A wonderful story of perseverance and dedication to try to become the first personto complete all 4 of the VOTSQF Arizona Small Game Challenges!
In 2019, I started my Small Game Challenge journey, a year after the challenges first became available. I decided to start with the Desert Challenge after talking with some friends and being more confident in being able to complete it as my first challenge than the others. After registering for the Desert Challenge, I decided to make a game plan on what my target species would be. After signing up and looking over the species list, I chose to pursue all three dove species, cottontail rabbit, and Gambel’s quail. This was because I had never hunted Arizona’s other quail species and did not have my own bird dog to accompany me for my adventure. I started off by going out for the early season dove opener. I was nervous prior to leading up to the opener because I had only shot a white-winged dove once prior. So, with that thought alone I knew my priority would have to be a white-winged dove. Readying myself for the dove opener, I did some research, e-scouted, and found an area to hold not only doves but more importantly, white-winged doves. I arrived to my spot, put out some decoys and excitedly waited for legal shooting time. As legal shooting came and went I had yet to see a dove. Then all of a sudden out of nowhere a single dove began to fly into the decoys and it was a white-winged dove. I quickly shouldered my shotgun and as quickly as the bird flew in I was able to check off my white-winged dove. Shortly after that I harvested both mourning doves and a single Eurasian collared dove. I left that morning feeling a sense of relief and accomplishment to check off three of my five targeted species. My next outing was for the opening weekend of quail. I was able to harvest my Gamble’s quail early in the day but a cottontail had been eluding me throughout the day. I swear it seems like I see rabbits frequently when I am paying them no mind, but of course when I want to see them they’re nowhere to be seen. This went on for a couple more outings for quail. One of which a buddy of mine went out quail hunting with me ultimately seeing a cottontail and harvesting it. All while not forgetting to tease me about it. This went on until early December when I was finally able to check off a cottontail and complete my first challenge!
For 2020 I decided to register for the Mountain Challenge. Again deciding to do so because I felt comfortable in my skills, knowledge of species habitat, and previously harvesting a few of the listed species in years past. Knowing the habitat of my five targeted species, I decided to pick up a leftover Fall Turkey tag to accompany me while I would be attempting this challenge. I waited to start my challenge until the start of the Fall turkey hunt. I got up the Thursday prior to the opener and went out for grouse without any luck…not a single flush. The opening day of the turkey was also the opening day of squirrel. Knowing three of the seven species in the challenge were squirrels I quickly checked off my red squirrel and continued to look for both grouse and turkey without any luck. As half of opening day came and went I decided change tactics to go look for Kaibab squirrels. As I entered into their preferred habitat I noticed a flock of turkeys out in front of me. I quickly swapped my game loads for turkey loads and began to close the distance to the flock. As I closed the distance the birds noticed me and began to fly off. Feeling like I had blown my opportunity I then noticed a single turkey who did not get the memo. Before it could get out of distance I was able to get a shot off and successfully fill my turkey tag. After heading back to the truck and putting away my freshly harvested turkey into a cooler I decided to go back out and look for Kaibab squirrels. While I was out walking and listening for squirrel activity a grouse had flushed from a near by thicket. Ultimately taking me by surprise and not being able to get a shot off before it went out of distance. Thankfully I saw where the grouse had flown off to and after several minutes of working the area I was able to locate it and check off my grouse for the Mountain Challenge. The next day I decided to change locations and hunt a different area. Thankfully it had paid off with harvesting two Kaibab squirrels and being able to head home earlier than planned. As I drove home I was talking to another buddy of mine about my hunt. As we were talking He stressed how I needed to go out band-tailed pigeon hunting before returning to work and having my vacation end. He himself had been out recently hunting band-tailed pigeon and was successful. So, after taking a day to unpack from my turkey hunt I went out to the spot that he had graciously told me about. I arrived early to the spot, set up, and waited. As I waited I could hear the pigeons all around me calling and flapping their wings as they landed high up in the surrounding pines as the early morning progressed. Eventually I had one pigeon come into range of my shotgun and I fired. I had successfully knocked it down. Shortly after I had another pigeon come into range and harvested it as well. Seeing where I was I decided to go out and look for Abert’s squirrels after putting my birds in the cooler. After a quick drive into more suitable habitat I hiked out from my truck and sat under a mature pine waiting to see or hear any potential squirrels. After walking and listening for a while I was able to hear some squirrels off in the distance and began to close in on them. As I shortened the distance I could see a single squirrel on the ground out of the range of my shotgun. I began to pick up my pace following the squirrel until it went into a large pine giving me a shot that I seized. With that shot I was able to harvest my fifth and final species for my Mountain Challenge.
For the 2021 Season I decided to tackle the Native Quail Challenge. To start the challenge year I went out for the opening day of quail to one of my tried and true Gamble’s quail spots. Sure enough, I was able to shoot seven quail that day and be one third of the way to completing my 3rd challenge. During that same year I also was fortunate enough to draw Sandhill Crane tags. Prior to the crane hunt I found out some other friends had also drawn the same hunt as me including Michael Cravens. As the hunt came closer we all coordinated with one another and drew up a game plan for the first mornings hunt. As we were all in the blind we began catching up and talking about hunting in general. During the conversations Michael and I, sitting next to one another as it turned out, were talking about our challenges. I had mentioned to him that I had yet to hunt scaled quail and would be going after the crane hunt. After chatting and finishing our crane hunt he was nice enough to send me locations of where he had seen birds in the past. We all departed and I drove off to the closest location and gave it a try. I was unsuccessful but later returned to the spot. Upon the morning of my return to the spot I was able to harvest a few scaled quail and a Gamble’s quail hen. Realizing it was still early I had reached out to a friend who lives in Mearn’s quail habitat to see if she wanted to take her shotgun for a walk. During our conversation she had mentioned how it had been a tough year with low success rates at the spots closest to her and suggested I try a different spot. She told me the location of a spot and I headed that way. After finally arriving, I proceeded to hike out and enjoy what I assumed would just be taking my shotgun for a walk seeing as I did not have a bird dog. After hiking a few hundred yards from the truck I flushed up a covey of Mearn’s quail. Thankfully I was able to shoot two quail, a male and female, out of the covey. Seeing as it was later in the day and I had a long drive back to Phoenix I decided to hike back to the truck after finding my birds. As I was packing up my gear at the truck it had dawned on me that I just completed an Arizona quail slam in one day, without a dog, plus I had completed my third Small Game Challenge! To say I was ecstatic would have been an understatement!
For 2022 I had saved the hardest challenge for last, the Ultimate Upland Bird Challenge. Knowing Michael had not completed the challenge in 2021 had given me doubts about completing the challenge myself, yet also a sense of hope to be the first to complete all four. Prior to hunting season Michael and I had made a tentative game plan to join one another and hunt together since we would be attempting the same challenge. My challenge began by skipping the early season dove opener and heading up for opening day of grouse and chukar. I started out by hunting grouse since it has a shorter season. But, I was unsuccessfull for the first couple days. After deciding to head back and buy gas I noticed Michael had called me leaving a voicemail to let me know he had made it up, got a limit of grouse, and was heading to chukar country. As luck would have it Michael was at the gas station while I was there too. We ended up meeting and discussing a game plan. Shortly after we decided to head out into chukar country together. Prior to the season I had reached out and talked to some people to get potential spots, ideas on preferred habitat, and a helpful reminder to look for cheatgrass when hunting chukar. Michael and I decided to drive out to the furthest spot and hunt it the next morning. Unfortunately, that next morning was unsuccessful. As the day progressed we drove from spot to spot looking for signs and chukar themselves. We eventually ended up hearing the birds from up above the canyon while hunting our last spot that evening. We formed a game plan that night while eating dinner and anxiously awaited the next morning’s hunt. The next morning we hunted from up top of the canyons while hearing the birds call from down below again. After hunting the first half of the day without any success and with the confirmation of hearing the birds we decided to hike down into the canyon. After a quick lunch and stocking up on water, snacks, and other necessary gear we found a trail listed on the map and hiked down in mid-day. We eventually hiked down to where we thought the birds had called from that morning and as luck would have it we heard a single call. We then decided to try hiking up above where we believed the call to be coming from and wait for another call to confirm our suspicions. Once we heard another call we then hiked down to the location we believed it was coming from, but as it was we didn’t have any success. After that attempt I decided to head back up the canyon in hopes of getting out before nightfall. While I was hiking out I had caught the glimpse of two to three chicken sized birds running across the wash. My excitement began to rise as I quickly tried to cut them off in the direction they were headed. As I approached, I noticed a bird within range and shot. I had missed and as a result the covey flushed revealing over ten birds. I fired a second shot again missing. With one more shell in the chamber I fired again and this time it was a success. I had perfectly hit my target folding the chukar in mid-flight. As I eagerly went to where the bird went down I noticed it in the wash where it had perfectly landed in open awaiting its retrieval. After that I decided to continue my hike back up the canyon and eventually got back to the trucks right at nightfall. The next day Michael and I headed out. Me to the grouse woods and Michael back home. I continued to hunt grouse for the next day without any success and ultimately being sent home early due to a check engine light coming on in my truck that needed to be investigated. Fast forward to October 13th I had made it back up to the grouse woods. That day I had been able to locate and flush a grouse but was slow to shoulder my shotgun and unsuccessful to harvest it. The next day I went out to the same spot and got into more birds but still without any success. After flushing some birds and being unsuccessful yet again I drove to another spot around mid-day ultimately flushing a single and being able to finally hit my mark. After successfully getting my grouse I went back to camp, packed up, and drove home. On my way home I had to call and let my sister know I had finally gotten my grouse and form a game plan to hunt Gambel’s quail with her for the opening weekend. The morning of the 15th my sister and I had met to continue my challenge and for her to start her Native Quail Challenge. As the morning went on I was able to shoot a pair of Gambel’s quail and yet again knock off another species from my challenge list. As I got home that afternoon I began to receive text messages from my sister asking what time she needed to be over to leave in the morning to go after scaled quail. With some persuasion from my sister and a large amount of caffeine I continued my challenge for the 4th day in a row soon to be driving from one end of the state to another. As we drove down to scaled quail country we discussed the bird’s habitat, calls, where we would be hunting, and our hopes to harvest a bird or two each. After we arrived to the spot we loaded up and began to hunt. Shortly into the hunt we flushed a covey of scaled quail. Each of us being fortunate to harvest a bird, my sister first then I. After celebrating our accomplishments and taking our time/date stamped photos for the challenge we continued our hunt. We didn’t get into any more birds, though we heard them call off in the distance. Feeling the long hours and miles driven from the past four days I persuaded my sister to call it a hunt and we headed back home.
After now having four of the five species harvested for my challenge, I got in touch with Michael, who had quickly joined me with his fourth species! We planned a trip for hunting Mearn’s quail together to see who would ultimately become the first to complete the Ultimate Upland Bird Challenge…and all four challenges as well! Fast forwarding to the evening of December 1st , Michael and I had finally met up at camp to go out and hunt. As we sat around the fire we got caught up discussing the Thanksgiving Holiday, Michael’s Costa Rica trip, and our hopes for the next morning. As the next morning dawned, we got ourselves ready and hopped into Michael’s truck to head out for the morning’s hunt. After walking what seemed to be a short distance we quickly located a covey of Mearn’s, both not having a shot on the initial covey rise. We quickly went after the birds to where we had seen the majority of the birds go down. As we were approaching where the birds had landed we had separated a short distance from one another to work the area. As we walked the area we came upon a tree that had come in between Michael and I. As we stood on either side of the tree a single quail flushed from its base, again giving neither of us a shot. We continued to work up the hill and then we came back down. As we worked down the hill we walked a short distance and then would stop for a few seconds hoping to flush a Mearns. Continuing our hike down the hill a different tree had separated us once more. As soon as we became on opposite sides of this tree I had a single quail flush from my feet! I quickly shouldered my gun, shot…but missed. Thankfully a second quail flushed as I fired my first shell giving me the perfect shot to seize upon. With that second shot I harvested my final quarry, a beautiful Mearns Quail and wrapped up my final Small Game Challenge in what would be just mere moments before Michael accomplished the same to come in a very close second!