The Land Report

Spring 2016

The Magazine of the American Landowner is an essential guide for investors, landowners, and those interested in buying or selling land. The award-winning quarterly is known for its annual survey of America's largest landowners, The Land Report 100.

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S P R I N G 2 0 1 6 | The LandReport 63 LANDREPORT.COM W hen you're following bird dogs on the Mesa Vista Ranch, you're hunting wild birds that know how to survive hawks, bobcats, coyotes, snakes, and the deadliest predators of all: Boone Pickens and his buddies. A few minutes later, the dog points again, and a single bird flushes early, but not early enough. Bubba drops it and sends Katie, his little English cocker, to fetch. Rick drops a single with a tough, low, left-to-right shot. "Starting to look a little like a bird hunt now," Boone says. Minutes later, another covey flushes well ahead of dogs and hunters, but the singles hold for solid points. Bubba and Rick add to their bag. Boone pulls up and rolls down his window. "Y'all hunt way too slow," he yells. "How do you expect to get a limit by lunchtime?" "By not missing any birds," Bubba shouts back. He and Boone have hunted together for decades and have taken more than a few pre-lunch limits. By lunchtime, the hunters are delighted, and the guides disappointed. Never mind the pile of birds. On the Mesa Vista, this season's average has been over 40 coveys per day. Somewhere amid the jovial insults, the guides check their notes and announce that the morning's numbers are only a bit under. Now that the morning fog is burning off, conditions could well be perfect. The night before, Boone addressed the group: "We're having one of the best years for quail I've ever seen. I may never see another one like it. To celebrate, I wanted to invite the best quail hunters I know to experience the kind of hunting we have when everything comes together just right. And you-all are that group, the legends of quail hunting." The legends include Bubba Wood, founder of Collectors Covey, Texas's premier sporting art gallery, member of the National Skeet Shooters Hall of Fame, and six-time member of the national All-American Team; Rick Pope, another Hall of Famer, multi-year member of the All-American Team, and chairman of Temple Fork Outfitters; Rick Snipes, Stonewall County rancher, founding member of the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch, fanatical quail hunter, dog man, and conservationist; Joe Crafton, cofounder of Park Cities Quail, which has raised $6 million for quail conservation, and the new owner of Collectors Covey; Pete Delkus, chief meteor- ologist with WFAA-TV in Dallas and an- other serious hunter and conservationist; and John Thames, publisher of Covey Rise. To document the day, Land Report editor Eric O'Keefe invited Wyman Meinzer and Russell Graves to bring their camera gear. I got to watch and pet a lot of bird dogs — excellent work when you can get it. In 1971, when Boone bought the first piece of what is now the Mesa Vista, it was, in his own estimation, "so poor the jackrabbits were carrying their lunches." Heavy grazing had reduced the rangeland to sparse grass and bare ground. During wet years, when it might have partially recovered, previous owners punished it by stocking more cattle. Depend- ing on rainfall, the quail population swung between boom and bust. It consisted of roughly 90 percent blue (scaled) quail — a hard-running species associated with arid grassland — and 10 percent bobwhites. Having hunted in South Texas and all over the Rolling Plains, Boone sensed that the rolling sand hills and bottoms south of the Canadian River had all the makings of great quail country. Yes, the Northern Panhandle suffers occasional hard freezes. But supple- mental feeding could increase survival. Cool fall and winter days are far more comfortable for hunters and dogs than the sweltering South Texas heat. Furthermore, by mid- season, hunters and guides could devote their full attention to shooting and dog work instead of watching for rattlesnakes. Over the last half century, Boone Pickens has nurtured a threadbare stretch of the Texas Panhandle back to health. Originally less than 3,000 acres, his Mesa Vista Ranch now covers more than 65,000 acres (100-plus square miles) of prime quail habitat that is hunted 50 to 60 days a year. The covey count this season averaged just over 40 per day.

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