Walking Wounded

This is a story about a terrific Gambel quail hunt and also the story about an avoidable accident. The story took place in over fifteen hours and is a long one so I divided it into two parts. The first part follows and the second part will posted on January 15th.

In 1973 on this particular hunt, to an isolated canyon along the Salt River, Jake, my hunting buddy, and I were taking a good friend, Tommy Walker. Tommy was in Phoenix for a business meeting that ended the coming Friday, so we planned the hunt for the next day, Saturday. Tommy was excited at the prospect of some real good Gambel quail hunting!

The trip to the hunting spot was a real doozy! We took a ten-mile, dirt road, short cut, off of Bee Line Highway, to reach the main road from Payson to Roosevelt Dam and on to Globe, Arizona. Back on the paved surface, heading east, we took a dirt road south, following the west rim of the Salt River Canyon, for eight miles before it turned into a four wheel drive only road for four more harrowing miles. When the four wheel drive road ended, we were “there”. We probably made six or seven trips to this spot and never saw another soul. Gas was only $.50 per gallon then. Nixon had just begun the Arab Oil embargo that marked the beginnings of our energy problems!

We hunted along a wash that fed into the Salt River. The wash continued west up into the hills for several miles, then turned into a mini canyon almost two hundred feet deep. The little canyon had nicely terraced sides along its north rim. We, our dogs and hunters, would spread across the wash and head up it until the coveys of birds were found. At the time the coveys were enormous, a hundred to two hundred birds each, and needed to be seen, to be believed.

Back to our story, we, Tommy, Jake and I, along with two of our Brittany Spaniels, began our hunt around 8:30 AM. After the usual checking of our gear, we trekked a quarter of a mile in, spread out and began our hunt. Once the birds were found, we pursued them up the wash into the small canyon. At the same time, this split the coveys into more manageable groups with some flying up and over the canyon rim.

Then the shooting and walking really began! Up the canyon, up the terraces, back down the terraces, up the terraces, not for the faint of heart! 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. 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. Earlier, several bunches of the main coveys had flow up there.

We saw the birds running on the ground ahead of us, before we saw them flush wildly over the rim back to the bottom of the canyon. These were a group of birds that flew up there earlier this morning.

Jake said, “I’ll take the dogs and go down into the canyon and try to drive them up on the terraces.” I added, “I’ll take the middle terrace,” knowing that I could come under fire from Jake if the birds flew straight up the canyon wall. It was safer for Tommy to be up on the top sixty yards or more from the bottom.

He was to walk slowly, a safe distance away from the canyon’s edge and mark the birds that flew up and out of the canyon. I had already told him that I would not shoot at a bird flying up the canyon wall toward him. Tommy wasn’t used to the rough hunting terrain, and especially to the erratic behavior of the birds when being pursued by dogs and hunters.

In the bottom of the canyon, the dogs pointed a group of twelve to fifteen birds, Jake, letting me know of the point (Tommy heard the exchange too). Jake walked in on the birds and they went everywhere, bam, bam, two shots from his over and under, that ,as I ducked down whizzed over my head and then heard Tommy yell in pain, “I’m hit!”

Continued on January 15.