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A place so close, yet so far: the best way to describe Spoke Hollow’s West Texas Outpost. Close enough to make it in a day even from out of the state, but far enough to enter a mindset that escapes anything relatively urban. This mindset is paramount for the next morning in the field, you have no option if chasing blue quail is the ultimate goal. Josh, owner of Spoke Hollow Outfitters, warned me of this countless times leading up to the trip, but all it took was the first covey contact in the morning to hear the words come out of his mouth: “I told you didn’t I?”
Josh approaches introducing newbies like me to this sport and incredible landscape in an unconventional way. Everything he does is inspired by his passion for the habitat, the birds, the dogs, and the efforts to conserve those three for generations to come. With this approach in mind, I was told to do three things for the first handful of covey contacts.
- Leave your gun at the side by side
- Watch the dogs (how they move, their body language, etc.)
- Watch how the group reacts to the dogs
By taking time to understand and watch, I was immediately immersed in the experience. I was able to notice the small things such as subtle changes in the dogs’ behavior, and features in the landscape which proved more likely to hold birds than others. Ultimately, I was given the opportunity to appreciate the art of hunting these birds over good bird dogs.
As we approached the next zone, I was given permission to carry my over/under with me. My eyes were immediately drawn to dogs. It didn’t take long for Pip to put her nose down: she was on birds. I heard Josh yell from my right, “Don’t lose her! Watch the dog!”Everything happened so quickly, but seemed to slow when Pip stood on point. At the moment I caught up and stood over her, the covey rose, I picked out a bird, followed, shot, saw it tumble, then watched Pip run past me to Josh, with a bird in her clutch.
This moment seemed to synthesize all the time spent earlier in the day observing: learning from the guides and the dogs, and immersing myself in the vast landscape of far-west Texas. Now I shared a special moment with my good friend as he passed me my first wild blue quail.
Simultaneously, we tucked our trusted shotguns away making sure to have them each locked in a Negrini before the cooler was opened. All gathered around the bed of the truck talking about the success of the day, ready to do it all over again tomorrow.
The following day saw hunters engage in many conversations about the work done on this particular ranch to conserve and foster a healthy quail population, conversations that were frequently interrupted by sprints through cholla behind a bird dog, accompanied with colorful language when a piece of cactus found its way through chaps and thick pants. All of it was worth it when a bird was brought to hand.
This pattern continued throughout the day until we found ourselves on the top of a hill watching the sun set over west Texas, closing out my short trip to such a magical place. As we got back to the house, I broke down my over-under and fit it away in my Negrini, locked and ready for the easy travel day tomorrow. While I had an early morning, we went into the night continuing our conversation on what makes this place so special, and eventually said our goodbyes before turning in.
I loaded up the truck the next morning and headed out. As the first light broke the horizon and I passed through the front gate of the ranch. All I could think about was how soon I could return, my PTO resetting on January 1, and whether or not my 2-year-old chocolate lab would be tough enough to experience it with me.
Fire & Fear on the Middle Fork