Sporting Classics Digital

Jan/Feb 2017

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P erhaps it's simply luck. Perhaps it's some sort of obscure instinct which guides a hunter. Or possibly it is as the Indians believe—if you live right and observe the proper rituals, the spirits of the woods and prairies will take you by the hand and lead you to good hunting. I know that, for my part, some of the best hunting I have ever encountered has come to me through no conscious process on my part. It has been as if I were guided by some unknown hand. The quail of the little milpas, which is what the Mexicans call their farm fields, are a case in point. I discovered them by accident. I discovered them because I needed them, because I had to have them if I were to get in much bird shooting. It was as if some beneficent spirit had conjured them up for me out of my need. Now the Gambel's quail of the Southwest is almost entirely a desert bird and not, like the Eastern bobwhite, a dweller on farms and fields. The Gambel's does not get on well in the modern world, and for the most part he has disappeared from the big irrigated valleys of the Southwest. Clean farming, the habit of burning off the grass each winter, and predatory domestic cats, which all Americans seem to love (as well as the ever-present and just as predatory small boy with his BB gun and his .22), all serve quickly to exterminate him around most farms. The birds have survived in hordes in the deserts, but civilization nearly always spells their doom. So I had no right to find those coveys where I did. They were simply born of my need. There is excellent bird hunting around Tucson, Arizona, but most of it is from 20 to 40 miles away and out of reach of the man who holds a job and must confine his longer jaunts to weekends. I wanted a spot where I could shoot a few birds after my day's chores were over—and I found it—easily, quickly, almost as if I had known about it all the time and had just remembered. I t was a few years ago, and I had just moved to Tucson from the high, cold Coconino Plateau in northern Arizona, where no quail live and where wild turkeys are the only native non- migratory game bird. Turkeys, of course, afforded considerable excitement and exercise, but not much shooting, since in those 70 • S P O R T I N G C L A S S I C S After felling his first quail in La Madama's washtub, the author goes on to enjoy an action-packed day of gunning the little desert birds. By Jack O'cOnnOr

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