Umarex Gauntlet





BY JIM NIEMIEC/WON Staff WriterPublished: Dec 18, 2008


SONOITA, AZ. – Based on timely monsoonal rains this past summer the biologists from the Arizona Game and Fish Department predicted a better than average hatch of chicks and the outlook for upland game bird hunters would be as good, if not better than the 2007/08 season.

 While Gambel’s and scaled quail are more dependent upon late winter and early spring rain to help with the local hatch, the key to the success of Mearn’s quail is for the right amount of summer rain to fall for the production of Cheat grass and other protective cover.

     This writer  checked in with Kirby Bristow, wildlife/research biologist for the AZ department to set up a hunt last week on public land in the vast Coronado National Forest about an hour’s drive south of Tucson. Joining in on the hunt was Captain Buzz Brizendine, owner/operator of the sportfisher Prowler operating out of Fisherman’s Landing.

    “Jim, it’s looking very good for Mearn’s quail, but I don’t think that this will be a year for an Arizona Grand Slam in one day. There just wasn’t a strong hatch of Gambel’s quail and the scalies are not doing much better than they were during a lean season last year. I think our best bet would be to head out and hunt some of the higher oak savanna’s and then, if time permits, we will drop down into the valley to hunt the other quail. I don’t think that we’ll have much of a problem finding Mearn’s quail as that population is holding up well,” stated Bristow.

    The hunt plan was put together the evening of our arrival in Tucson with Bristow to pick us up at 6:30 a.m. the following morning.

    “There is no hurry to get up into Mearn’s quail country with this cold snap that hit this region over the weekend. The temperature at the 5,500-foot elevation where we will start our hunt will be in the high twenties to start with. It would be better to let the sun hit the south facing mountains and warm things up. This will get the Mearn’s quail moving a little and put more scent on the ground for the dogs,” stated Bristow.

    Our hunt was to take place at the top end of Fisher Canyon where very little hunting pressure takes place due to the ruggedness of the terrain and the long drive in on the dirt road.

    According to Bristow, most Mearn’s quail hunters prefer to work out the arroyos and less steep draws and they do well early in the season, especially on young birds. As the season moves along quail will move up out of the bottomland and concentrate under the live oaks where there is an abundance of tubers and acorns to feed upon. In addition to the food, there is excellent cover along the slopes of the steeper canyons and a covey rise can consist of a dozen quail or more.

          Brizendine had never hunted Mearn’s quail although he does spend time armed with a shotgun or rifle during the off-season when not fishing pelagics off Baja Norte. This hunting editor had warned Brizendine about conditioning and he said he would be spending a lot of time walking his labs and riding a bike to get into fair shape prior to our departure.

    There was still frost on the ground as Bristow let his young 11-month old German Shorthair Shorty out of the kennel to work the first series of canyons, while his kennel mate and mother waited patiently under the shade of huge oak in the bottom of the brush filled arroyo.

    It’s mostly uphill hunting until you get to the top of a savanna and then work out a bowl, drop down another steep ridge and repeat this scenario until the dog goes on a strong point. Due to the frost it took nearly 2 hours for Shorty to finally lock up on a solid point. Kirby positioned Buzz and this shooter as he moved in behind his pup. The quail held tight and 6 birds flushed from a tiny clump of Cheat grass. Three birds hit the ground with Brizendine dropping his first-ever Mearn’s quail…a nice adult cock bird.

    As the temperature rose so did the number of points and flushed quail. By noon we were half way through our limit of 8 birds and it was time for lunch and switch out for a fresh dog.

    Now it was Lilly’s turn to show her pointing talent and it didn’t take long for her to lock up on the side of a cat-claw brush pile. She held steady and the birds flushed straight out of the thick cover and not a single feather was dusted, as the birds winged around a live oak and juniper tree that wouldn’t allow any of us to get off a clean shot.
    “Don’t worry, those quail didn’t flush very far and I am sure that they are hunkered down in the savanna grass just over the ridge. Lilly has a good nose and should hold the birds until we get repositioned,” voiced Bristow.

    The birds held tight with singles and doubles flushing as we worked the taller grass. That covey held at least a dozen birds, and both Bristow and Brizendine finished off limits, while this shooter was still one bird shy of walking off the mountain with a liberal 8-bird limit of Mearn’s quail.

    This trio of hunters headed down the canyon wall towards the truck as the sun set over the Santa Rita Mountains but Lilly was still working hard. Just above the bottom of the dry creek bed she went on to her 7th point of the afternoon. This shooter moved up on her point and single quail flushed over my shoulder and headed up the steep canyon. A clean swing of my Charles Daly O/U 20 gauge, loaded up with Federal Premium copper plated # 8 shot, made for a clean kill and the fat quail hit the ground with a thud.

    Day-two saw our hunt party joined by local upland game bird hunter Brett Browning and his team of shorthairs. The plan was to start out early for scaled quail and then move to Hog Canyon to hunt Mearn’s. Unfortunately, the scaled quail were MIA’s, but the lack of hunting pressure in Hog Canyon made for a productive shorter day of Mearn’s quail hunting. With tired legs and sore backs we called it a day at 1:30 p.m. with a very good harvest of Mearn’s quail. Bristow had again limited out working over his fine shorthair Sugar, Browning bagged a limit of birds, while Brizendine and this hunting editor dropped off the last savanna with each of us just one bird shy of a limit.

    Bristow is optimistic about the remainder of the Mearn’s quail season that will continue through Feb. 8, 2009.

    “There should be good hunting on public land even though the coveys will be smaller and perhaps higher up on the canyon walls. Look for scratching sign under the shade of oaks and bedding spots that indicate that there are birds around. The chances of flushing tight holding Mearn’s quail without a dog are less than 5 per cent. You would have to step on a quail to get it to flush and there is a lot of ideal habitat to cover. It’s just not a good idea to try and hunt Mearn’s quail without a good pointer,” added Bristow.

    About the taste of a native Mearn’s quail there is probably no wild bird that is as mild and tender as is this bird. Brizendine reported that he had never enjoyed a meal of wild game as much, and for this hunting editor the birds brought back, with one identifying leg/foot attached, made two delicious meals totally of white flesh, and served with a glass of fine Chardonnay.   

WON opted for a 3-day non-resident AZ hunting license that cost $61.25, which allowed for the two days of quail hunting and then one day of Canada goose hunting at the Cibola Sportsman’s Club South Ranch with an overnight in one of the new cabins. Being able to hunt both upland game birds, dove, geese and ducks on a late season drive to and from Tucson makes for a full hunting trip. The cost of fuel in AZ averaged $1.55 a gallon. The Arizona Department of Game and Fish is committed to managing their wild game, habitat and promote hunting within the state. In addition to many big and small game hunting options available to non-resident hunters, the department offers youth hunting programs that help promote hunting and outdoor adventures.

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