Sunday, December 27, 2009

ethics

Hunting ethics is a hard thing to define. We are often far away from civilization and the scrutiny of the eyes of people. Most of the time we are only judged by ourselves or the group we hunt with. That is why I think hunting ethics are so important. It's so easy to do one thing and preach another when it comes to hunting.



I watched an incident this morning that really brought this issue to heart. I live in an area that has lots of wildlife and has a landowner permit elk hunt. With my spotting scope I see many things that I don't consider quite ethical. Although legal, not ethical in my eyes. This morning a gal shot an elk leaving a haystack. When she walked up to it to grab the leg it kicked at her. She jumped back and than reached down to grab its leg again. Once again the elk kicked at her. She jumped back and started kicking the elk with her rifle over her shoulder. A few minutes later two men showed up in a four wheel drive truck, hooked a rope around the elks neck and drug her down into a draw where I assume they gutted the animal. Hopefully the elk had expired before they drug her off.



I don't consider shooting an elk the way that they did as hunting, but that is my personal feeling. But I do know that letting the elk suffer due to the 75 cent bullet cost or whatever other reason, is unethical and shows no respect for the animal. We chastise wolves, coyotes, bears,etc. for their cruel ways. But yet we, as the animal with the ability to reason, do the same without conscience.



As a bird hunter we have to decide on an abundance of ethics topics. Road hunting is one. Is road hunting ethical? To me it is a form of laziness. But what about the handicapped person? Should that person have to give up hunting just because he has become disabled? I don't think so. But the guy that is riding along with him or her that can't contain himself and jumps out of the rig and runs down the road slaughtering as many birds as he can is a hunting slob in my eyes. Not only did he give hunters a black eye, he cheated the people with him out of getting a chance to get a bird. I saw this happen once and that was exactly my feeling at the time.



Ground sluicing. Shooting a bird on the ground. In my eyes that is not fair chase. But many, especially chukar and pheasant hunters, think this as acceptable. Pheasants running down the corn rows and not taking flight are hard not to fire upon; neither is a chukar running up hill and won't take flight until he is out of range. Some of the people I hunt with wouldn't hesitate to take a bird that way. I reserve judgement on them and don't believe they should hold themselves to my standards. My personal ethics won't allow me to shoot birds on the ground. I get plenty of birds throughout the year and for me to shoot one on the ground would serve no purpose.



Party hunting. Shooting birds until everyone has there limit. I believe in most states this is also illegal but most people do it anyway. Especially water fowl hunters. When you're all shooting from a blind who knows who shot what? But most upland bird hunters have a pretty good idea of who shot what bird. The people I hunt with and I have an understanding. That is, we only shoot our own birds. I don't want anyone to deprive me of hunting opportunity and I won't do that either. It is such a thrill to get a shot at a bird, especially off point, and I don't want another hunter to take that away from me by shooting part of my limit. By the same token it is almost as exciting for me to empty my gun and watch another try to fulfil his limit.



Dispatching a crippled bird. Why should a bird be any different than the elk mentioned. They should not have to suffer, nor should we give more than our best effort to recover cripples.

There are a lot of simple little things that define your ethics out in the field. How you treat others property. Picking up trash, which includes your spent hulls. How do you conduct yourself around other hunters and non hunters in the field? Do you respect a hunting spot another hunter might have taken you to, or do you end up taking all your friends to it? Do you step aside and let someone else take a shot or do you always have to be in the action? These are just a few of the questions you have to ask yourself.

Ethics don't define us as good or bad people. Unless they are illegal. But our ethics help to define who we might want to hunt with or who might want to hunt with us. Just try to always do the right thing whatever you choose that to be.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

cold weather













When it's cold out things not only change for the hunter, they also become more extreme for the hunted. I was out on a chukar hunt yesterday and the temperature at 9 A.M. was 4 degrees and when I got off the mountain at 12:30 it had only improved by 7 degrees. Even at that I was sweating from all the up and down hiking I did. It didn't take long to cool down though. I was getting cold by the time I had loaded my gun into it's case and organized everything for the ride home into the back seat of my truck. I was ready for the truck heater to kick into high gear.





Riley was also cooling down fast. Staying dry on the hill he never showed any signs of being cold. As soon as we got back to the truck he was ready to get inside and curl up into a ball in the back seat. Not moving, he was also ready for the truck heater.





Birds don't have the luxury that we do. They don't have a heater to turn on when they get cold.If we want the birds to survive the winter cold we have to use a little common sense and let them use what mother nature gave them to survive. That is simply the ability to group into coveys. That is why you start seeing bigger coveys in the cold harsh weather. At night the birds huddle together in a covey and use each others warmth to survive the cold. You may recall finding big piles of bird droppings in the bottom of draws. That is where they roosted together. In the morning they feed back up onto the sunny slopes or into the heavy sage where they can find some open area.





There are several things we can do to help these birds survive the winter. Don't hunt the same area time after time. Give the birds at least a week between hunts so they aren't stressed all the time. If you are finding few birds back off them for the year completely. Don't road hunt. Many times under severe circumstances the birds are on the edges of back roads getting what food they can. That may be the only open country. Pushing those birds up into the deep snow just stresses them out more. Besides that's not hunting, that's just killing.





The main thing we as hunters can do to help the chukars survive harsh conditions is to quit earlier in the day. Chukars can survive almost all conditions given the opportunity. Call the hunt off early enough for the birds to covey up. Often after shooting at a covey you hear the birds talking all around you. That is what they are doing. Communicating to try to covey up. If there's only a couple hours of light left then get off the hill and let them do so. Next year you and your dog will appreciate the precautions you have made to keep these birds healthy.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Public land















Next to the chukar being a challenge to hunt, another aspect to making them fun to hunt, is the vast amount of public land they can be hunted on. Most upland game birds live around or on private property. The best property has, over the years, been bought up by ranchers and farmers because it is the most productive land. There is usually water and good soil to grow a crop or feed cattle. Most of this land is now closed to hunting do to both selfishness of some ranchers but also because of the stupidity of some hunters.






Even though many times land owners will allow chukar hunters, most of the best chukar hunting is still on public lands. If you've hunted chukars much you know why. The land isn't much good for anything else. Chukars are high desert birds and seem to thrive in areas that other animals can't. Give them a little water, some cheat grass and some insects in the spring and they thrive.






Pheasants and quail are also found on public lands but not in the numbers that the chukars and huns do. It's even getting to be more and more like that for ducks and geese these days. In many states it's almost impossible to hunt without being on a hunting ranch.






I hunt in Idaho, Oregon and Nevada now and hope to add Montana and Washington to my list next year. All of these states have lots of public land. All of them also have different trespass laws so make sure you check that out before you go. The public land that I have hunted is so vast that even if you happen to run into other hunters on the hill, it's usually just a matter of changing directions to stay out of each others way.






Remember there are no secret hot spots anymore. If you've found it, there's a good chance someone else has too. Also, even if you think it's a secret, don't over hunt it. I try to hunt spots no more than four or five times in a year. Some spots I only hunt once or twice, depending on the amount of birds, bird sign, and conditions of the terrain. We have to be our own stewards of the land.






If you wanted, you could park your truck, take off walking and walk all day chukar hunting and be back at your truck that night without ever covering the same ground. The next morning just go a different direction from the truck and do the same again. The next morning again, and again and again.

Monday, December 21, 2009

safety

It was brought to my attention recently about a chukar hunter from Washington who died from an accident on the hill. I t seems he slipped on some snow covered ice and fell over a rock embankment. When he was found his dog was by his side.


Chukar hunters hunt a lot by themselves. There are many things you can do to minimize the risks while out there by yourself but plan for your safe return before you go. Always let someone know where you are going and don't deviate from the plan. Even if you suddenly remember that hot spot. Those birds will still be there another day. Have a plan with your wife or whom ever you have left the information with. I always take a two way radio with me and let the person know which channel I am on. That way if you're are not back at the given time, someone can get close to your location and possibly get a hold of you. Carry extra batteries for your radio.


Always carry fire starter, flashlight, whistle. extra jacket, or any of the other essential emergency things when hunting alone. You never know when you will need them. You can go a life time and never use them, but have an emergency happen just once without them and you may not be around to appreciate them the next time. There is also the SPOT emergency system that I will have with me next hunting season. It's a little expensive but still way worth the relief it can give you and your loved ones.


Hunting alone is never advisable but happens quite often for a variety of reasons. I happen to be retired and don't have any retired friends that like to chase chukars. The younger chukar hunters are still holding down jobs five days a week, so if I want to go during the week it's by myself. So I have to use my head. As I said I let some one know of my plans and don't deviate. Now once I'm at my hunting area I need to restrain myself from going to those unsafe places. Places like the rock cliffs, steep icy hill sides, and rock slides are areas to stay away from. As a hunter you know when it's not a safe area to access under certain weather conditions. If it's questionable stay away and hunt something different. The birds will be there for another day. If it's too dangerous for you or your dog you shouldn't be there any way. There are a few places where chukars go and should be left alone. Leave them be and hunt the huntable ones.


Chukar hunting is tough enough as it is. Leave the mountain climbing to the mountain climbers and billy goats. When I think about going to those questionable places because the chukars are there I think of my grandchildren and make the right turn to another mountain side.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

upland vests and gear














There are many different vests on the market today. Some good and some not so good. Like everything else, you get what you pay for when looking at vests. With all the different vests I've looked at or tried I still haven't found the perfect chukar vest and doubt I ever will. Especially on the warm early season days.







Most of this doesn't apply to the hunter that is taking a quick jaunt from the vehicle, but if you're like most chukar hunters and you take off by yourself for the day you have to be prepared. The preparation isn't only for you but for your four legged companion also. He has depended upon you up to this point in his life and he's still counting on you today.







First off, and probably the most important, is the vest either needs a water bladder or pockets to carry water. Water is paramount for a good hunting dog. Not only to keep his hunting senses toned but for his life. If there are no water sources in the area you're hunting, you will have to pack plenty. I'm lucky, I don't drink a lot of water, so I usually have mine for the dog's if we run out.







The vest should have a large pocket on the back to place your emergency items. It also should have a couple of straps on the cargo pouch for your rain coat or cold weather coat. For me the more pockets the better. I believe you need at least four separately divided pockets to keep your equipment separated. Two separate small open end pockets are helpful to place your radio and electronic dog receivers in. With those two pockets should be a couple of D rings to tie your lanyards to in case they happen to fall from the pocket. Shell loops in a couple of the pockets or on the flaps are also nice.






Wow! That's a lot to ask for. But it sure would be nice if they made a backpack like that to carry about 18 lbs. of necessary things. That's including water.







Oh, also you need a vest with a waist belt and harness system to take the load off your shoulders and put it more on your waist. Hopefully it will be adjustable for comfort. Well, good luck and if you find one please notify me because I'll be next in line. Luckily for me I have a good wife who has sewn many of these extras on a store bought vest for me.







So now, what do I put in the vest that adds up to 18 lbs? First and most important is water. On warm weather days you may have to pack 1 and 1/2 gallons of water which is 12 lbs. From there you can do the math. Most of these things I have never used and hope I will never have to. But there is always a first time.






One of the pockets has shotgun shells unless I have a vest that has loops for 25 shells. I always have a box worth of shells. Even at 1 bird for 3 shots that takes 25 rounds. I've been with people that need a lot more shells in order to get their 8 bird limit. I always pick up my empties and put them in with the dead birds. Energy bars for both you and the dog are needed. First aid kit for both you and the dog should be included. Multipurpose tools come in very handy. Not only is the knife used quite often but pliers are used for pulling quills and screw driver to tighten a loose screw on your gun or other accessories. I pack a removable sling in case I have to shoulder my shotgun for any reason. I can also use the sling as a short lead for a dog if needed. Spare batteries are along in case the electronics run down. I carry a small flashlight and emergency fire starter. I've never had to spend the night out while chukar hunting but if I ever do I want to make sure I'm awake in the morning. I also like to pack a camera although life would go on without it. I make sure all of these battery operated things work off the same size batteries so I don't have to pack different versions. I have a small lunch along. My jacket for whatever season is strapped on the back of my vest.






I saw a shoulder harness in the uplandidaho.com site for carrying a hurt dog. I'm going to add that to my list and hope that it can double for my sling also. Karl Dehart sells them and you can probably get them through the upland site. I had to carry one of my dogs two miles to my truck one time and one of these carriers would have made it a lot easier and safer.






As I said, most of these things I have never taken out of the vest, but if I ever have to use them it will make all the many miles I have carried them worth it.






One other thing that I have found useless for me is the front load bird style vest. I like the extra room they give but I have had Barb sew the front load area shut and just use the side load for my dead birds. Before she sewed them shut, I was loosing birds and spent shells every time I bent down to go under a fence or bush. I think the front load vests work good for pheasants but not for chukar and smaller birds.






Good luck with your new bird vest. Who said you didn't have to be a pack animal to hunt upland birds?






chukar country


While browsing through a great hunting site, uplandidaho.com , I saw where a 45 year old Washington teacher died from a fall while chukar hunting. It made me think of how many times I've hunted the same type of terrain and could have met the same fate.
Chukars like to take refuge in the rock cliffs. There they can make fast escapes and can get to many places that dogs and people can't. Once they get there they seem to talk even more. It's almost like a challenge for you to follow.
I used to take on that challenge. There can be some fast shooting.Usually your lead pattern falls to the canyon floor causing no damage to the birds. You can find plenty of spent shells in these areas because many hunters have been called there before. I have decided to leave these area to the birds. I have had several close calls in these areas and have been lucky to only break my shotgun once. One time I had to retrieve Tucker from a rock ledge he couldn't navigate after his retrieve. Picking a wiggling dog up and trying to place him up on the next ledge and than getting there yourself is not my idea of having fun.
These areas, although having plenty of birds, never offer good footing for the shot, give you just a split second to take the shot before the bird flies behind the next rock, and most retrieves are near impossible for the dog.
I just stay away from those area now. I still hunt the steep slopes that chukars like, but I stay away from the ledges. I've found that if you hunt the slopes where there are no big rock area you can usually get two or three chances at the birds. They either fly side hill or drop down to another ridge. They are still accessible for another point. Besides I get so much better dog work in these type areas.
The first two pictures are some of the rocky areas I'm talking about. These aren't even that bad. With the snow you can see how easy it would be to fall and bust your can. I remember hearing the chukars calling as I took these pictures.
The second two pictures are of the type country I like to hunt. Although still steep, they are more accident friendly and great slopes to see some good dog work. I had a great day with Dakota after these pictures were taken.








Sunday, December 13, 2009

patterning, chokes and shot size






What you shoot out of your shot gun is as important as the gun itself. If what you are shooting won't hit and put the bird down you're better off shooting with a camera. A camera will never wound a bird, where poor ammunition will.



I reload which adds another element of enjoyment to my hunting. Shot gun shells off the shelf are just as good, but not as cost efficient for me. I shoot a lot and therefore I need to save where ever I can. Shells off the shelf have to be patterned the same as reloaded shells. Every shell patterns different in each individual gun and if you want to optimize your success at shooting you want to shoot the load that best fits your gun.



Everyone should pattern their gun. Patterning is shooting at a 30 inch target at given distances to see how many pellets cover the target. The 30 inch circle should have an even distribution of pellets throughout. To put it simple, you place a bird sized object on the pattern board after shooting at it and make sure there would be enough pellets to bring the bird down no matter where in the 30 inch circle the bird is.



For those who don't reload it may pay off to trade a few shells with your hunting partner when patterning. Shoot five shells at different target boards and compare. The load that gives you the most uniform pattern at the distances you'll be shooting is the load you want to use.



Many times different shot size may make all the difference. Different loads such as 1 1/4 ounce, 1 1/8 ounce or 1 ounce of a particular shot might make the difference in your particular gun. It may be the speed or drams of your particular load that makes the best pattern.



It seems like a lot to do to just shoot chukars but, as the saying goes, it's what you have to do to be the best you can be. Besides it's fun and gives you another reason to be out having fun shooting your shotgun.



The size of shot makes a big difference in foot lbs. of energy or knock down power. The heavier the shot the more foot lbs. it has. I shoot 7 and 1/2 shot during the early season and go to 6 shot later when the birds don't present as many close shots.



You also need to test the individual chokes for you gun. Although you choke may say modified it may have more of an open or closed choke than you expect. Know the true pattern your chokes will present.



A lot of this seems like it might be a little overboard. Maybe it is. But I like to know that when I pull up on a bird in flight, I'm more likely to knock that bird down than not. Everyone has excuses and the more of them you eliminate the more successful you will be. You don't walk the steep hills and work countless hours with your dog just to shoot blanks into the air. Improve your odds and make sure your equipment is at it's best.



Make shooting fun and come home with some great stories and good eating meat.



Friday, December 11, 2009

shooting

Shooting chukars can be described by many in shooting sports to be as frustrating as most people in the sports world consider golf. There is no way to duplicate many of the shots you will encounter.






While at the sporting clays range or out on your own there are many ways to change angles, speed, and presentation of the targets. But you are always aware of where the target is coming from and when. You have two feet on the ground and have time to square your feet to the target. You still can practice your tough shots, but you are just prepared for them.






When actually hunting, you can never prepare yourself for the shot you're about to encounter. You try, but the shot very seldom presents itself like you imagine. Even when hunting behind a pointing dog who is locked on birds. There are many factors that all of a sudden can come into play.





First of all ,the birds are very seldom exactly where the dog is pointing, so it is very hard to square your shoulders to where the birds take off at. If you aren't square, the angle of your body may stop your follow through. Follow through is so important in all shooting. It is probably the biggest factor in poor shooting.





You also have to be so conscious of the surroundings. Where is your dog? Is he liable to react in a way to impede your shooting? Where are your hunting partners? Are there any other dogs that may be in the line of fire? When at the gun club you don't have to worry about these things but in the field they are always on your mind.




When the birds flush they usually flush as a group. It's hard to pick just one bird and stay with it when there are so many birds flying around. Stay with that bird throughout the shot and don't change suddenly because there is a bird that looks easier. If you change, I guarantee you'll miss 90% of the time. Make sure of your first shot. Too many times a person shoots fast so he can get a second or third shot thus missing them all. Concentrate on getting the first one first.




Down hill shots are my hardest shot. It's hard to shoot under the bird. But that's where they are going. You are not on level ground which compounds the matter. Sometimes both feet aren't on the ground.



Take your time while approaching the dog. Rushing up to the dog will only excite the dog and get you more out of breath. Move slow and calm. It not only helps your shooting it helps calm the dog so he'll hold point better.








When I approach a pointing dog I try to approach in a matter to flush the birds in a direction that might improve my odds. I know I shoot left to right crossers better than any other shot. So if possible I try to get the birds to flush that way.




Another thing I often do to try to improve my odds for a double is to shoot the bird in the back of the covey instead of the lead bird. That way after the shot and if I'm following through properly my swing is already taking me towards the next shot instead of having to hesitate for the remaining birds to catch up. The less jerky motion the better.


Age has something to do with shooting also. Especially when it comes to reflexes. I hate to admit it but I have slowed down quite a bit over the years. Many times when on down hill slopes I don't even get a shot. I'm concentrating so hard on getting my footing that by the time I get the gun up the birds are out of range. Most of the time I find it a lot better to concentrate on one good shot.



Ah! Going through slumps. It's going to happen. The more you let it bother you the longer it will last. We all go through it. We also have the times when it seems like we can't miss, although the slumps seem to come more often. Just keep shooting and things will come around.


Shooting 50% is great shooting when it comes to chukar hunting. Most people I talk to shoot about 20% of the birds they shoot at. Remember you're out there to enjoy yourself. Keep it that way.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

shotguns

Shotguns are a matter of preference to each hunter. Although 10 guage shotguns are legal to hunt chukars with I can't imagine anyone wanting to lug such a heavy gun up steep chukar country. The 12 and 20 guages are by far the most popular, but the light 28 guage is gaining wide acceptance in the chukar community. There are even some out there that dare to use a .410 guage.

Weight of the shotgun makes much difference when navigating the hills chukar survive in. I have two Browning 12 guage over and unders and they are two pounds different in weight. When the weather is bad and I know I'll be traveling quite a distance I take the lighter shotgun. The 20 guage is lighter than the 12 so it's even more comfortable to pack up and down the draws. The 28 guage is lighter yet, but it's pay load is also lighter. Last is the light .410 gauge.

Of course as you drop in guage you lose pellet count. Some are good enough shots they can shoot the smaller guages I just happen to not be one of them so I shoot the 12.

Pumps, autoloaders, double barrels, and single barrels all serve the purpose of a chukar hunter. The pumps and autoloaders can get you a lot more shooting in the states where more than three shells are allowed but in reality after three shells are fired usually the last two shots just fall harmlessly to the ground. I must admit that at least half of the time when shooting at chukars a sleeper will take off after I've shot my second round and opened the action.
Barrel lengths ar also a matter of preference. Short barrels are quicker but they are harder to maintain a swing through.
Both of my chukar guns are expensive for my taste but I like the way they shoot so I hunt with them. They aren't as pretty as they used to be but prettiness doesn't kill chukars. My philosophy is I bought it for hunting so use it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Journals


Every year my daughter, Kerri Massoth, makes me a journal for my upland bird hunting. Inside, there is a page for every day I hunt that year and all the imformation that I compiled for that day. Included are; date, weather, type of birds hunted, name of people hunted with, dogs hunted with, birds found, birds lost, miles traveled, elevation gained, number of shots fired, hours hunted, location where hunting took place, and a spot for special notes of the hunt.


My reason for the journals is two fold. First off, when I'm gone, it is a record for my grandchildren to look at. That way they will know how much grandpa enjoyed life. Second, it's a way of making me a better hunter and dog person.
I write down any problems I might have with the dogs so that I can work on them that week or after the season. I also make observations of great retreives or super points by my dogs. Those are little notes that help me to remember that special hunt with my dogs.
I use the material in the journal to make me a more successful bird hunter. I try and hunt as many different locations a year as possible and never hunt the same location more than four or five times. I note how many birds I see so as to know how much hunting pressure it can handle. By looking back at past journals I can tell whether the birds seem to inhabit an area early or late in the season. I note the terrain so that I know during certain weather conditions I might avoid that area.
Sometimes I'll note little things like added pressure from other hunters so I know to leave that area alone. I also keep track of special animal sightings on the trip, such as cougars, sheep, bears, nice bucks, etc.
At the end of the year I compile all the information and compare notes to previous years. I calculate my shooting percentage, hours per bird, miles perbird, elevation per bird, average miles per day, average elevation per day, birds per hunt, how many hunts for each dog, how many birds in the bag that each dog was involved with, and totals of all these things.
This year is turning out to be a pretty normal year(2009-2010). Through December 7 our averages are: 6.5 miles per hunt, 6.15 birds per hunt, just over a mile per bird, about a bird per hour, 340 feet of elevation gain per bird, shooting at 56%, 2200 ft. of elevation gain per hunt, and 3% loss on birds that hit the ground and were not found by the dogs.
This information if not educational is at least entertaining to me.
One year I even kept track of all cost involved in my hunts. This included fuel, shells, and the like. That was not a great idea. It can depress a person real soon at how much a chukar can cost. That is a record I would advise against keeping.







Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bonding

My dogs are not only hunting companions, but companions wherever I go. Although they have kennels and stay in them at times, they are welcome in the house, office, 5th wheel, and in my truck as long as they mind their manners.

I prefer to get my dogs as puppies so as to bond with them at the earliest possible time. When not involved with my family or business, I try to spend as much time with the puppy as possible. I feel the more quality time spent, the more the pup will learn to trust and depend on me. I have a few friends that have gotten hunting dogs at six months or older. They are fine hunting dogs, but they really don't care which person they're hunting for.

I also have buddies whose dogs are in kennels or kenneled yards and not allowed in the house or vehicles. Their dogs are socialized every bit as well as mine. That's just a preference thing. They love their dogs just as much as I do mine.

I hunt a lot by myself so putting them in the backseat is more comfortable for them. When someone else is along and there is not room for the dogs in the truck, they ride in their kennels.

The more time you spend with your canine partner, the more in tune you will be with him or her. They learn to trust you and you trust them. While hunting they will try to keep some type of contact with you. My dogs, even though they get out three hundred yards when conditions are right, will check in. If they go on point then they trust me to get to them.

As the alpha dog I have to remember that they do depend on me and when we are walking or hunting don't make any sudden changes in direction unless they are aware of it.

It's pretty simple. Let them know what you expect of them, and don't over expect, and with consistency they will comply because you are their leader.