Articles Documents Equipment Events Links Membership Miscellaneous Scrapbook Targets What's New

Arizona Small Game Challenge
Season 2
August 2021
Dan Martinez  
Mourning Dove

Last year I completed my first Arizona Small Game Challenge. I qualified for the Native Quail Challenge by taking at least one of each of the three huntable Arizona native quail species – Gambel’s, Scaled, and Mearns.

There are four total challenges that you can sign up for in the Small Game Challenge, so this year I signed up for my second one. I picked the Desert Small Game Challenge. This one consists of taking five of seven species to include the three quail species, three dove species (Mourning, White-Winged, and Eurasian Collared dove), plus Cottontail rabbit.

I achieved the first two immediately after the challenge opened for the year on September 1st. Of course, that is also the date that dove season opens. I have a favorite little cattle tank that I go to west of town. The dove action is not the greatest, but good enough. From first light, using my Remington 1100 in 16 gauge, I took seven Mourning dove before calling my hunt done due to rising temperature.

I wanted to get a White-Winged dove before the early dove season closed, and they all migrated to Mexico. In the several years that I had been hunting that cattle tank, I had never seen White-Wings there, only Mourning dove. I’d been seeing White-Wings all summer long in my neighborhood, but I can’t shoot them there, but I knew that they frequent agricultural areas. I had shot them before in the Robbins Butte, Powers Butte area, so the day after the dove opener, that’s where I headed.

I arrived right at first light. No one else was around. I walked the fallow fields south of Powers Butte, just east of the Gila River. All was quiet and no birds were flying.

White-Winged Dove

As I walked along one of the farm roads, still before the sun poked above the eastern ridge of mountains, I spotted a solitary bird flying way high in the sky. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I raised the barrel of the Browning Sweet 16 near directly overhead, gave the bird a little lead (that’s “leed” not “led”), and pulled the trigger. To my utter astonishment, the bird folded up and came crashing to the earth. It was a White-Wing! I had already met my objective but decided to keep hunting a little more.

Later that morning I spotted a dove land on a leafless tree branch a long way across a dry river channel. I took another chance, and long-distance shotgun sniped that bird. It turned out to be a Mourning dove. But that was it. Overall, the birds flew less here than they flew at my cattle tank, but that didn’t matter, I got my White-Wing.

Cottontail Rabbit

My next two desert small game checkoffs were during my deer hunt with son Ben, in unit 29. On the evening of the day that he got his deer, I took a stroll from camp with my Henry AR-7 survival rifle. I scared up one bunny which took off like a banshee through the low bushes. I went in pursuit, but could not catch up to him. As I made my way back toward camp, a second one jumped up in front of me, but this one was not smart enough to dash off. He just stood there. The AR-7 was able to prove that it can indeed do service as a “survival” rifle.

Ben was ready to head home earlier that afternoon since he already got his deer. I convinced him to spend one more night with me. I told him that the first thing in the morning, we would head back to the area where he got his deer, because we knew that a large covey of Gambel’s quail also lived there. I told him that we would pack up and head home right after I knocked down a quail.

Gambel's Quail

And that’s exactly how it played out. We got there before the quail had awakened for the day, but in a short while, we started to hear them, then we saw them from our elevated position. I worked my way down to them with the Browning Sweet 16 in hand. I found one standing on top of a large rock, and sniped him with the shotgun. Another mission accomplished.

Four critters down, one to go. Since it was still quail season, I decided to head toward Willcox where I found Scaled quail the year before. I took my little camping trailer for an overnight excursion.

I arrived in the afternoon and set up a quick camp. In the morning I headed to the same spot of rolling ridges where I flushed three Scaled quail the year before. This time I had no luck whatsoever. I covered the same hills and ridges, making a tight zigzag pattern so as to thoroughly cover the ground, until my legs cried for mercy. I did not get a single flush — nothing.

I was really looking forward to closing out Season Two of the Small Game Challenge with a Scaled quail, knowing that Mearns quail is even more challenging to find. Disappointed to be denied, I left for home that afternoon, but not before picking up Ben’s deer meat from the butcher shop in Willcox.

Before I knew it, quail season closed. That left only one other species that I could take in order to meet the challenge – Eurasian Collared dove. But where?

It helps a lot to read the detail in the Dove and Pigeon regulations. “Pneumatic weapons are legal only for use on Eurasian collared-doves.” But also, “Within Unit 25M as described in R12-4-108, all incorporated lands, including private property within municipal boundaries, are closed to hunting …” This means that shooting them in my own backyard with an air rifle is not allowed!

They were fairly common in my Mom’s backyard though. She lives on about an acre-and-a-half rural property in the northern outskirts of Chino Valley. But she had always forbidden me to shoot her birds. I explained the Small Game Challenge to her, and that I needed to get only one bird. She relented and allowed me.

Collared Dove

It took two trips up there though. On my first trip, I sat under a shade tree for about three hours waiting for an opportunity. I think I got one or two shots at 30-35 yards distance, but could not connect. I was using my hard hitting .22 cal. Benjamin Trail break barrel gas spring gun.

On my second trip, on the 4th of July, I was finally able to connect. It was my fifth shot of the day though. The earlier opportunities again were all in the 30-35 yard range and were misses. But then a pair showed up around 15 yards away. I stood up stealthily from the chair and threaded the needle between a couple of glass bottles that my mom had standing on a fence rail. It was a good hit.

Right on! Challenge completed. There is an online form to fill out to document completion, then you need to send dated photos of all the critters to the Arizona Game & Fish Small Game Manager.

Next, the Mountain Small Game Challenge – maybe …

© Honeywell Sportsman Club. All rights reserved.

The Honeywell Sportsman Club is a small group of shooting and outdoor enthusiasts in the Phoenix, Arizona area. Our website is ad-free and completely free to use for everyone. But we do have expenses that we need to cover, such as the web hosting fee and our liability insurance. If you enjoyed visiting our website, found it useful in some way, or if you enjoyed reading this story, please consider tipping us through our PayPal donation jar below. Thanks for visiting, and come back soon.

Back to Articles
  Articles     Docs     Eqpt   Events     Join
   Links     Misc     New     Pix   Targets