This has been surprisingly busy winter for someone who enjoys shooting sports as much as I do. We experienced many nice, not warm, but sunny days in the month of January in Wyoming. It allowed me to snow shoe through the mountains and spend quite a few afternoons with friends at the range. We tested new CZ handguns and practice our bird hunting skills by cracking many clays. The ultimate experience of my winter happened tobe quail hunt on behalf of CZ-USA in New Mexico.
The quail hunt idea was presented to me by Dave Miller. I could not be happier or more honored to help CZ shotguns get the exposure and recognition they deserve. I would be hunting with Randy Lack and Brett
Browning. Couple gentlemen well known in the bird hunting circles from their appearances on TV show American Birdhunter.
I’ve been in front of camera many times but it always involved hockey. As a player for many years and as an analyst for little time after my retirement from playing.
The hunt would be taking place in southern New Mexico near the town of Hatch. The chile growing capital of the world, along the famous Rio Grande. The river provides much needed water for the area’s agriculture and also the wildlife. This part of our beautiful country would be nearly inhospitable without the river’s water. The Southwestern desert is very rugged environment. Couple centuries of living and farming here made people very tough but they are as nice as they are tough.
The group got right into it on the first day. We all met early and headed out to hunt. I was “warned” by Randy about quail being very tricky birds to hunt. They are very patient and incredibly fast at the same time. At times they seemed almost cocky. It became personal with them as soon as we hit the first covey. Quail hunting presents a great challenge to your hand eye coordination. Dogs were working hard to find birds and the hunters had to kick and push through every brush very hard. Otherwise you’ll walk right past lot of birds in the very thick and
dense cover. I learned quickly this type of hunt demands physical and mental commitment to succeed. As day progressed my shooting improved and we got quite a few quail on the first day.
Day two became even bigger physical challenge than the first one. We continued to work the farmland and had some of the most spectacular moments watching dogs on point. Multiple dogs pointing at multiple quail or few
dogs pointing at the same quail all at the same time. Randy and Brett managed to hold the dogs at their points for all of us to enjoy man’s best friend at his best. I have been hunting for close to three years now but watching a good bird dog in action is as satisfying as anything I’ve experienced yet.
I have taken many shots at this point and the practice started to pay off. One of them really stands out. We were walking back to the truck as we thought we exhausted the dry drainage ditch of all quail. Suddenly I hear the distinct sound of quail taking off right behind us. I quickly turned 180 degrees, shouldered the shotgun and pulled the trigger. The hardest part of this was keeping an eye on the cameraman who walked behind us. I hit that bird dead on. There is always “the” shot you remember from the most recent hunt. This one was it…. For today.
Day three brought us to beautiful mountain town of Winston. Gateway to Gila National Forest. Randy Lack with his wife own and run the Winston General Store. The best outdoor equipment and supply store around. From
what I saw could be the only one too. To my surprise these mountains are excellent spot for elk, deer, mountain lion and bear hunting.
We drove about 21 miles on what I would call almost a dirt road. Exploring the canyons and meadows for Quail along the way. Brett Browning mentioned Mearn’s quail prime habitat on the ledge just above some of these dried up creek beds. It takes lot of time and walking to find any. They are considered a trophy bird and it’s a whole another hunt. Quail were definitely in advantage in more mountainous terrain. The biggest difference they did not hold nowhere near the time they did in the lowlands. The birds are being harassed by bigger and frequent predators rely on their ability to fly lot more. Many times dogs made excellent flushes but we were not close enough to shoot. It was a great lesson to learn. Wild animals’ behavior changes with dramatic change of their habitat.
We made one more stop in a meadow we walked through earlier. All of us little tired from three days of demanding hunt. Heading to the truck when rooster took off . The bird was far away. I had the best position
but still a long shot. Having nothing to loose by trying, my first shot was little behind (of course, it’s my tendency as Tom Mack knows well). I stayed calm, very unlikely shot so I decided to increase the lead by much, much more and pull the trigger. The bird went down. I must be honest here, I was impressed with myself. Long, improbable shot and I made it. It was the only quail I shot that day but it sure was one to remember.
The area, the guys and their dogs made this hunt one memorable trip. I am amazed how many interesting and friendly people one meets while hunting. Common love of the outdoors, firearms and the traditional way of having fun brings us together from all different walks of life. I’ve written about this pattern before but I never come back from hunting without making new friends.
It’s time to give credit to Randy Lack, Brett Browning and their dogs for being great guides and mentors. The guys who carried the cameras and will produce the TV show from Wolf Creek Production Tom Nicholls and Ryan Cornish were as professional and knowledgeable as anybody I’ve ever worked with. I hope many will watch their show not only from the New Mexico quail hunt but other ones too.
The shotgun I used was CZ Ringneck 20 ga side by side. I’ve shot this gun before but did not realize its potential until now. I initially thought it was quite compact. Conversation with CZ-USA’s Dave Miller reassured me this is the right gun for quail. The trip proved him right that he knows thing or two about Upland bird hunting. The shotgun is a combination of old world tradition with modern technology. Everyone in the group felt the same way once they handled it. Its smaller feel provided necessary mobility in the tighter spots trying to flush out the birds. There was plenty tight and prickly spots during those three days and my shirts and pants became permanent reminders. If you as a shooter do your job, the CZ Ringneck will do its job in any kind of Upland environment. Wide open spaces and long shots or extremely close and fast reactionary ones.
I can not decide going forward whether I should keep shooting over/under or side by side. I’ve experience both and had to make adjustments in the mechanics of shooting. It might be worth to keep practicing and hold on to them both. Over under is my go to shotgun but there is not much better feeling than carrying beautiful side by side and waiting for a dog to get on point.