A quail hunt south of Payson yielded about the results the Arizona Game and Fish Department had predicted -- quail numbers might be the best they've been in years.
My two sons, Gerry and Ryan, as well as grandson, Max, hooked up Thursday evening for an overnight campout and an early start at the first day of hunting, Oct. 7.
We awoke that morning to the sounds of Gambel quail calls echoing through the valleys.
That set us in motion, tracking down the coveys and searching for what we thought would be prime habitat.
We found pockets of very good hunting and others that were not so good.
Last season's carry-over birds were wary and tough to hunt, but the younger quail weren't as wild and provided us a number of good shooting opportunities, including a few ground shots.
Although we took along ATVs, we didn't use them much, choosing instead to answer quail calls while walking the washes and rolling hills near our camp.
Before leaving on the hunting trip, we had been warned by ranchers and others knowledgeable with the area to watch for rattlesnakes.
We didn't encounter any snakes, but came across several huge tarantulas, which fascinated Gerry, a high school biology teacher.
As important as the proper gear is in hunting, it might be the sage advice from those who taught you the sport that's most useful.
After flushing one covey, I failed to remember what my father had taught me years ago. He said there would also most always be one more bird.
Sure enough, a straggler jumped out only a few yards from where I was reloading.
The explosion of the bird's whirling wings caught me off guard, and I was unable to get off a shot.
Early in the hunt, we were approached by an Arizona Game and Fish officer, atop an ATV, who checked our licenses.
By the end of the day, we had enough birds to get a good start on our traditional Thanksgiving meal of pan-fried quail.
It also had been a day of great family camaraderie in the Arizona outdoors.
A recipe for a lip-smackin' delight
8 quail; cleaned
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon hot sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dried whole thyme
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Split quail to, but not through, the breastbone. Combine buttermilk and next five ingredients in a large shallow dish, mixing well. Add quail; cover and marinate 8 hours in refrigerator. Remove quail from marinade, reserving marinade.
Combine 1 cup flour and next four ingredients; dredge quail in flour mixture, dip in reserved marinade, and dredge again in flour mixture. Heat 1/4-inch oil in a Dutch oven; add quail, and cook over medium heat 10 minutes or until golden, turning occasionally. Drain on paper towels.
Pour off all but 1/4 cup oil from skillet. Add broth and quail; cover and cook over medium heat 15 minutes. Transfer quail to a serving platter.
Drain off drippings, reserving 1/4 cup in skillet. Add 1/4 cup flour to drippings in skillet; cover and cook over low heat, stirring until smooth. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Gradually add 2 cups milk, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened and bubbly. Stir in Worcestershire sauce, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Serve quail with gravy.