with permission from the Washington Post
Jim Farmer has spent the better part if his adult life trying
to get quail to prosper around his home in Southern Maryland,
where bird hunting once was a productive and popular sport. A
city boy from the rough Anacostia neighborhood of Southeast Washington,
DC, he got hooked in his 20s when an acquaintance took him hunting
over pointing dogs for the first time. Farmer was so impressed,
he devised a life strategy around bird hunting.
only way I could see myself making enough money to get the farmland
and the good dogs I needed to hunt with was to become a lawyer,"
stated Farmer. So, he continued to work at Andrews Air Force
Base by day and enrolled in night school at the University of
Baltimore, eventually earning a law degree. Thirty-five years
later, he had parlayed that hard work and good investments into
a kennel full of quality dogs and hundreds of acres of prime
bird hunting habitat in the countryside around Pomfret, Maryland,
where he lives. The half dozen farms he owned were carefully
quail over the years, with healthy hedgerows uncut and patches
of bicolor lespedeza and warm season grasses planted for cover
and food. He released a few hardy, pen raised birds to replenish
wild stocks when populations began to falter and installed anchor-covey
structures to protect them.
his efforts, slowly and inexorably the quail population declined.
The problem, says experts, is that in the crowded East almost
no one can own enough contiguous land to provide uninterrupted
quality quail habitat. When the farmer next door sells out to
developers, plants his ground in turf or destroys his bird cover
to maximize crop production, quail are left stranded on an island,
and they are not by nature island dwellers.
himself increasingly heading West with his dogs for good wild
bird hunting and flying off on weekends to Texas, Kansas, Colorado,
California and Arizona places where the land stretched
to the horizon in every direction and quail remained healthy
and abundant. Many of the trips he won by bidding on them at
Quail Unlimited auctions he organized as chairman of the Southern
ago he placed the winning bid on a trip to Western Idaho that
changed his life all over again. There in the rolling, dry countryside
where the Snake River separates Idaho from Oregon, he saw wild
populations that boggled the mind: Valley quail in coveys of
hundreds, pheasants aplenty in the creek bottoms and flocks of
Hungarian partridge and chukar in scrub brush in the high country.
He was impressed
by the countryside and amazed by the bird population, but the
outfitter on that first trip left something to be desired. When
he got back home, Farmer made a few calls and came up in a matter
of days with another place to try dog trainer Richard
Robertson's 3,400-acre ranch on Little Willow Creek in Payette,
Idaho. Two weeks later, he dragged me along there. It was an
eye opener, to say the least.
in the dead of the night, so there was little to see but dry,
bare hill country. However, on the very first morning, riding
down a dusty dirt road near the farmhouse on the way out to the
high country to hunt for partridges, we came across a huge flock
of blackbirds scampering around in the weeds near a creek bottom.
"But those aren't blackbirds," said Robertson with
a chuckle."Those are quail."
He was not
kidding. We spent three days at Robertson's, sleeping rough in
the old ranch hands' cabin and wandering the hillsides and valleys
all day, and saw literally thousands of quail and plenty more
partridges and pheasants. It was not easy hunting, lots of hard
walking on dry ground littered with volcanic rubble and plenty
of steep inclines to climb, nor were the birds particularly accommodating.
They were wary, usually flushing out of gun range.
Double F Ranch, a 10,000-acre home ranch which lies at the base
of Bully Creek Reservoir, as seen from an overlook, is home to
quail, Hungarian partridges, and pheasants as well as the occasional
We each went
our separate ways to chase down singles and pairs. At day's end,
with sunlight fading to dusk, we straggled back to the cabin,
each with a limit of 15 birds or close to it, each with a story
of fabulous hunting. He didn't say anything about it on the way
back to the airport in Boise the next morning, but Farmer was
already hatching a grand plan. Back in Maryland, he put some
of his local properties on the market and started working the
phones, lining up ranches to look at out West. He had found his
promised land. The upshot is the Flying Double F Ranch, named
for Farmer and his wife Helen, a wild bird hunting paradise
that opened for business when the season opened in October of
Double F is across the Snake River from Idaho in Vale, Oregon,
where Farmer believes the hunting is even better than on the
Idaho side. Having been to both places, I can't really say for
sure which is better, but the Oregon place is certainly every
bit as good. It's good enough, Farmer believes, to let him achieve
his goal of creating the finest commercial wild bird hunting
operation in the country.
home ranch lies at the base of Bully Creek Reservoir, with a
little stream winding through whose banks offer thick, brushy
habitat for pheasants, which are plentiful. Quail are abundant
as well, mostly in the hedgerows and brushy hillsides adjoining
fields in the rich bottomland where a contract farmer grows alfalfa,
beans and wheat. Farmer also bought a 500-acre spread in neighboring
Harper that's mostly planted in corn, which harbors a massive
quail population for its size.
This is not
country for the faint-hearted. When Farmer took a group from
Maryland to the Harper ranch to hunt last fall, he sent four
men into the cornfield to push birds out and stationed Al Watson,
a strapping professional well driller, at one end to shoot any
early departures. Watson was ready for anything, he thought,
until a mountain lion came flying out a rumbled past him, leaving
It was not
the only lion sighted that season. In addition to the crop land
he owns, Farmer leases hunting rights on two huge grazing parcels
of 14 or 15 miles apiece. The parcels are so big it takes hours
just to drive across one. He hunts mostly chukars and Hungarian
partridge on them, cruising the dusty access roads by four-wheel-drive
truck until someone catches sight of a flock of birds, then putting
the dogs to sniff them out.
We were on
such as mission when I saw what appeared to be a mule deer running
up a canyon. Mule deer run gracefully, of course, but not as
graceful as this. What could it be? "That's got to be a
mountain lion," said Farmer, and instantly I recognized
the smooth, loping gate of the big cat as the beast slithered
up the draw and out of sight. It's not something I will soon
Indeed, it was a highlight of that particular day as the partridges
proved too smart for us. We saw three or four coveys, but they
always saw us, too. Farmer chastised me when I hollered, "There
they are!" at the first flock of chukars, instantly spooking
the birds. But whether anybody hollered or not, the birds proved
mighty wary all day.
when we spied a flock was to slide quietly down the road a little
way in the truck, then put the dogs out and send one man on a
long circuit to get behind the birds as a blocker. Being the
youngest, I always drew that straw, which didn't bother me since
I figured I'd get the better shooting, However, in every instance
that day, the birds were too clever, and the only shots anyone
got were out of frustration.
end, Farmer had seen plenty of partridges, and his parties had
taken a fair share. He could promise gunners that they'd see
plenty of chukars and Huns, but whether they would get close
enough for much shooting remained a gamble. Nevertheless, any
lingering disappointment on that front was more than compensated
for by the superb quail and pheasant hunting, and Farmer is confident
over time, he'll hone his strategies on partridges and improve
In any event,
there is no shortage of birds around. One gunner, Bill Urqhardt
of Boydton, Virginia, who headed a trio of veteran quail hunters
in their 70s and 80s who flew in from the Old Dominion, had the
following to say of his trip to the Flying Double F as he headed
for the airport, "I'm just glad I lived long enough to see
600 quail in the air at one time." Urqhardt said he'd be
coming back, for sure, as did his hunting buddies.
of the hunt that Farmer has taken pride in upgrading is the accommodations.
The Flying Double F came with a roomy, modern ranch house along
the banks of Bully Creek. He had it gutted and completely refurbished
in hunting lodge motif. The five double bedrooms feature handmade
furniture of sturdy juniper logs. The dining table and chairs,
where guests take their meals country style, are from the same
materials, and the walls and floors are decked out in bear skins,
trophy heads and sporting paintings that Farmer ships in from
his wife's art gallery back in Maryland.
town of any significance is Ontario, Oregon, an intriguing spot
on the old Oregon Trail that now is the biggest onion-producing
area in the country. The intriguing part is that most of the
farmers there are Japanese-Americans. The first ones moved inland
during World War II. They found a place perfectly suited to growing
onions, particularly the huge, two-pound ones that restaurants
use for the so-called "blooming onion" appetizers.
Japanese-American farmers did well enough growing onions that
when the war ended and the camps let out, relatives and friends
joined them. Today the outskirts of Ontario are lined with onion
farms, with an occasional pagoda or Japanese tea garden tucked
away behind the houses, and downtown is lined with onion-packing
plants with freight lines leading in and out.
of Ontario is an unusual mix of Japanese-American farmers, Mexican-American
farmhands, a few descendants of Spanish Basque shepherds who
moved to the area to raise sheep during the great depression,
plain old American cowboys and a few Native Americans.
rich mix, Farmer plucked perhaps the finest attribute of his
operation, chef Marge Yasuda, who runs a Japanese restaurant
in Ontario, but drives out to the ranch mornings and evenings
with freshly prepared breakfast and dinner for the visiting bird
hunters. As long as Marge is cooking, you can rest assured you
will not go hungry.
a three-day minimum for bird hunting guests. That way they get
to see all three attractions a day at the home ranch hunting
pheasants along the creek and quail along the field edges; a
day at Harper where the numbers of quail will astonish you; and
a day roaming the barren, beautiful hills looking for chukar
and Hungarian partridges. When you have thousands of birds, great
dog work, world-class accommodations and gourmet food, that is
a formula for the perfect bird hunt.
after I finished an article for the "Washington Post,"
I had enough time for a hunt. I grabbed one of Jim's ranch hands,
Joe Harley, and one of his favorite dogs, Rocky, and proceeded
to leave the ranch house. That afternoon I was able to shoot
at least one pheasant, valley quail, Hungarian partridge and
chukar. I am sure that this is one of the few places in the world
where this can be done in the same afternoon.
he also intends to have arrangements in place for Blast and Cast
fishing and chukar hunting float trips on the Snake River and
will offer guided big game hunts for mule deer, antelope and
elk. The cost of a bird hunt is $650 per day including lodging,
meals and guide fees. Four to five big game hunts will be available
from $3,300 to $5,500.
For more information
on the Flying Double F Ranch, phone (541)-473-3055 in Oregon
or (301)-870-2158 in Maryland.
so impressed, he devised a life strategy around bird hunting."
in coveys of hundreds, pheasants aplenty in the creek bottoms
and flocks of Hungarian partridge and chukar in scrub brush in
the high country."
The Flying Double
F Ranch is one of the few places in the world where you can take
a Hungarian Partridge, Pheasant, Chukar and V alley Quail all
in one day.
is the Flying Double F Ranch, named for Farmer and his wife Helen"
St. Mary's County Maryland, was waiting for pheasants and quail
to flush out of a corn field, when a strange and unique animal
ran passed. " My god, that's got to be a mountain lion"
glad I lived long enough to see 600 quail in the air at one time"
~ Bill Urqhardt
"As long as
Marge is cooking, you can rest assured you will not go hungry."
have thousands of birds, great dog work, world-class accommodations
and gourmet food, that is a formula for the perfect bird hunt."
~Doctor Doug Avery, Colorado