I combined a “big trip” with my dog for quail hunting with my annual opening weekend pheasant hunting trip. Instead of flying, I loaded the pup in the truck and drove to Amarillo, Texas for pheasant hunting, then to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico for 3 days of quail hunting and then back home. It was a LONG trip and I also managed to squeeze in a little goose hunting in North Texas to go with my quail hunting.
Pheasant Hunting in the Southern Range
I had my annual pheasant hunt as a prelude to my big quail hunting trip. Pheasant hunting weather in North Texas is always a crap shoot. I think I’ve seen every different type of weather up there. This year, it was very cold with a light snow on the ground. This wasn’t a great year for pheasants in North Texas due to the drouth. Compounding this problem – or in some cases helping it – the farmers who usually leave some stubble in their fields had baled literally everything n- including the cotton stalks. This had the effect of either eliminating their cover entirely or concentrating them in the sparse cover that was available. As usual, you can’t expect to go the very farthest Southern range of pheasants in North Texas and expect to bag a limit every time. We had a lot of walking and some great dog work but getting in range of the few we saw was very challenging.
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Goose Hunting in North Texas
Instead of two days of pheasant hunting, we elected to hunt geese in North Texas near Dalhart. it was a clear cold day and there were plenty of lesser Canada geese in the area roosting on large water. Goose hunting in Texas, or goose hunting anywhere for that matter, is always a challenge. Those birds are smart! WE did manage to draw in a few birds but the majority of the geese elected to head in a different direction that day. Goose hunting tends to be all about being on the X – being where they want to be. Scouting helps a lot to improve the odds but good old fashioned luck is always a critical factor when hunting geese in Texas.
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Turkey Restoration and Hunting
As I was driving out from Amarillo on Monday morning to go to New Mexico for quail hunting, a flock of neighborhood turkeys were out on the road looking for some food. A blistering Norther had blown in overnight bringing lots of snow and freezing rain and the turkeys were hungry. I’m not a turkey hunter but I do remember when I was a kid that turkeys tended to be a myth. Congrats to all of the great associations and habitat management that has taken place over the last 25 years that has restored this amazing bird to huntable populations.
Valley of Fire
My journey from Amarillo Texas to Truth or Consequences New Mexico for quail hunting was planned over two major interstate highways. Much to my surprise, the interstates were closed in New Mexico due to the storm and I had to take the back roads. I got off the interstate, bought a paper map – imagine that – and then just kept heading South and West with the hope that I’d get to ToC without a major mishap. Turns out that it was a wonderful drive through the back roads of Eastern New Mexico with a ton of great sights to see. The Valley of Fire is an amazing place where a volcano “leaked” some lava to the surface a couple thousand years ago. New Mexico is rough country anyway but this was incredibly rough!
Quail Hunting and Tracking in the Snow
My first of 3 days of quail hunting started in the mountains east of ToC New Mexico. The goal was to bag one each of Mearns Quail, Gambels Quail and Scaled quail. On Day one we were after all or any of them. The storm over the previous few days provided us with a very unique opportunity that I’d never had before – tracking quail in the snow. New Mexico is BIG country and requires that you cover a lot of ground when you are hunting quail. It helped tremendously that we were able to see quail tracks in the snow which allowed us to spend a little more time truck scouting and a little less time foot scouting. Nevertheless, I covered about 8 miles this day.
Rain Water Collection for Wildlife
New Mexico Game and Fish have built numerous large rainfall collectors to aid the wildlife and improve the quail hunting. In Texas, we use a much smaller version that drains into a 55 gallon drum. This unit was easily 15 steps on each side and drained into a large underground cistern. These divces typically hold some quail for hunting but the drouth in the Southwest made finding birds a challenge this year.
Working the Arroyos for Quail
Day 2 of quail hunting was in the arroyos beside the Rio Grande river. There are numerous arroyos and they have been modified to retain as much rainwater as possible to minimize downstream flooding. These arroyos make perfect spots for hunting quail – I wish we had some of these, and the public land, to hunt quail in Texas. That said, hiking, working and hunting these arroyos definitely requires some great dog work. They are intricate with lots of little hiding places and you need a dog to sniff out every possible nook and cranny.
Quail Hunting on the Rio Grande River
While quail hunting, I tended to work the canyon bottoms and let my dog work the edges and tops. Sometime vice versa when I got tired of looking at the canyon walls and needed some better scenery. I logged about 8 miles/day and I know my dog logged at least 5 times that working for me to hunt quail.
Duck Hunting on the Rio Grande River
Since we were on the Rio Grande for quail hunting and there were ducks working the river, we took the opportunity in the evening to hunt ducks. I found it amazing that ducks could be found in the desert. We bagged a few ducks as they worked up and down the river feeding in the evening and then enjoyed the magnificent New Mexico sunset after hunting ducks.
Tracking and Quail Hunting
Day 3 of my quail hunting was back to the mountains east of ToC to find some blues and Mearns quail. I was mostly interested in Mearns quail so we spent the majority of the time working closely and carefully along the sandy bottoms of canyons near oak brush where Mearns quail like to hide. We saw plenty of tracks that were obviously Mearns Quail but never managed to find a covey. This was the last of 5 days of hunting for my pup and she was getting pretty tired. She never failed to answer the call but she also no longer jumped back into the truck after a swing through an area. She had the will but the energy was draining quickly.
It Is What You Experience – Not the Size of the Game Bag
I can’t say this often enough. Quail hunting or hunting ducks, makes no difference. The true benefit and enjoyment is seeing something new with your best friend. I never fail to be amazed by the desert and what has adapted to thrive there. I found this one scrub oak tree that was only about 10 feet tall but had a base and trunk that indicated that the tree was very old. How long had that tree been there and how many other quail hunters had it shaded?
Headed Home from Quail Hunting
Heading home after 5 days of pheasant, goose, duck and quail hunting is both relaxing and sad. It was an 11 hour drive from ToC back to Austin where I live and most of that drive is horribly boring through West Texas. My pup was exhausted and slept the entire way home – knocked out! She is my first quail hunting dog and I never cease to be amazed at what she can and is willing to do for me.
Summary of Pheasant, Goose, Duck and Quail Hunting
All in all it was an amazing quail hunting trip and I’m already looking forward to more in the future. We went pheasant hunting in Amarillo and goose hunting in North Texas – both with marginal results in the game bag. We braved the snow storm and back roads of New Mexico to hunt Gambel, Scaled and Mearns quail in the mountains of Southern New Mexico. We also managed to squeeze in a duck hunt along the Rio Grande River. After 5 days of hard hunting, we turned back South and headed home – two exhausted hunting buddies with some fantastic memories of some great quail hunting.