WESTERN OUTDOOR NEWS ON-THE-SPOT
SHOT LIMITS OF CALIFORNIA VALLEY QUAIL — Kirby Bristow and Brett Browning of Tucson, Arizona hunted valley quail for the first time ever and both shooters walked out of Short Canyon, located above Inyokern, with limits of quail. PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC
INYOKERN — When it comes time to return a favor a hunter needs to contact as many sources, guides, outfitters and quail specialists as possible. Such was the situation this past week when this hunting editor received an urgent e-mail from Kirby Bristow, a biologist with the Arizona Department of Game and Fish, asking for help in finding a place to hunt California valley quail over Veteran's Day.
Bristow had hosted Western Outdoor News on a number of successful Mearns and Gambel's quail hunts over the past few years and now it would be time for this hunter to repay Kirby for all the successful hunts we enjoyed walking out steep canyons of the Coronado National Forest just southwest of Sonoita. This region is public land and up until the drought hit, this part of Arizona held good numbers of Mearns quail to be hunted. With a downward spiral of quail populations around Tucson and the good quail hatch for California, Bristow opted to head this way for his first ever California valley quail hunt and high hopes of also shooting a mountain quail with his hunting partner Brett Browning and their fine German shorthair pointers.
It was time to "push the panic button" as finding good public land to hunt quail on is not the easiest thing to accomplish in California. As all upland game bird hunters know when a wing shooters finds a good spot to hunt quail he is very hesitant about passing on that information and location to other hunters.
The first call was made to Robert Armijo of Habitat Chairman for the San Gabriel Valley Chapter of Quail Unlimited who over the years has volunteered much of his time to working on guzzlers and other habitat for upland game birds in the local national forests. Armijo was very supportive of helping out a game biologist from Arizona and he exchanged good information to Bristow, but cautioned him on the pending winter storm that was expected to hit the San Bernardino Mountain and Angeles National Forest this past weekend. As an option WON contacted High Desert Guide Service master guide Harold Horner, but he came back stating that he was booked full with chukar hunters.
At the same time this hunting editor decided to e-mail Jim Matthews "Mr. Quail Guy", who publishes the quail hunting newsletter Western Birds and probably knows more about quail and chukar in Southern California than does any other sportsman or conservationist. Not only is Jim a fine writer and owner of Outdoor News Service, but he also hosts upland game bird seminars, one of which is called "Public Land Upland Bird Hunting For Beginners". This had to be the go-to man for Bristow, as the upcoming quail hunt needed to be moved to the high desert, where there was less of a chance of getting rained out.
Matthews suggested that Bristow hunt out of Inyokern as there were a number of canyons that held California valley quail, mountain quail and chukar and it was all public land. WON would meet up with Bristow and Browning at a coffee shop in the tiny rural town and head off into the southern slopes of the High Sierra. Spreading out BLM maps and a DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer on the table between a few cups of coffee and OJ, we decided to try Indian Wells Canyon first and then as a backup head over to Short Canyon, which was just a few miles to the north.
Bristow knows quail and Browning had just returned from 10 days of hunting chukar and Huns in Idaho, but neither knew that much about valley or mountain quail. Prior to heading up the canyon there was an exchange of information on habits of valley quail and the prospects for finding a mountain quail.
This editor's advice to the lead vehicle was, "If you see a covey crossing the dirt road pull off and get on that covey with your dogs as quickly and safely as possible." Such was the case as a small covey of valley quail broke in two and flushed up the mountain before even getting deep into this canyon. By the time the dogs had their collars on and guns and gear were ready, the covey had moved way up the steep side of the mountain covered in sage, thorn brush and Joshua trees.
Browning's gun dog Koby locked up on a hard point, that was quickly honored by Bristow's dog Shorty. Kirby moved up into shooting position and a single valley quail flushed down hill, but the hunter was on target and Shorty retrieved the male valley quail to hand and a big smile came over Bristow's face...as he had shot his first California valley quail off the very first point and he was just minutes into the hunt. That canyon was not kind to the party as only one other quail was bagged, as the rain, sleet and wind kicked into our faces and held what birds were in that canyon down in the bottom protected by thick cover.
It was just a little drive to the bottom of Short Canyon where we parked and hiked up to the rim of a ridge that over looked a huge bowl of very nasty looking terrain. Bristow and Browning split up with their respective dogs working ahead of them as they methodically cris-crossed a maze of mixed cover, big boulders and huge rocky out croppings. Shot after shot echoed across the canyon as a number of small coveys were flushed. Browning had shot 9 valley quail and Bristow had bagged 7 quail, as both hunters were well on their way to limiting out on public land on their first ever California valley quail hunting experience.
After a quick lunch the hunters split up and hunted an eastern canyon that came out of a dry wash. It didn't take long for the dogs to get scent of running quail and after a couple of fine points Bristow had bagged his last three quail, of which one was a double, and Browning shot his last bird out of covey of 10 birds that flush up the side of the canyon. Both hunters walked out of the canyon with a big smile on their face. They had just accomplished what few other hunters, whether they be local or non-resident upland game bird hunters, and that was "to shoot a limit of California valley quail on public land." No mountain quail were harvested our even seen and chukar stayed way up on top of the rocky ridges but none were shot that day. As WON headed home after the photo shoot, the two Arizona boys were starting to clean quail and decide where they would spend a cold night camped out on that mountain. This Western Outdoor News hunting editor would like to thank Matthews and Armijo for sharing their knowledge of where to hunt California valley quail on public land.