Jim Farmer (1940-2016) had spent the better part of 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 resided. 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.
Jim 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. One year 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, Jim 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. We 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 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 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.
Quotes from some of our hunters
“I’m just glad I lived long enough to see 600 quail in the air at one time.”
Bill U. who has hunted since the 1970’s
“This is the best bird hunt I’ve ever experienced. From the food, to the scenery, to the mixed bag! 10/10!”
“What an experience. Before coming, I did not know what to expect. You have to be on your feet, never knowing if you’re about to jump a pheasant or a huge covey of quail. I can’t wait to come back!”
“My annual trip to the Flying Double F. is the most important trip of the year… (don’t tell my wife.)”
For more information on the Flying Double F Ranch, phone (541)-473-3055 in Oregon or (301)-848-1861 in Maryland.