Mac

Reprinted 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.

"The 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 tailored for 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.

Despite all 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.

Farmer found 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 Maryland Chapter.

Two years 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.

We arrived 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.

The Flying 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 mountain lion.

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 2004.

The Flying 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.

The 10,000-acre 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 him shaken.

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 forget.
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.

Our strategy 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.

By season's 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 the odds.

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.

One aspect 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.

The nearest 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.

The first 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.

The population 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.

From this 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.

Farmer has 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.

One afternoon 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.

Next season, 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.

 

"Farmer was so impressed, he devised a life strategy around bird hunting."

"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."

 

 

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.

"The upshot is the Flying Double F Ranch, named for Farmer and his wife Helen"

 

"Al Watson from
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" he said.

 

"I'm just glad I lived long enough to see 600 quail in the air at one time"
~ Bill Urqhardt
Age: 70+"

 

"As long as Marge is cooking, you can rest assured you will not go hungry."

"When you 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







 
Home Page
|
Hunting | Reservations | Cast & Blast | LodgingDining | Photo Gallery | Links

Phone:
541-473-3055
301-870-2158

Email:  
James Farmer

Address:
2373 Townley Road
Vale, Oregon 97918

Copyright 2005 - All website content and photos are the exclusive property of Flying Double F Ranch and cannot be reproduced without written permission.

Flying Double F Ranch in the News: 

July, 2005:  Field & Stream will run an article on Flying Double F Ranch
October 2005:  A hunt will be filmed and televised on the outdoor channel from the Flying Double F Ranch