Jack Shindler and I had narrowed down the best place in Arizona to hunt Gambel Quail and it was in the Tonto National Forest on the south side of the Tonto Basin, along the west side of the Salt River Canyon. This was our “Place” and it was an “easy” drive from our Paradise Valley homes.
This particular hunt Jack and I were taking a good friend, Tommy Walker, who was in Phoenix for a business meeting which ended the coming Friday. Tommy was excited at the prospect of some real good Quail hunting!
Our “place” was off of the main road from Payson to Roosevelt Dam and on to Globe, Arizona. Once on the Payson, Globe road, heading east, we would take a dirt road south for eight miles before it turned into a four wheel drive only road for four more harrowing miles, following the west rim of the Salt River Canyon. When the four wheel drive road ended, we were at our “Place. We probably made six or seven trips to the “Place” and never saw another soul there.
The “Place” began as a wash feeding into the Salt River and continued west up into the hills for several miles, turning into a mini canyon almost two hundred feet deep, with nicely terraced sides along the north rim. We, our dogs and hunters, would spread across the wash and head up it until the coveys of birds were found. The coveys were enormous, at the time, one hundred to two hundred birds and needed to be seen to be believed.
Back to our story, Tommy, Jack and I, along with our four Brittany Spaniels, arrived at the entry point to the “place” just at sun up, checked our gear, made sure we each had canteens of water for us and the dogs, trekked a quarter mile in, spread out and began the hunt
Once the birds were found, we pursued them up the wash into the small canyon, splitting the coveys into more manageable groups, then the shooting really began, up the canyon, up the terraces, back down the terraces, up the terraces, not for the faint hearted! The dog work was excellent, the shooting bordered on fantastic and the Arizona desert hills made for a perfect setting.
We hunted two dogs for two hours then circled back, took a break and got two fresh ones, then, around noon we broke for a quick sandwich, sat a spell enjoying the scenery, counted our half limits of birds and headed back up the north rim of our little canyon. We saw the birds running on the ground ahead of us, before seeing them flush wildly over the rim to the bottom of the canyon. These were a group of birds that flew up here when we broke up their covey earlier this morning.
Jack said, “I’ll take the dogs and go down into the canyon and try to drive them up on the terraces.” I said, “I’ll take the middle terrace,” knowing that I could come under fire from Jack if the birds flew straight up the canyon wall. Me better than Tommy being there. He wasn’t used to the rough hunting terrain, and especially to the erratic behavior of Gambel Quail when being pursued by dogs and hunters. It was safer for him to be up on the top sixty yards or more from Jack. He was to walk slowly and mark the birds that flew up and out of the canyon, and I had already told him that I would not shoot at a bird flying up the canyon wall toward him.
The dogs pointed a group of twelve to fifteen birds, Jack, in the bottom of the canyon, letting me know of the point (Tommy hearing the exchange), walked in on the birds and they went everywhere. bam, bam, two shots from Jack’s, twenty gauge, over and under, which whizzed over my head as I ducked down and then heard Tommy yell in pain, “I’m hit!”
Scrambling up the thirty yards to where he was, down on his knees, holding his eyes. Oh no, not his eyes, I thought! Up comes Jack, “What happened to Tommy?” He exclaims. “Looks like he got some shot in his eyes,” I answer. Tommy says, “I heard you and Jack say a few words and I got curious and walked to the edge of the canyon and looked down just as Jack shot, and I think I’ve got some shot in one of my eyes!”
I checked his pulse, it was normal, his skin felt normal, one eye definitely had one or more shot in it, the other was normal. No apparent signs of shock, for now. We had him lay down and elevated his feet, while we figured what to do and how to get him out the two plus miles back to the truck.
We figured if we bandaged his eye we could lead him out OK. The only problem, no bandages, some in the first aid kit in the truck, but none with us, so we improvise. We take the back of my tee shirt and Jack’s clean hankie, tie them together, and oops, to cover his injured eye, we have to cover his good eye too. We don’t have any tape with us. It is in the truck, too. Covering both eyes, we tie the “bandage” off in the back of Tommy’s head.
We start back to the truck and it is hard to guide Tommy, so Jack and I take turns, one carrying all three guns, the other guiding Tommy, by having him lean on and put an arm around our neck. He told of being wounded in WW II and didn’t feel like he was anywhere near to going into shock, our main worry.
The dogs, bless their hearts, hunted all the way back. Tommy couldn’t see with both of his eyes bandaged, but he could hear us talking. “Hey, Jack look, point up here.” “Jon, here’s a point.” Whirrrrrrr! quail takes to a hurried flight. Tommy said, “Guys, set me down here and you all hunt these birds. You can come back and get me.” “Not a chance, Tommy,” we both echo.
Tommy was a load, weighing about two hundred pounds, and carrying the shotguns for two miles sounds easy, but remember there are no handles, or slings, on them and no easy way to carry three guns at once for any distance. Our two mile jaunt took us almost two hours, but our first goal, the truck and the four wheel drive road, was reached.
We still had four, hard, four wheel drive miles, at least two hours, to cover before we got to the dirt road. Jack drove and I sat with Tommy in the back of the SUV. The dogs were packed into two kennels behind the second seat. We were all tired, and Tommy’s eye was beginning to throb, as we bumped the four miles to the dirt road. Our second goal was reached. We could make this eight mile leg in about thirty minutes. It had been over four hours since the accident.
The sun was setting as we reached the hard top road to Payson and it had been almost five hours since the accident. Jack and I knew there was a small hospital in Payson, twenty-five miles ahead, and we hurried on into town.
No cell phones then, so we stopped at the first convenience store we came across in Payson and called the hospital, alerting them of the accident and getting directions. We found the emergency room and checked Tommy in. There was a short wait for the local eye specialist. An hour later the doctor comes out and tells us that he had removed the shot from Tommy’s eye, but he was concerned that the vitreous fluid could leak out, causing Tommy to loose his vision in that eye.
The doctor would end up keeping Tommy in the hospital for a week. His eye healed and he returned to shooting and hunting almost as soon as he got back home. I hunted and shot skeet with Tommy for the next ten years and all of us started wearing shooting glasses!