Buddies, Birds, Beavers And Bunnies Highlight Amazing Reunion Hunt

The following appears in the November issue of California Sportsman:

Photos by Tim E. Hovey

By Tim E. Hovey

My good friend Jose De Orta has been hunting with me for a very long time. I first met Jose through another friend in 2004, and we’ve hunted everything in California from mourning dove to wild pig.

Our kids grew up together and hunted the hills of Central California and the high desert with us. If I was out chasing anything, chances are that Jose was hunting with me.

I first met Duy Phan in 2016 through Jose. He was a new hunter and, having worked with Jose, had seen all the successful hunting photos we had accumulated over the years. After a few starter hunts, he soon became a regular figure on trips. He was enthusiastic about getting out in the field and, more importantly, his slightly twisted sense of humor meshed perfectly with ours.

Despite the abundance of wild game available to California hunters, one of our favorite things to pursue was upland birds. We’d make plans weeks in advance of the dove opener and we’d hit the quail grounds just about every weekend during the season. Since Jose also had a chukar spot that regularly held birds, we’d make sure to hike the desert hills for that colorful partridge at least a few times during the fall.

Over the years we gradually introduced Duy to other types of hunts like small game and predators, but hands down, when the upland game bird season rolled around, the three of us would always find ourselves hunting mourning dove, quail and chukar. All we needed was a shotgun, a good spot and the willingness to hike a bit, and we routinely saw success. Some of my favorite hunts were experienced with these two.

AFTER I RETIRED FROM my state job, sold my California home and relocated my family to southern Idaho, I looked forward to spending more time on side ventures and seriously couldn’t wait to see what Idaho had to offer for my outdoor passions. I was soon to discover that as far as hunting and fishing, Idaho was my paradise.

Once the moving boxes were unloaded, I spent all my free time exploring public land and finding my own hunting spots. When Idaho’s upland season rolled around, I was in the back hills looking for birds. I soon discovered that Idaho had a few more bird species open to wingshooters. It wasn’t long before my California buddies and I were sharing texts and photos back and forth of our hunting successes.

During my first season here, I was able to locate areas that held grouse, pheasant, quail, chukar and Hun. I was feeling confident I could get my friends on game, so I let both Jose and Duy know that they were more than welcome to come on up to my new home and hunt with me.

Since that first invite towards the end of 2020, Jose and Duy have been up here five times to hunt the Idaho back hills with me. Their pattern is to fly out in the spring and hunt varmints using my firearms, and then to drive out during bird season in the fall to hunt with their shotguns. Our 2022 fall trip would be one to remember.

Hovey scored his first Canada goose in Idaho on a whirlwind day when the guys chased various waterfowl and upland birds. (TIM E. HOVEY

LEAVING CALIFORNIA AT 3 a.m., Jose and Duy made the 13-hour drive to my place in Idaho. They made it clear that once they arrived, they wanted to hunt, so I picked the guys up at 5 p.m. and we headed straight for the dove fields.

We spent an hour or two picking off mourning dove and Eurasian dove. It was great getting the gang back together and we enjoyed an awesome shoot. But since they were dragging from the long drive, we called it early, grabbed some food and relaxed back at my place. The following day was going to be an early start, so I didn’t want to run them too hard that first afternoon.

The next day, with three sets of waders in the truck, we headed to a piece of private property I had been trapping on the last two seasons. I had made arrangements with the landowner to let Jose and Duy hunt the property for waterfowl in exchange for a week’s worth of free trapping. The parcel had several ponds located in the center and there were a few duck blinds placed throughout. While I had been tending my trapline, I’d noticed that lots of ducks and a few geese called the property home.

We arrived before sunup and made our way to one of the blinds. It was forecasted to be a windy and overcast morning, perfect for waterfowl hunting. Thirty minutes before shooting time, we tossed out some decoys and settled in for the morning flight. Duy had never hunted waterfowl before, so I could tell he was anxious and excited.

This first-day haul of dove would make for good eating. (TIM E. HOVEY)

AS THE HORIZON BEGAN to glow, the ducks started to fly. They flared perfectly at our decoy set and soon we were dropping ducks. It didn’t take Duy long at all to calculate how to lead waterfowl and drop his first duck, a drake mallard.

The morning shoot was exciting and productive. Ducks of all kinds seemed to be everywhere and responded favorably to our decoy set and location. Towards the end of the flight, a lone Canada goose decided to fly too low on my side and I dropped my first such Idaho bird. When the flight died down, we had harvested 17 ducks and one goose between the three of us. It was an absolute epic waterfowl morning for my visiting buddies.

We stowed the birds on ice and headed for our next stop, where we’d trade our waders for upland vests and hunter orange. I wanted to swing by a huge wildlife area run by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

During the pheasant season, the agency will occasionally release pheasants on numerous land parcels all around the state. There is no posted schedule for the releases, but I thought we could at least swing by one of the parcels and try our luck.

At the wildlife area, we headed off in different directions and started kicking the brush for pheasant. After an hour without taking a shot, we decided to drive over to a different section of the property. Within minutes of leaving the truck, I heard two shots from where the guys were hunting. Figuring they were getting into birds, I headed off in a different direction to give them room to hunt.

I luckily got into a couple birds, scoring a limit after another hour of hiking. Circling back to the truck, I saw Jose and Duy were already there. They were all smiles and showed me their birds as I made my way to the tailgate. “Ducks in the morning and pheasant in the afternoon!” Duy said. “What a great hunt!”

That evening we shared beer and pizza and talked about the day. Sitting there laughing, I realized how lucky I was to have a couple of good friends who enjoyed hunting as much as I did.

Phan scored his first-ever chukar. “I saw him smiling first. He returned to the truck with the only chukar of the trip,” Hovey writes of his buddy. (TIM E. HOVEY)
The 13-hour drive from California was well worth it for Phan and De Orta, as well as the author. “I feel fortunate to have such a tight group of friends who enjoy hunting with me,”Hovey writes.(TIME.HOVEY)

THE FOLLOWING DAY, AFTER a hearty breakfast we headed off to look for quail and Hun. At the hunting area, I pointed the guys towards the habitat where I had seen birds before. We spread out and started kicking the bushes. It wasn’t long before Jose found the quail.

We spent three hours running the back hills and dropping quail. Duy peeled off into a different canyon and got into a small covey of Hun, and he dropped one from the group.

Back at the truck, we unloaded our vests to see the count. We had killed nine quail, four Hun, one cottontail rabbit and a greenwing teal off a desert pond. Another successful day to remember.

With one full day left on their trip, we decided to do a little exploring. I had a chukar spot, but it was a bit of a drive, but the guys were up for seeing more of Idaho. I also had to swing by a property and check a few beaver traps, something both Jose and Duy seemed very interested in.

I drove north to the canyons where I’d hunted chukar before. At the spot, I took a two-track further up into the hills, which leveled off into a plateau. Before the truck came to a stop, we kicked up a large chukar covey that scattered into a boulder field.

We exited quickly, grabbed the shotguns and started the chase. The terrain was steep and rough, and I knew we wouldn’t get too many chances. After a short hike, I heard a couple of shots from where Duy had gone. I saw him smiling first. He returned to the truck with the only chukar of the trip.

On the way home, I stopped to check my traps. As luck would have it, I snared a beaver for a paying client. Both Jose and Duy were very excited to see some success on the trapline.

De Orta was excited to check out the snared beaver they found on the trapline Hovey was working for a client. (TIM E. HOVEY)

THE BOYS HEADED BACK home early the next morning, and were gone by the time I got up. I checked my phone and noticed messages on our group text thanking me for the awesome trip.

It was for sure an amazing few days. As I looked through my photos, I realized we had killed mourning dove, Eurasian dove, several species of duck, a goose, pheasant, quail, Hun, chukar, a lone cottontail rabbit and had trapped a beaver. I couldn’t remember the three of us ever having a better outing.

While I do miss hunting with my good friends, all of them have come out at different times of the year to visit and hunt. I feel fortunate to have such a tight group of friends who enjoy hunting with me in my home state of Idaho. Until the next trip, guys! CS