Chad Frizzell's bark snapped us to attention.
His gesture steered us toward the rock-solid German shorthair, locked into a quivering statue by a noseful of bird scent.
New shooting preserves offering gunning for pheasants, chukars and other non-traditional game have popped up across the Lone Star State in recent years.
High-stepping between cactus and snaky-looking brush, we slipped up either side of the dog -- John Jefferson and Steve Lightfoot on the left, Terry Moore and myself on the right.
"Ready?" Chad asked. Then he stepped in, kicking in front of the dogs to flush the hiding birds.
"Where is he?"
Then back to our right, almost behind us, a rooster pheasant exploded out of the brush.
Old instinct took over. The well-worn Winchester snapped to my shoulder, the barrel swept through the rooster, and the bird was falling before I even felt the recoil of the shot.
"Good shot!" somebody hollered.
"Kind of makes up for the two easy ones you already missed," somebody else said with a chuckle.
I think it was from Moore, who was having one of those "can't miss" days. Every bird that had flushed in front of him had returned to earth quickly in a cloud of feathers.
I admired the long-tailed rooster that Chad handed me, and I didn't feel one bit guilty that it was still a month before the Texas pheasant season.
No, we weren't poaching. We were hunting north of Snyder on a 30,000-acre ranch in the Rolling Plains heart of Texas bobwhite quail country. But we weren't hunting quail.
Like lots of Texas bird hunters, we were hunting non-native birds -- pheasants and chukar partridges. It's been a tough five or six years for Texas quail, and even in ideal habitat like we were hunting, there just aren't as many coveys as we'd like.
We were hunting with Chad Frizzell of TALA Kennels in Lockney. Chad and his father, David, spend most of their time training pointers and raising pen-raised pheasants, quail and chukars for shooting preserves.
Our group of outdoor writers had gathered at the ranch to talk shop, but took time out for a couple of quick hunts. Split into two groups, we put out pairs of German shorthairs and followed them through the mesquite brush and oak shinnery.
As recounted at the beginning of this story, the dogs were pretty successful finding birds -- more so than I was in hitting them.
We had to break by late morning, when it got just too hot and dusty for either hunters or dogs.
We ended the day working a brushy draw, letting the dogs work into the cool late-evening breeze. And suddenly there were birds everywhere.
Don't believe that pen-raised birds are a sure thing. Chukars, especially, are downright tough to hit.
The sleek brown-spotted dogs would lock on a point, we'd step up and flush a chukar or two. Some we hit, others we missed.
Just as the sun set, both dogs locked up nose to nose under a thick mesquite. Although we kicked and poked and hollered, no bird would flush.
Chad tried urging the dogs on, but they wouldn't budge.
"There's something here. They won't move," he said.
Then a brilliant, long-tailed pheasant rooster erupted from the brush, climbing straight into the sky like a cackling rocket.
I'll long remember the sight of that multi-colored bird against the sunset, John Jefferson swinging almost straight up, the rooster folding in a puff of feathers, the swapped compliments and jabs as we gathered the dogs and headed for the truck.
Not a bad way to end a day.
Shooting Preserves are Here to Stay
The reality is that, in much of the Lone Star State, stocked birds are the only real option for bird hunters.
But there are other advantages.
Most bird hunters are interested in a quality experience, with the opportunity for some shooting and the chance to take home a few birds for the table, Chad said. They're far less concerned about the life history of the birds they are hunting.
Most hunts for pen-raised birds cost about the same as those for wild quail -- about $200 to $300 per hunter per day. By the time you throw in the cost of maintaining a few quality pointers and equipment, plus securing access to a place to hunt, that's a pretty good bargain.
A couple of chukars are bigger than a whole limit of bobwhites. And while not much can compete with a deep-fried quail on the table, pheasants are big and plenty tasty.
Don't believe that pen-raised birds are a sure thing. We hunted several stretches where Chad's guides had released 40 or more chukars and pheasants, yet we could find no more than a dozen. Hot, dry conditions made it difficult for the shorthairs to scent the birds, certainly, but there's just a lot of room in a brushy pasture for a few birds to disappear.
Chukars, especially, are downright tough to hit. Although much bigger than a bobwhite, they're just as fast. I can testify that they are easy to miss too.
There's a real benefit for the wild quail too. Instead of chasing a few coveys all over the ranch, we left the wild bird alone - hopefully to expand their numbers with a little help from Mother Nature.
New shooting preserves have popped up all over Texas in recent years. Chances are that there's a quality preserve within an hour of you. Check with your local Chambers of Commerce. A quick Internet search under shooting preserves will probably also find you a few nearby.
|For more information, contact All American Hunting at (1-800) 693-2253. |