BY TIM E. HOVEY
During the off season I like to think about some of the memorable hunts I’ve had over the previous year. As I get older, I find that my enjoyment of the outdoors has far less to do with the game actually bagged and more about the camaraderie of hunting with good people. That is definitely how I feel about the 2019 quail season.
Last year, after some intense scouting, I located an isolated area that held more quail then I had ever seen in one spot. The early spring rains had provided enough water to kick off quail reproduction, resulting in an abundance of birds for the quail opener.
My original plan was to head out the evening before the opener with my buddy Jose De Orta and we’d camp in the newly found spot. Unfortunately, Jose had to cancel last minute and I found myself camping in the isolated canyon solo. That next morning I enjoyed one of the best quail openers of my hunting career, and will likely remember that morning hike the rest of my life.
As most hunters do, I shared photos of my successful hunt with friends later that week. One of my friends instantly got back to me asking if I’d be interested in taking him and his son out to chase quail. John Matilla and his son Tanner had frequently accompanied my family on dove hunts and had practiced desert trap shooting with my daughters. Despite the dove hunting experience, neither one of them had ever hunted quail.
A few weeks after the opener, the three of us made plans to drive out to the canyon and try our luck chasing quail. Both John and Tanner had had good success hunting dove and I had confidence that both would do well given the abundance of birds.
We drove out before sunup and arrived at the mouth of the canyon just as the sun peeked over the horizon. Most of the drainage that carved out the area was dry, except for a wetted spring a few hundred yards further upstream. During the opener, I had noticed that quail would water at the spring in the early morning and then return later in the afternoon as the day started to heat up.
I told John and Tanner that while we may find birds at the spring, the area was too tight to hunt with multiple hunters safely. The open area where I had scored my limit was about ¼ mile further up the canyon.
We hiked in the dry creek, took a left and found the open area I had hunted weeks before. We gathered up and discussed a plan to give us room to hunt. I told them to listen for the characteristic sentinel quail calls and head towards that area to hunt. I also mentioned that at times, birds will hold tight as the season progresses, so they should approach an area and simply stand still for a bit. Skittish birds will usually hold tight while you move through but may flush when they sense the threat has stopped close.
John and Tanner headed out and I hiked to the next ridge over to give us all room to hunt. Less than a minute later I heard two shotgun blasts from the pair. I stood on the ridge and listened. During the opener I had located another smaller spring down in the floor of the valley. Almost on cue, a sentinel bird called from near the spring. I decided to hunt my way towards the wetted creek.
Occasionally, I’d hear the shots from John and Tanner off in the distance. From the frequency of the reports, it sounded like they were getting into birds. I hunted around the spring and had five birds in my bag, with a few easy misses tallied as well. I drained a water bottle and put my focus on bagging a limit.
About 90 minutes after we had started hunting, the three of us gathered up near a dry creek to see how things were going. Tanner had eight birds, his dad six and I was looking for my final bird. It was getting a bit hot and I wanted to make sure no one was getting overheated. Both stated they were fine and wanted to keep hunting.
A few minutes later I bagged my tenth bird and decided to hike to the top of a ridge and wait for Tanner and John. Even though it was getting hot, the valley breeze felt good. John and Tanner were still firing off shots and kicking up birds. I remember smiling knowing that they were having fun and being successful.
With three limits bagged, we started the hike back to the truck. It had been an awesome trip out with friends and the quail action had been excellent.
At the truck, we set up for a few cool photos. As we cleaned up, I explained to John and Tanner that getting a limit of quail your first time out without the aid of a dog was quite a feat. We were beat and had definitely put in the effort, but I felt like luck had definitely smiled on us. John turned to me, red-faced from the day’s efforts, “It may have had something to do with the guide,” he said. Playing into his hand I said, “Well that most certainly goes without saying!”
An enlarged copy of the photo of all three of us kneeling behind three limits of California quail hangs in my office as I type this. It sits with over a dozen other photos of awesome hunts with good friends. The glossy memories of good times with great people are my true trophies and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.