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Scouting Trips
February 2016
Gerhard Schroeder


Gerhard’s 12 gauge Franchi Model 48

For 2015 our deer tags stated “Unit 20B”. That’s just north of Phoenix. In fact, we shoot there – near Table Mesa – regularly. Occasionally I’d seen deer tracks there after a rain. Once even a few does while driving in at first light. And Dan had reported two huge bucks. But that was years ago. No, the calling drew me closer to Crown King. Ron and I settled on a weekend for scouting, overnighting ‘n all. Then he had to cancel.

So on 03 Oct I ventured out on my own, after our e-deer event. Quail season had opened the day before, one more reason to take the trip. After studying some maps, getting input from Steve and his buddy, the destination area for that weekend was past Crown King. The roads demand that you want to make sure your 4-wheel drive system is working. And the suspension will get a workout. In other words, getting there will bounce you around, will actuate every moving part on your ride.

That day was still too hot for my taste, but getting to where I wanted to go, I did, even though it took time. At one time, while stepping out and glassing distant hills, I did hear quail. Drove a little closer, parked, and pursued. Only to never hear or see the little rascals again. Then, near last light, and quite far from anything, I had seen enough of the terrain, convinced there was plenty of interesting country for several days of deer hunting. I decided to turn around, crawl back out, return home. Forty one miles and six deer that day later I reached pavement again. Two were decent bucks.

A week later Ron came to my house. By first light we had crossed the Aqua Fria off Table Mesa, heading for Boulder Creek / Cottonwood Creek drainage. That road, as it would turn out, suffered mightily from the heavy summer rains in the last 3 years since I been there. It had never been fun, and now getting to the creek canyon took even longer.

My plan was to take that road way further than ever before. Some say you can get to Crown King using that route.

Shortly after reaching Cottonwood Creek, bone-dry, we met quail. Of course we engaged. Ron slipped into the dry creek bed, I inched along the road. Soon two birds busted out and flew across the creek bed. My Franchi folded one on the first, and the second quail struggled down on my third shot. Great!

Now I had to play dog, climb up after and get them. If you’ve not been there, the east hillside is steep and quite high. I labored and retrieved the first bird. The second was still a foot soldier. In tamer terrain I’d have run it down. Here, slipping more than climbing, Ms Franchi got the job to take its head off. That flushed another quail, further up of course. But not far enough for #7 shot. More climbing. And not just climbing. Also a few more quail. When I finally was back at the vehicle there were four birds in my bag, a bleeding right leg, and dings and dents on the Franchi from being dropped twice so I could save my arse from harder impact. Ron never got a shot.

Let me just mention that I picked up that Franchi Model 48 some ten years ago, while at a gun show with the Oberst. He had just converted an old Browning A5 to ‘Tactical’, and the M48 looks very close to an A5. So home it came. They work similarly, in that during firing the entire barrel travels backwards for some distance before the bolt separates from it. Both cycle crazy fast, noticeably faster than an 1100.

It turns out that a magazine extension for the 870 also fits the Franchi. But that extra tube somehow messed with the timing, resulting in failures to feed. Despite trying many different load recipes, that was the end of going tactical. The Franchi has an aluminum ‘housing’, and the barrel on mine is 28”. I did not know any of this when I bought her, including that her really low weight gave this gun some sort of cult status. It was the choice for chukar hunters in places like Idaho where hills are steep and forever. Cult status did not trump physics. When I first fired the thing with 1 1/8oz loads, it kicked like something quite mad. A Limbsaver pad brought mitigation, and now we get along just fine.

That showed again when after barely driving fifty steps, two more birds hid next to the road. Out we came again. This time I chose the dry bed and Ron stayed higher. The birds flew, uphill again, and the Italian got both, boom – boom. It would be the last time we saw quail that day.

The 4Runner labored on. Ron had already suggested twice that he may have trouble ‘making’ this road with his F150. Clearly, it was no pleasure to drive. I’d say in places it would have been faster walking. Eventually we reached a spot were the road was washed down to naked bedrock, with a sizeable step up. I had gone too far to just give up, and we still had not reached half time to make it back home by the agreed 4PM. So I placed the tires gingerly and pushed the gas plenty. Tires spun, stinking rubber fumes entered the cab. The Toy made it up there. That step also erased any doubt from Ron’s mind.

And don’t bring booze on this kind of trip. At places the road is quite narrow and the slope steep, and far enough down to tumble you straight to Jesus – or the other place, depending on the state of your heart.

Eventually we left saguaro cacti behind. The area looked like better and better deer country. By our half time we reached Packer waterhole, also dry, and some 19 miles or 4 hours away from pavement. You can see Lake Pleasant from there. It was nowhere near as far as I had wanted to go. Yet there was no reason to go on that day. We would not return for opening day of deer season. Out of reach for Ron’s F150, plus we saw no deer. Better and faster to drive the other 41 miles of dirt.

Even so, something in me did not want to leave. Aren’t we made for adventure, for exploring, for conquering?! I wanted to know what it looks like once over the next hill. And the next. If you look at the map, there are more dirt tracks to follow. Assuming they are drivable, some lead to waterholes which according to Google actually hold water. I should have come here the first weekend, spent the night. I could have covered more miles then. Of course part of the unknown is if your ride will hold up. Or if the road would eventually simply become undriveable. Some side roads may indeed be too deteriorated for Toyota traffic. What would I run into walking them, gun over my shoulder?

Maybe I’ll be back, following that calling, a few steel shot shells on hand, on some colder fall or winter weekend, God willing.

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