Saturday, I finally got out on that hunting trip I’ve been wanting to go on since December 24th. Two weeks of non hunting chukars isn’t long but it seemed like forever. So Greg and I grabbed the dogs and headed into that country we couldn’t get to 10 days ago because of the snow. We were pretty excited about the prospects, knowing it probably hadn’t seen any pressure for at least two weeks.
The three hour drive took a little longer than usual because the last 25 miles was solid snow floor or ice but we knew the extra half hour was going to be worth it. It was. 3 1/2 hours after I left the house I was heading up a snowy slope. Not too high above was bare ground melted by the sun the last couple of days. The melted chukar tracks made it obvious the birds had been there. Jake and Grady were soon in the burnt off area and it wasn’t long before I heard Jake yipping, which is a sure sign of birds running. About 200 yards up above him I could see a line of chukars headed up on the crusted snow and knew those birds were safe from me. We hunted the partially bare slope and I was surprised at the number of single birds we found. Usually that’s a sign that someone else had hunted the area and spread the birds out but there was not another dog or human track anywhere.
The birds were pretty wild as expected but I managed a few points and shots before the birds would escape to the other side of the draw. We watched them land and than run up the northern slope to the ridge line. Knowing the other side of that ridge would be some what burnt off we headed that way. Six inches of crusted snow on a steep ridge takes a lot of work for me to walk through. About twenty steps and catch my breath. Luckily, the dogs didn’t break through the snow at first.
We would get to the next ridge and immediately the boys were on point. As I moved out front chukars would take flight about 75 yards away and off we’d go to try and find the next covey. After about 1 1/2 hour the dogs were starting to break through the snow and slowing down. Time to turn around. We dropped down some and headed back to the truck. The hunting was pretty much the same except now the bare areas were getting a little slick for me and I was just waiting for the big fall which never came. Off in the distance I could hear shots from Greg, so I knew he was having some excitement and would soon be at the rig.
Grady made me gain a little altitude with a fine point and I managed a shot that crippled the bird and he was hopping and bouncing down the steep slope with both dogs in chase. I used the snowy slope for traction to follow the dogs down towards the road. I was beat and I knew the dogs were also. Jake got to the bird first and delivered it to me and we hunted our way to the road where Greg had driven to and ready to pick us up. Here is where the stupid comes in.
Greg had parked on the road in a shady spot where it hadn’t thawed out. That way I could load my dogs into my brand new three day old truck without getting too much mud in it. I was beat. I laid my gun on the side of the road, took off the dog collars and than loaded them up into the back seat. I took off my vest off and took the two birds I had managed in the back end of the truck. Every thing loaded, Greg moved to the passenger seat and I crawled up into the drivers seat and started the long drive home.
We told our stories and bragged on our dogs until we got to the gas station we always meet at and parted our own ways. I told him I’d probably take the next day off, being as sore as I felt. 1 1/2 hour later I’m home and unloading the truck. Of course Barb is out helping the old dude who is walking around like a cripple. I pick up the shotgun case and immediately notice the lightness of it. A few cuss words and Barb asks what’s wrong. I explained where my shotgun was and that I would be going hunting tomorrow after all.
What a stupid move. I’ve had others do that before but this was a first for me. The good news is that there was only one other rig on that road that day and I was pretty sure it was a rancher. He had come in and back out while I was on the hill. So I was pretty sure nobody would find my gun that day. The lack of chukar hunters is proof that chukars are a self regulating bird. When it’s not so easy, most chukar hunters give it up. Now, all I had to do was be the first person on the road the next day and hope my gun was still there.
5:00 in the morning had me loading the dogs and headed toward my shot gun. I don’t mind saying I was pretty excited when I came around the corner and saw my Citori standing up in plain sight along the side of the road. It was covered with frost but in plain sight of anyone on the road. I was still feeling the aches of the day before but decided not to waste the long drive without getting some kind of a hunt in with the dogs. I knew of a great ridge that burns off easy but I had to hike up a northern slope through the crusted snow to get to.
It was 11 degrees when the dogs and I left the truck but calm and by the time I reached the southern slope I was sweating like it was 100 degrees. The slope was burnt off as far up as I could see and I could hear chukars calling me. The dogs had no problem traversing the slick, frozen and steep slopes but I did. It was slow going for me. But it wasn’t long before we had action. Like the day before I was surprised at how many singles the boys pointed but there were some good covey’s also. The other positive of the day was how well the birds were holding. The dogs work and the birds cooperating was great but that’s where the good stuff ended.
Up until that day I’ve been pretty tickled with my shooting. I’ve had my best shooting percentage on chukars over the past 40 years. That day could have possibly been my worst day of shooting ever. It wasn’t gun fit or because my gun had warped over the night. It was just crappy shooting. There were a few times when the frozen slopes played a part but there were the shots when I could even see the pointed birds and had plenty of time to set my feet for the flush. I was even missing the left to right shots which are my favorite. By the time we got back to the truck my brain was expecting to miss instead of expecting to hit. That’s never a good thing.
It was a humbling and learning weekend. Physically, it was rough. Even in my younger years I remember being sore after a hunt in these conditions. But, as far as the chukars, it was a great weekend. In the two days, I saw at least 250 birds and didn’t even get to touch the country. Most of the birds were wild, as expected, but were there all the same. For me though, it was a dismal weekend. Over 500 miles of driving, 14 hours on the road, 7 hours of hunting, 7 miles covered on miserable mountains, at least twenty five points, and I refuse to say how many shots, I ended up with three birds.
But I did get my shotgun and with the falls of the day I didn’t manage to beat it up any. I wish I could say that about my body though. I had three pretty good falls and only came up with a dislocated pinky. It’s been knocked out of joint many times over the past 55 years so it wasn’t anything new to put it back like it’s supposed to be. Those falls also explain why my shoulders are a little sore.
One more thing. Three different times I heard a chukar screaming from high above and saw the bird diving off the cliffs followed by hawks. Two of the three dives were successful. It’s obvious to see why they attribute 30 % of chukar mortality to avian predators. Especially in these winter conditions.