There is only a few more beautiful places than the southwestern desert in the wintertime. I have been fortunate last few years to get an invitation to participate in the making of the quail hunting shows for the Gundog TV (previously American Birdhunter). These hunts take place anytime between early/mid December to the end of January. The locations are mostly in New Mexico. The specific spot is decided in the last moment as the scouting reports about the bird numbers come in. We’ve had good hunts, great ones and also couple epic ones. Is it ever bad? No it’s not. Any chance I get to carry a shotgun and chase after quail or any bird is good. I have had friends or guides apologize for the “lack” of birds many times. The point is not how many birds but how often. It’s never too hot, too cold, too rainy too windy or not windy enough.
This year’s hunt happened in southeastern New Mexico; we went after Scaled quail. Fast little birds, running or flying. I learned that they gained full speed in three feet of flight. There is no more challenging shot than these little desert birds.
Fortunately I had the 20 ga Redhead Premier with the 28 inch barrels. I have previously hunted the desert quail with my other longer barreled over/under but friend recommended the Redhead. I value his opinion and it paid off. This year’s birds were jumpy and unpredictable. Aren’t they always? These were full on wild birds.
I shot the Redhead Premier quite a bit over the summer but it was 28ga. I’m glad I made the switch to 20 ga for this hunt. I did not want to be undergunned. The combination of the birds and conditions made for some challenging shots.
The fast handling and easy to carry gun was a good recipe. I’ve hunted quail for few years now and still finding my success rate is much higher on the birds flushed than birds over point. The moment of surprise takes the thought process away. All I’m left is the instinct to shoot developed in many rounds of practice. Just like in hockey. You can have a game plan but it changes the moment you drop the puck at the opening face off.
I could talk about all the great shots I made or talk about five times as many I missed but one stands out. The last shot of the trip. Not because it was the best or most difficult one , it was the setting that made it special.
Imagine the late winter afternoon sun is low, in your eyes, your feet are kicking up dust as they pushed apart the sage brush, crunching the dry mesquite or matt down the desert grass. We are on our last push. In the line of four or five hunters we’re taking shot at a single here, double there. Dogs are giving everything they have left after three days of hunting. Then a single rises right in front of me. Remember three feet is all they need to go full throttle. I shoulder the gun point and pull the trigger. I do not see the bird. All I see is big puff of quail feather illuminated by the setting sun about four feet in the air. What an incredible sight to enjoy. I wish I was a better writer to truly describe the scene.
When we all meet back at truck the other hunters who were to the side of me said you could literally see the quail being propelled forward upon my shot hitting it. I got all of it.
I hunt with guys who are great shot, I’m just learning from them the best I can. The true stars are the dogs. English pointers, German short hairs and English Springer Spaniels. The dedication and love for what they do is admirable. Hunting in the desert with all the sticky, pointy and sharp things is true test of the dogs desire. And they have it.
The next destination was Florida. I was hoping I could get away from my farm’s chores for few hours and check out some newly formed ponds in the swamp. We had above average, close to record precipitation throughout the summer and fall. The water table has risen so much you have bodies of water where you have not seen them in years. The first day I did not bring a gun. I wanted to do thorough scouting of the property. The swamp has swelled up in the summer and stayed that way. I could not believe the amount of “coastline” full of Snipe. The Snipe loves to hang out right on the edge of water and mud. They use their long beaks to pick bugs and larva.
I returned couple days later with my Redhead and pocket full of #8 shells. I’ve hunted Snipe in Louisiana one time with not much success. This time I had my waders on, my gun and desire to become snipe hunter. I wore waders because I did not have a dog to retrieve birds I shot. Even if I had a dog I am not sure if I would use him. This is Florida swamp with gators, snakes, raccoons and everything else. I had a plan in case I see any of them getting dangerously close to me and it involved a shotgun.
My strategy or no strategy the first day was poor and it showed. I flushed out close to fifteen birds and shot one. Their erratic flight pattern makes them hard target. And they’re fast. Walking along on the mud was easier but not the right thing to do.
The birds seemed to want to fly towards the open water for safety.
My second day I waded in deeper water. Twenty feet from the “coastline”(my term where the snipe likes to hang out). Some places water was ankle or knee deep, some places waist deep. One time I was retrieving bird shot earlier and water came up to about an inch bellow the top of my waders. Close call. Not sure what happens when your waders fill up with water but assume it’s not a good thing.
This strategy paid off big time. Yes it was physically more demanding but it also gave me more time to make a shot. Most of the birds flew crossing pattern in front of me. I collected six birds that day and felt better about my abilities as a snipe hunter.
I went one more time and shot few more birds.
I renamed the snipe “the swamp quail” for their speed and ability to evade the shots.
There were couple moments I felt vulnerable to the swamp creatures wading through the deep water. My eyes were paying close attention to any little ripple in the water but fortunately they all had their things to do.
This is my most honest revelation about these two types of bird hunting. There is a price to be paid for every bird you get and there is a perfect shotgun to do it with Redhead Premier.
The only thing left this season (hopefully) is to get some ducks on the Bayou.