September 28, 2016
Who said, "There are no birds anymore?"
I can say for certain that's not the case in West Texas, where this past January I enjoyed a few days of the best quail hunting you could imagine — how about an honest 30 coveys before lunch?
As guests of the folks at Garmin and the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch in Roby, Ron Spomer, Tom Davis, Bob St. Pierre and I were privileged to experience what Dr. Dale Rollins and Rick Snipes of RPQRR called a jubilee year for quail in their part of the country.
Dr. Rollins says, "The Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch is a unique laboratory; there's really no other research entity devoted solely to the study of wild quail." This 4,700-acre ranch in the heart of quail country acts as "mission control" for other quail research around West Texas.
Can Rollins or Snipes or RPQRR claim credit for the sudden explosion of quail here and on other ranches in Texas and up through Oklahoma and beyond? I don't think either Dale or Rick will go there, but as Rick says, "Perhaps something we discover will serve to mitigate the effects of the inevitable next down part of the cycle, through our radical look at disease and parasites and our newest efforts to move wild-trapped quail to ideal habitats currently devoid of birds.
"Until now this approach was avoided by biologists, all of whom were content to rest behind the habitat, habitat, habitat mantra as the end-all paradigm for quail managers." From what I've observed, there's no doubt Dr. Rollins, his Board of Directors, staff, students and volunteers are locked down and dedicated to their mission, with the benefits going to the ranchers and hunters who live in or visit traditional quail country like West Texas.
Quail numbers were beyond belief this year, comprised of over 90 percent bobwhites along with huntable populations of blues on some ranches. What a time for young dogs to develop natural abilities, and how could you ask for a better setting to really put the finishing touches on older dogs? I've hunted all my life through thick and thin, and never would I have even dreamed of seeing quail populations like I saw this year in West Texas.
Beyond the pure joy of hunting with good friends and the incredible number of birds, what a great opportunity this was for our dogs. I'd venture to say the dogs we worked those three days saw more honest wild quail than many dogs will see in a lifetime, and as we discussed in this column in the June/July issue, this is what it's all about — wild birds make bird dogs.
If your dog has the "makin's," wild birds will bring his inherited abilities to life.
Wild birds do not tolerate mistakes or pressure and the number of birds we saw here offered endless opportunities to work on finishing steadiness, retrieving to hand, etc. It's no wonder Ted Gartner and his Garmin team chose this area and this year to offer us real life hands-on experiences with a number of existing and new Garmin training tools.
One unit that really caught our attention was the Garmin Alpha Track and Train (TT). With the Alpha you see your dog's location on a "bird's eye" map display, very similar to Google maps.
Over dinner we all marveled how comforting it was to hunt always knowing where our dogs were and what they were doing at all times while equipped with the Alpha TT.
Steve Snell remembered how in the past we relied on bells or beepers in combination with training collars as aids to stay on top of our dog's search pattern or to find them when they pointed birds. I'm not saying we no longer have to be attentive to our dogs as they work cover, but I'll guarantee these units make that job a whole bunch easier and the confidence this provides gives us a little more time to enjoy the outdoors, our friends and why we're out there€¦that's a big deal in my book.
All in all, much of the Southwest provided top-notch quail hunting this last fall, way beyond that of recent years. Let's hope the coming season is a repeat; I know the folks at RPQRR are locked in and focused on doing all they can to shore up that possibility.
With quail numbers like this, we old-timers are rejuvenated and a good many new hunters are becoming hooked on the sport of hunting in a positive way. That's a good thing, because with more hunters comes a stronger voice in all matters related to our sport. And remember, all hunters are judged as one, so represent us well!
For information on the RPQRR, go to quailresearch.org, and for more information on the Garmin Alpha TT go to garmin.com.