Sunday, April 25, 2010

Turkey hunting

During the heart of spring there is a short time period I find it hard to work the dogs. The chukars are nesting and if I try the higher timber areas to walk, there is still several feet of snow in places. I still exercise the dogs as much as possible but spend a little more time by myself in the hills. Although it is not quite the thrill I find with chukar hunting it has a lot of great merits.
The biggest difference between turkey hunting and chukar hunting, besides being with the dogs, is action. With chukar hunting there can be action at any moment, while turkey hunting has lots of down time when you are just walking from point a to point b. Sometimes you get a bird going and end up sitting against a tree for two to three hours waiting for the bird to finally make a mistake. Sometimes you walk all day and don't even hear a bird. There are days chukar hunting when you might not get a bird, but you still get to watch the dog work.
Turkey hunting has it's rewards. There is a lot more to it than just shooting a bird. The weather is usually pretty good which gives you time to sit and just reminisce. The other animals you encounter in the spring are also a plus. Turkeys seem to like the same type of environment as elk in the spring. There are also multiple grouse mating this time of the year.
Coyotes are protecting there young this time of the year. and will do whatever it takes to draw you away from their den. The mule deer buck are already starting to grow their antlers.
The abundance of wildlife this time of the year is amazing. The melody of spring sounds is equally as amazing. Especially the first thing in the morning. I usually walk in to my destination in the dark hours to be able to locate a gobbling turkey. Most of the time, the first sound I hear is that of an owl. Many times that will be followed by a gobble from a tom turkey. As dawn approaches, the sound of robins are everywhere. Before long, the California quail start calling to one an other and a distant chukar is announcing the sunrise. There is a drumming sound coming from the grouse and geese are honking from a near by pond. Once in a while, if the noise from the birds is not to great, you can actually hear a turkey fly down from his roost. Those sounds alone are enough to get me out on a spring morning.
Just like in chukar hunting, the harvest is the important factor. It's more how you got to the harvest that matters. When the action is happening, it can be hair raising. Every time the turkey returns a gobble to your call it sends a shiver up your back. Hearing him spitting and drumming makes it almost impossible to sit still. When the turkey finally appears at 50 yards with a full fan displaying you have to remind yourself to be calm. He needs to be at least 10 yards closer, and 30 yards closer would even be better. Fifteen minutes later, and 30 gobbles later, you begin to wonder what is going wrong. Finally, he stops his pacing back and fourth and starts towards you. You have put your gun on your lap because it was getting heavy. Now you must slowly raise the gun in his direction. Any fast movement will send him back where he came from. He is finally at 25 yards and you have the front bead on his red head. You have kept your cool up to now so don't blow it by peaking over the barrel. Keep your head down on the gun. One more quick yelp from your diaphragm and the turkey lifts his head. As the report of the shotgun dies so does the turkey. His flapping wings hitting the ground sound like thunder announcing his death. As you heft your bird and look at his beard you notice your heartbeat finally slowing down. What a great time you have just had and what a good accomplishment.
Then it dawns on you. I'm done for the day. I can get another bird this season, but not today. Hopefully this will happen one more time this year. As much as I enjoy turkey hunting, that is why chukar hunting is my favorite. I get that same thrill each time one of my dogs go on point and if I am successful at the shot, I can do it 7 more times that day and than start all over tomorrow. I can do that each and every day of the season as long as my legs and lungs will last.
But there are pros and cons to everything. Turkey hunting is much easier to do with people than chukar hunting is. When you are chukar hunting you have to keep up with your dog, which isn't easy for everyone. Chukar hunting can be difficult shooting situations, where turkey hunting is a lot more controlled. So for that reason I have been blessed with the companionship of my family and many others. I do wish they could all enjoy the chukar hunting with me. But the chukar hunting pace sometimes scares people away. I have never seen anything but awe from those who have turkey hunted with me. They are struck by the sounds and sights of the spring morning. I don't know if they are excited about the gobbling toms because I can't contain myself or whether it excites them as well. Either way there is a lot of exuberance as the turkey appears. Barbara and I doubled opening day five years ago. What a grand day that was.
And we always have a great camp up north with plenty of fun camping and turkey action. There is always a good story around the camp to be heard.
My son has been successful more than once with us.
As has been my brother Tom.
And my chukar hunting buddy Greg.
All in all since my first turkey several years ago and Barbs first, we have made turkey hunting a great family and group outing. It's a great way to spend time int the spring outdoors. Even though we have to leave the boys in the camper while we hunt.

Monday, April 12, 2010

times change

Lately, Ive been hearing a lot of talk about the low numbers of chukars lately. Mostly, people are saying that it's not like it was twenty years ago. In order to know that, you had to be hunting twenty years ago. In my case I'm fortunate enough to say I remember what it was like hunting forty plus years ago. I agree, it's not like it was back than. But as far as game numbers, especially chukars, the numbers are as good now as ever. Pheasant may have taken a beating due to farming practices, but most other bird numbers are good.
I don't care for a lot of the changes that have happened over my life time, but if I want to be successful I have to adapt. The same goes for chukar hunting. More roads, more hunters, different uses of the land and many other influences have changed the habits of birds.
A perfect example of this is watering troughs or springs. Ranchers have developed watering areas for there cattle several miles away from roads to keep their stock from having to walk miles to water. The only water available at one time was probably closer to a road. Wildlife found this same resource much more likable then the water where everyone drives by.
Another example is fire. Over the past forty years there have been fires that change the landscape. Places that at one time were covered with sage may now be a mountain of cheat grass. Places where the cheat may have been, may have burned so hot the ground may be sterile for a few years. The wildlife had to vacate this area to a place more rich in food.
There are numerous reasons for change in wildlife habitat. The animals evolve with these changes. But we humans seem to find it harder to change. I remember forty five years ago fishing with my dad at lucky peak reservoir. It was nothing to see a hundred deer or more coming to the water for a drink. Ten years ago I fished the same place with dad and he complained that there were not deer like there use to be. Dad, being old and stubborn, wouldn't concede that it might be because there were five hundred cars a day traveling that road where forty five years ago we might not even see another rig.
So many of the people that complain about the low number of birds are people in my age group or older. I understand the feeling. But, my complaint isn't that the number of birds has declined, it's that it's getting harder. I'd like to believe that the hills have actually gotten steeper, but they haven't. It's not twice as far into that great chukar draw, it just seems it. Many times it is easier to lay the blame on something else. As we get older and things change it becomes easier to lay blame on lack of birds rather than that we have to work harder for them.
Sometimes I feel the same. I know that the chukars are on top of that ridge but my legs just won't carry me there. Because they are not where I am at doesn't mean a lack of birds. It means I am to worn out to get to them.
I often hear that we are losing the younger generation of hunters. Could one of the reasons for this be the message we are sending them? Instead of saying there aren't birds like there use to be we should be encouraging them to get out there and find them. There are plenty of chukars to be had if you don't mind getting out and finding them. If I was a new hunter and I kept hearing from my mentors that there just aren't any birds out there, I don't think I could get very enthused.
And last, I'm so grateful that there are plenty of chukars and huns out there to pursue. I still have a passion for this type of hunting. This is what helps me stay young. I plan on following my dogs after these birds for another twenty years. But when my time comes up, I don't want to be one of those who blame it on the lack of bird numbers. I will admit that they have finally worn these old legs down.
So, to you young chukar hunters. Don't listen to us old farts complaining. Train a good dog, grab your shotgun, put lots of shells in your vest, and head for the mountain. There are plenty of chukar to be had. All you need is a good dog and enthusiasm. Good luck.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Tucker




Tucker was a great companion in my life, I was reminiscing over our times together and thought I'd share some of the photos. I wish I would have taken pictures of him as a puppy. He was amazing. I remember him pointing and holding quail at 10 weeks old. He retrieved the only pheasant I ever shot over him and had to drag it back because he couldn't get the whole bird in his mouth. Tucker was a self trainer. I hope I was as easy to train for him as he was for me.

Tucker was a member of the family the day I picked him up from the breeder. He bonded and became an irreplacable member of the family as soon as I carried him in  the front door of his new home.

Tucker went everywhere with me. He loved camping and hiking during the off season.
At times he even shared a beer with me.
He was a pointing fool and would hold birds forever as long as he knew I was there. But if he wasn't sure I was coming he had a special talent of backing off the point, coming back to locate me, making eye contact, and than returning to the scene. The birds were usually still there, producing several limits over the years.
During his fourteen years of hunting he produced over 4,000 chukars/huns with countless limits to his credit.
He was quite a team player. He never cut off another dog's point and most dog's knew better than to cut off his. He was always top dog around the camp but never minded sharing a limit of birds. Honoring was natural for him and the dogs he trained.

Several Team limits were accomplished. Especially with Dakota. Team Tuckota always seemed to produce. 
But after the hunt Tucker knew how to rest.
Every once in a while I shot well enough to give the boys a chance at a team retrieve, although I don't shoot that way often.
During the off season Tucker points a Turkey for me.
He was a good father to Dakota and a great step father to Riley. He quite often had to show them the rules but soon afterwards they were ready to follow his lead.
Time finally caught up with Tucker. Both sadly and fortunately his inactive time was short. He lived only three months past his last hunt. I would have loved to have him on the couch next to me for several years. He deserved that. But I don't think that was what he wanted. He felt he was needed more hunting with my good friend Jeff, who died 7 months earlier in a tragic car accident. I'm sure the two of them are scouting hunting areas for me, when it is time I should join them.
I will always remember that last limit we produced at 13 years of age. Man we worked together good as a team. You always seemed to know how to make me successful. I looked  like I knew what I was doing because of you. Tucker, thank you for making me a better hunter and person.
What a thrill it was to have Barbara take us on our last hunt together and watch you retrieve your last bird. You  finished in style , just like you came into my life.