Mearns

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Jim, Landon and me with a pile of birds. The dogs did all the work.

The season has been over for a few weeks now. The dog knows it. I know it. We’ve both settled in to the routine of the off season. I cleaned the shotgun, put it in a gun sock, and stowed it in the safe. I bathed the dog and now she smells like that oatmeal shampoo. She’s already back to roaming the backyard and intermittently stalking song birds and lizards.

My mind is wandering to turkey season. Instead of the yellow grass and oaks of southern Arizona, I’m wondering what the weather is doing in the high country. I’m thinking about getting down the decoys, breaking out a slate call, and seeing if I have enough shells to go pattern the shotgun like I do every season.

But I dare not start digging out gear and making piles of camouflage clothing. I won’t open the safe and rummage through shells. I refuse to start scratching the slate just yet. The dog will know. She’ll sense I’m cheating on her. She’ll sit there patiently, watching with her sad orange-brown eyes, knowing I’m going hunting without her. I can’t do it to her yet. Maybe in a week or two.

It breaks my heart to see her so sad. But I do love turkey hunting, and September grouse season is a long ways away.

Slice of heaven
God got creative when he colored up Mearns quail
Cane sugar for the win. Viva Mexico
10 months away

A bird dog

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Sunny and I after a successful day in the field

Every time she hunts, she gets better. She hunts wild birds and gets to hunt with other experienced dogs. Racking up miles and miles in the field, she runs her guts out and has turned into an absolute killer.

I know everyone loves their bird dog, but I love mine most.

Sunny on point
“I swear that bird fell right here. Get the dogs back over here”
Walking back to the truck
Mearns quail
Mearns quail
Sunshine in the sunshine

Mearns Quail Hunting in Arizona

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Mearns Quail
Arizona Mearns Quail

I pulled the truck off the side of the dirt road in roughly the same spot I had marked on the map. Shrugging into my vest and slipping the shotgun from the case, I flipped the tailgate down, dropped the dog dish into the dirt and opened the nozzle on the blue water jug. As the water splashed into the metal dog dish, I hoisted Sunny onto the tailgate and secured her GPS collar and watched the screen on my handheld to make sure everything was working. Sunny jumped off the tailgate and slurped water before turning away from the truck into the tall yellow grass. I slammed the tailgate closed and hit the key fab to lock the truck before turning and walking into the grass myself.

I scanned ahead looking for the brown body of my dog and felt the familiar buzz of the GPS. I looked down and Sunny was on point, 20 yards from the truck. I snapped the shotgun closed and walked towards her. The ground erupted in front of me as 12 Mearns quail popcorn flushed straight away. I picked one of the last ones to get off the ground and dropped it from flight. Sunny was on it in a moment, rolling, mouthing and savoring the taste of fat male Mearns quail in her mouth. That alone was worth the drive to the border.

Mearns Quail Hunting
Sunshine Lady with a solid retrieve
Male Mearns Quail
A pile of males
Mearns Quail Hunting Arizona
A solid group of guys and dogs
Mearns Quail
One more of my girl and me

Sunshine Lady

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3 for the morning

Sweet Sunshine Lady found the one and only cholla bush in 4 square miles and wound up with a leg and mouth full of spines. We spent a half an hour together in the shade of a mesquite tree, pulling everyone of those barbed needles I could out of her hide and tongue. After that episode, she slowed down and we hunted a couple of large coveys together, knocking down three Gamble’s quail together.

I don’t know if everyone feels the same way about their dog, but I love my sweet idiot. We’re both have our flaws, but love hunting together.

Gamble’s Quail Country
Sunshine Lady with a point and retrieve
Scolopendra heros – Giant Desert Centipede
Lots of water

Rambling Review: Marsupial Gear

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Rambling Review 

Why: Most western hunters carry a pair of binoculars on their chest while scouting and hunting. Between harnesses and pouches, there is a plethora of options on the market right now. They all serve the same general purpose, but the well thought out design of the Marsupial Gear Binocular Pack shines in comparison.

First impressions:

Flip forward opening: Both the Marsupial Gear Binocular Pack and the Rangefinder pouch’s lids fold forward and can be secured with one hand out of the way. The lids of both the bino harness and the range finder are fastened with high quality magnetics for a solid closure.

Made in the USA: All Marsupial Gear products are handmade right here in Phoenix, Arizona.

Field Use:

I’ve been running the Marsupial Gear Binocular Pack and Rangefinder Pouch for the past year and absolutely love this combo. The first thing that stands out is the overall layout of the binocular pack. The streamlined exterior does not have any hard corners for gear to get snagged on. The front of the pouch has one zipper pocket which is perfect for a tag/license or a couple extra rifle rounds. Two stretchy side pockets sit on either side of the Binocular Pack which hold a wind indicator bottle perfectly. The interior of of the Binocular Pack is lined with a high quality fleece making for soft protection for optics and quiet access to them when needed.

The second reason that I really like these Marsupial Gear products is the front opening lid. It’s an extremely smooth one-handed movement to open and access my binoculars. A bottom magnetic closure allows the front opening lid to be secured open. In comparison, some of the other harnesses on the market fold back (and into the chin/face of the user) and can be obtrusive when trying to quickly and quietly access binoculars. Marsupial Gear has a well thought out lid design.

Lastly, the suspension system of the binocular harness might be the most important aspect to consider. I’ve worn the Marsupial Gear Binocular Pack on multiple javelina hunts, turkey hunts, an elk hunt, a coues deer hunt and multiple scouting trips, and it has proven to be an extremely comfortable harness. Personally, I like the bino pouch to ride higher on my chest and the fully adjustable harness allows the user to find the perfect position for the their personal preference.

Pros:

Sleek and well thought out design

Comfortable and adjustable harness

Made in the Phoenix, AZ

Multiple sizes and color/camo options

Cons:

I’ve got nothing bad to say about this piece of gear

Prognosis:  I’m all in on the Marsupial Gear Binocular Pack and Rangefinder Pouch. If you are looking for high quality, well designed, Arizona-made gear for your optics, check out all that Marsupial gear has to offer.

* Disclaimer:

The reviews at Arizona Wanderings are my honest opinion. Arizona Wanderings is not sponsored by or associated with any of the stated companies and is accepting no compensation, monetary or otherwise, in exchange for this review.  My independent status may change in the future but, as of the date of publication, no relationship other than described above has been pursued or established.

Coues Deer

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Coues Deer

October on the border treated us pretty well. We knocked down a couple of mature coues deer for the freezer which will make for some good meals this winter. There’s never a dull moment on these backpack hunts. Between trying to find enough water to drink and watching the drug runners working the mountains, this hunt keeps you on your toes. This is my favorite form of grocery shopping.

Coues deer
Boned out meat in the shade
Exo loaded up
Talking about backstraps for dinner
Med-Rare Perfection

Rambling Review: Zenbivy Light Bed

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Zenbivy Light Bed

Rambling Review: Zenbivy Light Bed

Why: I’m always working on my sleep system for hunting, fishing, and camping trips. The truth is that the temperature ranges so drastically in Arizona that it can easily be 100 degrees in the summer on a fishing trip and single digits on a winter hunt. I’ve experimented with different bags, quilts, and pads, and all of them have an application. However, the Zenbivy Light Bed is a unique product that provides a versatile sleep system. (This review is based on the 25 degree system)

First impressions:

The system – The Zenbivy Light Bed system is a two part bag system that attaches right to your sleeping bag.

  • Zenbivy Light Sheet – A fitted sheet that attaches securely to the sleeping pad
  • Zenbivy Light Quilt – A down overquilt that attaches to the fitted sheet using a series of hooks.

Lightweight – The Zen Bivy Fitted Sheet and Quilt weigh in at 2.3 pounds.

Field Use:

To be honest, it took me an evening of messing around with the Zenbivy light bed to completely understand all of the ins and outs of this system. Bottom line, it’s extremely versatile and designed to set up the quilt into three different modes.

  • Mummy mode – The quilt is able to be cinched in mummy mode which allows the bottom to be secured all together for maximum warmth.
  • Rectangle mode – Using the hook system, the quilt is secured to the fitted sheet to give a tucked in feel like your bed at home.
  • Quilt mode – If you’re saving ounces, you can leave the fitted sheet at home and sleep directly on the pad with the quilt on top.

Between turkey season, a family camping trip, and an overnight fishing trip, I’ve spent several nights in the Zenbivy Light Bed. I personally sleep really hot. I have a 3/4 zip mummy bag I’ve used forever and I always wake up on fire in it, but never can find the sweet spot to be comfortable. From my experience with the Zenbivy Light Bed, I really liked running the rectangle mode. In the night as I develop hot zones, I was able to take a hook or two out and kick my leg out without the whole sleep system rolling with me. The 25 degree quilt worked extremely well for my summer trips.

Zenbivy Light Bed

Pros:

  • Versatile use in multiple climates
  • Fitted sheet can be used on different sleeping pads
  • No slipping off you’re sleeping pad in the night
  • Lightweight and packable

Cons:

  • Cost – any sleep system worth its salt costs money

Prognosis:  I really dig what Zenbivy has developed with their Zenbivy Light Bed system. It is a great lightweight addition to my backcountry setup.

* Disclaimer:

The reviews at Arizona Wanderings are my honest opinion. Arizona Wanderings is not sponsored by or associated with any of the stated companies and is accepting no compensation, monetary or otherwise, in exchange for this review.  My independent status may change in the future but, as of the date of publication, no relationship other than described above has been pursued or established.

Arizona Elk Hunting

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Sunrise in Elk Country

I followed along, watching and listening. I feel comfortable in the outdoors, but this hunt held quite a bit more weight. I’d been building points for a number of years and the moment was finally here. The first six days of the hunt had ebbed and flowed. In the previous days, we had been close on several bulls, but the weather was hot and the moon was full which allowed the elk to spend most of their night rutting and feeding, and most of the day time asleep and out of sight.

But on this evening it was different. The bluff we were on seemed to crawl with elk. We had pushed a few cow elk and could hear them rolling rocks as they skittered away, but we could hear a bull bugling and raking a tree ahead. The sun was setting and we were losing our last bit of light. We pushed forward in time to see two mature bulls clashing antlers. I moved forward while Don hung back behind a juniper and cow called. The two males stopped their ritualistic dance and turned in our direction, closing the distance.

All I could see was antlers walking by me. I forced myself to focus, and when the first bull’s head was out of sight behind a tree, I drew my bow and waited. Each step he took seemed in slow motion. I could see the mud on his face and hear his breathing as he plodded forward. As his front near leg stepped forward, my arrow found it’s mark and he crashed through the trees and tipped over a mere 60 yards away.

As any hunter knows, there is a strange marriage of excitement and sorrow, thankfulness and pride that fills the soul after a successful hunt. Excitement in the moment, sorrow for taking a life, thankfulness for the sustenance that life brings, and pride in a quick kill.

All of that gives way, when you stand over a 800 pound animal and know that the real work is just beginning. We skinned and quartered the old bull where he fell, taking each last bit of meat, knowing that it would feed my family and friends. The sun had long since taken the light from the sky and was replaced by Orion the Hunter and a waning moon.

I am beyond grateful for this elk and the long life he lived. I didn’t deserve such a fine trophy and could not of dreamed of harvesting such an animal. I am thankful for mentors and friends who showed me the way.

Following the Legend
Day #6
Ryan, 2:30 am back at the truck
Heavy old bull
Back at home
A quick anatomy lesson