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A tale of quail, trail repairs, and a night under the stars...
Well, all of my friends either had to work or were going duck hunting Saturday, so I hit the opener solo for the first time in years. The plan was to get out there early Saturday morning, hunt all day, camp out, and hunt Sunday as well. Well, we all know about the best laid plans. The area in question was out around Landers, in the Bighorn range. A pretty rough section of desert, with boulder fields, volcanic ridges, and lots of black diamond trails.
I arrived at about 0700, and began to call in an area near the entrance. I was able to locate some birds about 300 yards away, so I began my approach and kept calling. However, as I progressed toward them, they never seemed to get any closer. I continued to follow them until I ended up by some houses. My final call confirmed that I had arrived a bit too late, and that they were retreating to the houses for the day. I headed back to the truck, and took a hairy little trail that drops into a huge bowl. I had found birds here last season, so I figured why not. After about ten minutes of hiking, I located a small group of about 6 birds. I circled around and cut them off, dropping two with the first two shots. I pushed them farther down the wash into some stubble, and managed to kick up two more, both of which fell to my #6 loads. Two doubles, minutes apart, and only four shots fired. I don't remember being that good, lol!
I lost the rest of the covey in the creosote, and decided to hit a spot where I found a large covey last year. Only problem was a rough black diamond trail strewn with boulders and giant ruts. It is barely discernible as a trail, and runs for about a mile through a large boulder field. You had a choice at every obstacle. The right line, or the six other ones that will get you stuck or broken. Well, after about ten minutes of hair-rising wheeling with no spotter in 4 low, I arrived at the spot. I hiked around for awhile, but there was no sign of the birds. I did blast a cottontail though. Man, it must have been a rough summer for these guys.
I checked in on a couple of other coveys I've scouted, and they were gone as well. I made one last ditch effort and hit a large wash with a lot of acacia and ironwoods. Here I found another group of six birds. After about ten minutes of pressure, I had bagged all of them, with another double under my belt. Total score, 10 quail and a rabbit, 13 shots fired! and it's barely 1100! It sucks that I was hunting alone, because I wanted to gloat! I did bump into several other hunters throughout the day, only one of which had actually bagged some birds. And he only had two. The covey sizes are dismal this year. I was blessed to get a limit.
Quite pleased with my performance, I headed in deep, about 10 miles, in search of a place to camp where I wouldn't have to hear or see a human for the rest of the night. I found a great spot. A nice north-facing site on the edge of a boulder field. I pulled in close and parked on a rock to unload. Got my camp set up, cracked a beer, and took a load off.
The view from camp:
After about an hour, I decided to back the truck out a bit. I hopped in, stepped on the clutch, and felt it (and my stomach) sink straight to the floor. It felt like I broke my clutch cable (which is almost brand new)! I checked the entire linkage, from the pedal to the throwout lever, and found the cable intact and functioning properly. I grabbed the throwout lever and pulled on it, and it kicked forward freely. CRAP! Did I break my pressure plate? Only one way to find out. I put it in 4 low, revved it up, and slammed it into reverse. This launched me out of the choke point I was parked in and I was able to back it out into the open. Obviously not the pressure plate. I took a closer look at the lever, and realized that the lock bolt and nut had come loose somewhere along the trail, and that the lever was turning freely on the spindle. I went to get my tools and suddenly realized, I had left them at home! My entire tool kit at the moment consisted of a multitool, a hacksaw blade, some fishing pliers, and a hatchet!
My poor baby:
I scrounged around under the hood, looking for some part I could scavenge to repair the lever. Being unable to break loose any of the appropriate bolts with my pliers, I noticed the battery tie down, and it's plier-friendly wing nuts and long section of threaded rod. I hack sawed a two inch section of rod and placed it in the slot. I indexed the lever back and backed off the cable adjustment. I then proceeded to crank down the wingnuts, which caused the splines to bite down appropriately. All that was left was to re-seat the cable on the bracket, which required pulling the lever back somehow. That racing-grade stage 3 pressure plate is not hand-power friendly, lol. Luckily my hatchet, fulcrumed off the frame, was able to get me the few inches I needed. I re-adjusted the cable, hopped in and started it up. Popped it in first, gave it some gas, let off the clutch and off she went. Hallelujah! I parked it, washed up, and pulled the game out of the cooler
My awesome tool selection:
Filthy, with no soap for miles:
My makeshift clutch lever repair (red arrow):
I dressed out my game, and fired up the BBQ. Decided to save the quail, and have the rabbit for dinner. I grilled him up, chopped up the backstraps, and added it to some Top Ramen. It was now 1700 hours and I had eaten NOTHING all day. That was the best tasting ramen I have ever consumed. I then kicked back and proceeded to down a large number of Rolling Rocks, lol. It was very peaceful and relaxing out there. I put on some music, got drunk, it got dark, then it got cold. I headed down the ravine to gather some firewood. I was able to get some nice chunks of desert willow and make a decent fire, which I used to grill up some canned octopus chunks. I just sat there and enjoyed the night. The thousands of stars, the coyotes serenading me, the warm glow of the fire. Nothing to do, but not bored. Just at peace. After about 14 beers, I retired at 2200, and slept like a baby, lol.
At 0530, my alarm woke me up. Knowing I should not be screwing around and looking for birds with my makeshift clutch, I turned it off and slept until 0730. I woke up, broke camp, ate a couple of cottontail legs, and hit the trail by 0800. I was able to make it out to the highway, and all the way home with my repairs intact. 200 miles total put on my rig.
It was a great trip, despite the adversity. I learned the folly of forgetting your tools, how peaceful the desert is when you face it alone, and how blessed I am to have such a great place to retreat to. As I sat there alone next to the fire that night, I could honestly say, there wasn't a place on earth I'd rather be at that moment.
Thanks, guys. Deer season just ended here, so I'll be heading out after the birds for the rest of the season. Found some decent populations of Gambel's, valley, and mountain quail this year while deer hunting. Wish me luck.