bowl, with water, forage, and cover. There were many birds and the pup and I spent some time chasing them. I don’t think anyone had been up there for months, as the full bull elk skeleton with antlers I stumbled upon suggested. Nobody would leave that there.
In terms of the pup, he continued his Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde routine– finding birds in a passion, but then wilting after a couple shots are fired. I’m a fool, I know, I need to back off and start back at zero with the gun. But it’s so hard to leave him behind. Again, patience is not a strength of mine.
So I got some birds. I got this bull skull rack. And the wildeors indulged my presence for a little while, and I got to pretend I was breathing the same air as them. Which is enough to get me through another week until I can come back.
PS- while in the trailhead parking lot a young guy in a truck with federal plates rolled up. We got talking, turns out he’s a BLM ranger for the area. He was out there that Sunday morning cleaning public restrooms in his spare time as a volunteer— because they “don’t have the budget to hire people to do this full-time.” The next occasion I hear someone bitching about public lands or federal employees, I’m going to think of this young ranger, and suggest the complainer grab a goddamn toilet brush and/or vote for someone who will appropriately fund the management of our nation’s great outdoors.