By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer–
This morning Ridgecrest’s Quail Forever (RQF) hosted the first of three Rattlesnake Avoidance Training Classes for Dogs. Not to worry. Each $70 class is a stand-alone, and there is still space on Saturday, April 29, and Sunday, April 30. Classes run from 8 am until 3 pm at Robison Ranch at 4701 Neil Ranch Road in Inyokern. To purchase tickets, go to their website, quailforever.org, and follow the prompts to sign up. You can join, donate, or volunteer for the local chapter on this national website. They always need funds and are looking for new members and volunteers.
This is the second year this community service has been offered by RQF. Chapter Treasurer Roy Bohnert tells us that Andy Andrews and his son, Russel, come from Victorville to lead the training. “Andy, the father, has been doing it for 25-30 years. He’s very knowledgeable. He catches the snakes, he uses them a few weeks to a month, and then releases them back in the wild.” He looks amazed as he says, “He brings them up here in the front seat of his pickup.” Adding, “Better you than me.”
Bohnert has attended this training in other communities and says of Andrews, “This guy seems a little bit more hands-on and takes a genuine concern in the dogs.” So, how does it work? “They (have the snakes) in little wire cages. They position the snakes in the area, and then they walk your dog on a leash to each of the snake’s sites and see how it reacts to each of the snakes.” When the dog shows interest in the snake, the avoidance training begins. “I know many people are a little against them,” admits Bohnert, “but they have an electronic collar on them that gives them a mild shock. I think that startles them more than anything. It is very effective. I know my dog, after two snakes, has nothing to do with snakes again.”
RQF’s main activity is conservation. “The main thing we do is guzzlers. They are a water source for quail and chuckers, the two birds around here. But every wildlife that drinks water uses those things out there, which are man-made.” He explains that in the 1950s and 1960s, California Fish and Wildlife and volunteers installed over 100 within a 15 or 20-mile radius of Ridgecrest, with about another dozen on the Base. They have an asphalt or concrete base nearly three times the size of the average backyard patio. These are fed from an underground fiberglass tank. RQF refills the tanks. Because of this year’s heavy rains, they think the tanks may be good with water until June or July.
Last year, RQF started an outdoor club at Burroughs High School and formed a trap shooting team that could enter competitions. They go to a shooting range and are taught to shoot clay pigeons with a shotgun.
To fund their events and purchase water, they hold an annual fundraiser in March. This year’s was a Fun Shoot at Clodt Road in Inyokern. “You could sign up, and we had trap shooting for everybody that wanted to do it. We had parents bringing their kids out there to show them all about it. We had shotguns they could use. We had instructors from the trap clubs showing them hands-on and letting them shoot.” Next year, they will hold their fundraiser banquet at the end of March.
Bohnert, the oldest of seven children, started handling hunting rifles as a kid. His father taught him and his younger brother. “My dad took us out squirrel and rabbit hunting back in Southwest Virginia. I bought my first shotgun when I was 13, and I’ve done it ever since.” Asked if the squirrel was good at eating, he answers, “In Virginia, they are because they eat acorns and hickory nuts.”
These days he does more walking than hunting. He will go out with a hunting buddy and take his dog, Dobby, an eight-year-old German Short-haired Pointer that Bohnert got as a puppy from the Outback Kennels in Kansas. He says, “I’d gotten a dog from there before, and they have good hunting instincts. So I went there and got another one.” Dobby runs ahead (avoiding rattlesnakes), and when he scents a bird in a bush, he stands still and points. A dog “points” by freezing his body, often with one front paw up, and aiming his nose at a particular spot. When Bohnert walks towards the bush, the bird takes flight, and the trigger is pulled. He says the pellets are so small, and probably only two or three hit the target, so he doesn’t have a meal full of pellets.
In his living room, Bohnert has a stuffed chucker and two stuffed quail prepared for him by a friend who is a taxidermist. He points out that although they have similar coloring, the chucker is twice as big as a quail. Their markings aren’t the same, and, of course, the quail have their cute topknot feathers.
When Bohnert moved to Ridgecrest in 1994, Quails Unlimited was the local organization. When they went bankrupt around 2012, Midwest-based Pheasants Forever expanded and added Quail Forever. “We have about a dozen active guys that go out and do any habitat restoration or improvement programs and projects that we do out in the desert.” RQF holds monthly meetings to talk about their projects, either at their President’s house or they may meet at Lugo’s Restaurant. This organization is not only for hunters, it’s also for people who are into conservation or bird lovers who want to see our wildlife survive. Bohnert has witnessed the difference from filling a guzzler that had long been empty, and within two years, there were quail and chuckers once again in the region.