Here we go on the long wait for the next chukar season to begin. It seems like forever. Luckily most sane people have other outdoor activities to keep them excited. Also most of those sane people stay off the steep chukar slopes to help their bodies recover from the previous seasons falls. Then there are the not so sane people that don’t. I have no brain mass left and am one of those guys.
The temperatures are still cold but the inversion has left and the sun is melting the snow off the steep south facing slopes, leaving lots of ground to hike. There is still many patches of snow to get through and yesterday, but since I left fairly early they were still frozen and I could stay on top. The only problem with that was, if you slipped, you weren’t going to stop your slide until you hit the end of the drift. I did once and have a nice rash on my left elbow from the slide. I quickly learned to take the time to walk around those areas. Later on in the day, the top couple of inches of snow softened and it was possible to navigate those snowy areas. But since there is no shotgun in my hands, I’m going to start using walking sticks.
What a ball it was to be with the dogs on the hill though. they were both negotiating the hill as well as usual. They knew to stay off those steep 20 foot deep drifts that had long drop offs if you started a slide. We got the exercise we needed, but what the heck can a person see this time of the year? A bunch of things we don’t normally see when we are concentrated on chukars.
Not long after we started, the boys had a rock chuck pinned under some rocks. He’d obviously been out sunning and with a dog on each side of the large boulder was chirping and it got louder each time one of the boys stuck his nose under the rock. After a while, I called the dogs off and turned uphill to see a coyote standing on the ridge and watching our direction. Evidently, he heard the ruckus echoing up the canyon and came to investigate. He disappeared quickly as we headed up the hill in his direction. I was amazed that we didn’t find a chukar in all that lower burnt off range.
But, as we gained elevation to where there was more snow than dirt, the amount of chukar tracks on the snow said they were there someplace. The boys were very birdy and soon pointed three chukars. There were deer and elk everywhere. If they had started running I would have backed out of the area but like usual they just meandered around watching the dogs more in interest than acting afraid. When they would leave, it was in that lethargic way that big game animals move this time of the year.
A little higher on the hill, we heard the sound of a chukar screaming and flying. We watched as a bald eagle came from high above and was right on the tail of the chukar. They disappeared behind the ridge and we never knew the outcome but it had Grady’s interest and he headed that way. I called him back, knowing if he happened to find some more birds I would have to go to his point and I didn’t want to be there. The snow was covered with chukar tracks. There was also a nice sized cat track in the trail left by the numerous elk.
We gained about 1200 feet until there was no more ground to negotiate and then stayed at that level. Suddenly there was lots of bird action. Most acted like late season birds and flushed even before the dogs could point them, but a few played fair with us and gave us some good dog work. Not one of the birds flew to the dirt slopes but around the hill into the snow. I’ve decided that chukar are to the upland species as elk are to big game. They like to follow the snow up and get that green stuff as it appears from under the snow.
While heading down, we once again heard another chukar screaming and taking flight. This time he was followed by some type of a hawk and it was so close to the chukar as it disappeared. I can only imagine the end. Probably the most fun thing I saw on the hill was three coyotes. They were a ways off and on a different drainage as the dogs were hunting, so I spent some time watching the coyotes through the binoculars. They too were hunting the edges of the snow looking for mice. Every once in a while they’d do that pounce that coyotes and foxes do when they here a mice under the snow.
Sometimes simple little things become so interesting. I enjoyed watching their ears and how they acted like radar. They would turn towards the sound of mice and then the pounce came. Wild animals senses are amazing.
Finally, one of the coyotes headed down the ridge. He would disappear every once in a while, but I always knew about where he was because of the two magpies that were accompanying it. Those scavengers are always around the coyotes. Back when I hunted coyotes, magpies often were the the demise of a coyote because I would watch some approaching my call knowing they were following a coyote I couldn’t see.
Pretty soon the coyote started rolling in something. Just like our dogs, something must stink and the coyote had to roll in it. It was steep and the coyote would roll down the hill and then go back and go through it again. There were more magpies around him so I figured it probably was some kind of winter kill. The other two coyotes started moving that way. The original coyote peed three or four times around the area and each time kicked his hind legs several times like my boys do after they pee, so I assume it was a male.
As the other two coyotes approached, he picked up something large and headed towards them. I thought maybe he was taking it to them but he walked right past them and into a draw where I couldn’t see. The two remaining coyotes went down and started to roll in the same area. They marked the territory also but never kicked up their hind legs. I wanted to go over to the area where the coyotes rolled to see what was keeping the dozen magpies interested. I was in hopes of finding that massive rack from a winter killed deer or elk, but decided not to disturb the area. It probably was a yearling anyhow. They are usually the ones that go first in the winter. Besides that, it was a long way over there.
Heading back down to the rig we got one more point on a lone chukar. Not a good sign. I would rather see larger covey’s than we saw today. They’ll start pairing up soon, but the covey’s should have more birds than I found. On the other hand there were tracks all over in the higher country. Too early to start making judgements. We also saw one more coyote which Grady was interested in. I discouraged him, knowing that this is breeding season for coyotes and they become very territorial. It was probably the same coyote we saw on the first of the trip.
Back at the truck, the temperature was around 40 degrees and the dirt had thawed to mud. Oh boy, me and the dogs get to pack some mud into the truck and we get to slip and slide off the mountain on the muddy road. Then we get to clean it off before it gets so hard we have to chisel it off.
The lure of the chukar mountain.