The quail at Joshua Creek are wild and abun­dant

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - Mike Leggett PHO­TOS / amer­i­can-states­man Joe Kercheville, owner of Joshua Creek Ranch, walks in on a covey of quail. The ranch of­fers hunts for quail, pheas­ants and chukars, as well as white­tails and axis deer. mike LEGGETT

BO­ERNE

— Side­hilling along the canyon’s edge, right foot above my left to keep from launch­ing my­self into the Span­ish oaks be­low, I was pretty sure any birds that flushed here would take off into space first and then aim down into the trees to my left.

I was wrong. When they did flush, in a sur­pris­ing rush of 30 or more wings, I hon­estly wasn’t ready for it.

The covey, hid­den in a clump of low brush and brown grass that should have been an ob­vi­ous hid­ing place for feed­ing quail, swept by me al­most too fast for a shot. And, in­stead of plung­ing into the canyon, the birds made a swift left turn about 15 yards out and cut back into the scat­tered live oaks be­hind us. At the tail end of the covey rise, a rooster’s white head was shin­ing in the sun, and I man­aged to catch up and knock him down just be­fore he dis­ap­peared into the trees.

Part of the covey lined out for the top of the ridge 200 yards away, scat­ter­ing so that we couldn’t be sure where they’d landed.

Joshua Creek Ranch owner Joe Kercheville, who’d moved around be­hind the point­ing dogs to give me the best shot at the covey, started to say some­thing about the quail we’d just busted. “Those birds are al­ways right around here, but they’re really hard to hunt,” he said. “I’m glad we ... “— he hes­i­tated, then con­tin­ued — “those dogs are still act­ing like there may be more birds there.”

Guide Eric Har­ri­son mut­tered a quiet “Birds up,” which was his com­mand for Bugs — a tiny English cocker with a blood­hound’s nose — to bull­doze her way into a clump of yucca. Some­thing close to 20 birds boiled up out of the brush as she punched into their hid­ing place. I was watch­ing over the bar­rel of my lit­tle Beretta 28 and didn’t really have time to count.

From the cor­ner my eye I saw birds fall­ing to Kercheville’s shot­gun, and I killed two my­self as the covey split out over the edge of the canyon. It was ex­hil­a­rat­ing, en­er­giz­ing and quail hunt­ing like quail hunt­ing used to be. Two cov­eys, nearly 40 birds flush­ing wild, chal­leng­ing, real world wing shoot­ing and good dog work. I could make a habit of this.

At Joshua Creek, which is in the Hill Coun­try about 90 min­utes south­west of Austin, they do make a habit of it. They do re­leased bird shoot­ing, I think, bet­ter than any other place I’ve hunted in Texas.

It’s a real Texas hunt with cov­eys flush­ing wild and pre­sent­ing no shot, tough shoot­ing among the trees and tall grass.

There’s no guar­an­tee you’re go­ing to kill a bird, but un­like many ar­eas of the state, there are quail here.

Joshua Creek re­leases more than 60,000 birds each year, ac­cord­ing to Ann Kercheville, pres­i­dent of the op­er­a­tion and Joe’s wife. “We’ve learned a lot since we started more than 20 years ago,” she said. I hunted there back at the be­gin­ning and at that time Joshua Creek was just an­other lib­er­ated bird hunt with su­per nice ac­com­mo­da­tions and food.

Since then, the ranch has re­mained plush, and the hunt­ing has risen to the next level.

Birds aren’t re­leased in a pas­ture just for one group’s shoot­ing. They are re­leased year round and the ranch keeps am­ple feed on the ground for them. The re­sult is an amaz­ing car­ry­over from each sea­son and birds that don’t get fat and lazy and for­get­ful of fly­ing while liv­ing in a pen.

The Kerchevilles will tai­lor a hunt for al­most any group, in­clud­ing driven pheas­ants, walking quail shoots and com­bi­na­tion days with sport­ing clays and doves dur­ing the sea­son.

There are guided white­tail and axis deer hunts back along the Guadalupe River which forms the ranch’s north boundary.

Kercheville and I killed 16 quail and a sin­gle pheas­ant dur­ing an af­ter­noon of hunt­ing on top of a hill, with Har­ri­son work­ing the dogs through tall grass around gi­ant live oaks.

If you’d like in­for­ma­tion about hunt­ing at Joshua Creek, con­tact mar­ket­ing man­ager Jody Jack­son at (512) 296-1239.

Quail hunt­ing at Joshua Creek takes place along cul­ti­vated grain fields and in prairie con­di­tions among scat­tered live oaks. The shoot­ing is chal­leng­ing and re­ward­ing.

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