September 23, 2010
The Browning Cynergy hammers blues, bobs and clays
A bird hunter walks in on a setter's point at Ketchum Mountain Ranch.
There is some wide-open territory in West Texas, room for a bird dog to stretch its legs, country where a bird dog man can walk hard enough to wear out a pair of good boots in a few months. There are quail in West Texas, some seasons a lot of them. During the winter of 2004-2005 birds were especially plentiful around the San Angelo area--it's sort of a merge point--where bobwhite quail populations merge with scaled or blue quail. Move east of San Angelo--you find more bobwhites. Move west of San Angelo--you find more blues.
In two days of hunting last February, just before the end of the Texas bird season, we flushed a lot more scaled quail than bobwhites. The blues turned out to be just what you would expect--providing plenty of exasperation as they ran and ran in front of the bird dogs we were hurrying behind. Actually, many of the bobwhite coveys we encountered seemed to have similar long legs. It was a little surprising to me that these bobwhites possessed these traits so common to blue quail--because no one had ever shot quail on this ranch before.
The place is called Ketchum Mountain Ranch. Ten or 12 years prior to our arrival the ranch went out of the grazing business, thinking (correctly!) that there was more money in selling deer hunts than beef cattle. In the spring this ranch also caters to turkey hunters. No turkey tom tags go begging, and ranch personnel had invited a few of us in to try the quail hunting, wondering if the bobs and blues might provide some added income for the ranch, as well.
But first our little group met in San Antonio to shoot at perhaps the best shotgunning facility in the world--the National Gun Club. Among many other events, the World Skeet Shooting Championships and the National Sporting Clays Championships are held here. Scott Grange from Browning had brought along the new small gauge Cynergy shotguns for us to try--at the National Gun Club on clays--and at Ketchum Mountain Ranch on the quail. Scott also arranged to have sporting clays instructor John Meitzen stand behind us and give us instructional tips. What a great way to tune up for the quail shooting!
We had John Meitzen, sporting clays instructor, looking over our shoulders at the National Gun Club--to give us shooting tips. That's Scott Grange from Browning in the foreground.
The new Cynergy small gauge over and unders--in 20 and 28 gauge--are built on a small 28-gauge-size receiver. Offered in both Field and Sporting renditions, these guns can weigh as little as six pounds. The Field 20s and 28s come with either 26- or 28-inch barrels. The Sporting 20s come with 28-, 30-, even 32-inch barrels, while the 28-gauge Sporting Cynergy comes with 28- or 30-inch barrels. The 20s are even overbored--to .630. What makes the Cynergy so unique is the lockup system--totally different from either Citori or Superposed Browning lockup systems.
But what makes any bird hunt is the dogs, and Dale Rollins definitely had a dazzling quartet. Dale is a Ph. D. and works as a biologist with the Texas A & M Extension. Seems he knows everyone in West Texas--at least the ones who have prime quail habitat, which Ketchum Mountain, it turns out, did. Dale's four dogs included two littermates--11-month-old English setters, Baby and Deuce-- a Brittany/setter cross named Annie and another older English setter, Doc. All are females.
The first area we hunted, one side of a vast bottom, produced three coveys, and all were pretty far up the slope from the bottom of the valley. I was impressed with all the dogs but Annie was a standout, despite her "cross" heritage. Both Kevin Howard and I had plenty of egg on our faces because we missed quite a few birds--despite the excellent warm up we had at the National Gun Club with John Meitzen looking over our shoulders.
We changed hunting areas, this time to an even more productive one. Our shooting improved considerably. The dogs found eight more coveys, and the two pups, Baby and Deuce, showed mettle far beyond their age. Our coats were bulging with birds by the time we broke for lunch. This time the habitat was hills away from the bottom of the little valley. There were cedars galore, but it wasn't so thick that we couldn't see the dogs. The area was rocky, so sturdy boots were required. The dog's footpads must have been especially tough to handle that type of terrain hour after hour.
We used Winchester AA Target loads and one-ounce Winchester High Brass Game Loads.
I thought the gun choices were excellent for quail. I shot one of the 28-gauge Cynergy over and unders with extended Improved Cylinder and Light Modified chokes. This was a Field gun with 28-inch barrels, not one of the Sporting models. Normally, I prefer wide-open chokes for bobwhites, but with the blue quail jumping farther out than the bobs, those slightly tighter chokes were the ticket. I shot both Winchester AA Target loads, and the new one-ounce Winchester High Brass Game Loads, the latter a heavy load for the little 28-gauge hull.
After that first morning hunt with Dale Rollins, we hunted again in the afternoon, the next morning and the second afternoon, and we enjoyed plenty of action with the bird dogs. There were a lot of quail in West Texas last season, but they still required the usual--good bird dog work, decent shooting ability and the willingness to tramp for hours on end.