Learning to Gambel

I am headed out to Vegas today. And you know what they say: what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

But this one particular part of the trip I feel compelled to write about.

I am out here not to gamble - no, a much more noble cause colors my travels this weekend. First off, and the primary reason for the trip, is a time-honored tradition among fighting men that has passed down through the millennia: a reunion of war-brothers. 10 years ago this fall, the men of 1/5 left Iraq for the last time, following their third consecutive deployment to that "restive" nation. OIF I (which I missed): The Invasion. OIF II: Fallujah 1. OIF: The Battle of Ramadi. I made two of the three - many of my guys, particularly those who enlisted just prior to 9/11, had the distinct honor to make all three trips.

So now, 10 years late, a lot slower and a little fatter and not nearly as mean, we are all getting together in our old Marine Corps Ball haunts, a week after all of the active duty guys have rolled through for Ball season. Vegas calls, and nearly 140 of our own alumni are answering that call, to reassemble and reminisce over scotch, cigars, and warm hazy memories of the finest days of our young lives, and the finest of us that did not return. Best men I've ever known. Best job I ever had.

But that is not the real purpose of this blog post - it is only the platform for a small one-day aside. I got a really sweet "value add" opportunity for this trip though: i found an outfitter that guides out Henderson NV, and booked an upland bird hunt once I figured out that none of the other officers were bringing their spouses. I thought at first we were going t be hunting chukar in the rocky rimrock of the surrounding mountains, perhaps out to the East Mojave near Invapah. Instead, it looks like we are going to be chasing Gambel's Quail, a bird I know nothing about but that sounds interesting all the same.

I hear they are small and fast, but not as small and maybe faster than their bobwhite cousins. All wild birds, out in the arid rocky arroyo's of eastern Nevada, just west of the Arizona border. The guide is picking me up at my hotel at 4am, which will no doubt consume most of Saturday in more productive fashion than would sitting around and drinking all day. Here is an excerpt from the little upland anthology I am reading currently:
The dog, on the other hand, has never experienced an environment remotely like this one. . . .[But] the dog does what every pore of his being is meant to do; he is relentless in his pursuit of a species of quail that he has never experienced before this trip, to the exclusion of numerous other bird species he's never seen before either, but pays no mind to. I find no shortage of marvel in this. He finds them and almost flips over himself slamming to a point. They don’t hold for a second, of course, but start running in a loose, directional flock, flowing around cholla and prickly pear and acacia like a school of fish around dock pilings, coming together again and heading for the nastiest cover they can find. Spindly head feathers bobbling as they run. He moves after them, maintaining something of a vector/point as he goes and I have no choice but to do much the same in pursuit. Quail running. Dog running, freezing, pointing, running again. Human trying to keep up. The whole thing seems comical and about as far from the stereotypical, “classic upland” experience as one can get. But being attached to stereotypes isn’t the least bit productive here, whether you’re talking about putting a few Gambel’s in the bag, or a number of other things. 
Lenny is picking me up in the truck at 4am tomorrow, and we are heading out to the Nevada / Arizona line for a one-day hunt. I've got the 870, most of the kit I need here in the hotel room. Flight out was a breeze. We had a good little get together with everyone tonight, not too much to drink and I haven't even touched the poker tables. Doesn't matter - I'm ready to Gambel.