Sunday, July 18, 2010

Having an opened mind

I was in Stanley Idaho recently visiting with some of my archery buddies. Although I don't hunt big game much any more it's still fun to go up to the state shoot and B.S. with some of the guys I used to shoot with. Some of them were darn good hunters fifteen or twenty years ago. We packed many elk out together. Most of the guys are in their early 60's now and getting elk are few and far between. There were several reasons they mentioned for their lack of success these days, but none of them were, "I just don't want to work that hard for an elk anymore."
The wolves are killing the elk, it's too hot in September now, too many people, fires, just no elk anymore, and many other excuses for their lack of success. Since I'm not out there chasing elk anymore I try and keep an open mind. Maybe the elk numbers are down.
But one statement made me wonder if that was the problem. One guy said "I'm glad nobody got an elk and ruined a good hunting trip." That statement was made a couple other times during the evening. They were referring to having to pack an animal out would ruin the trip. I admit, that can be some hard work, but it was part of the fun of it when I was younger. As I got older it became less fun and that is one of the reasons I took up chukar hunting. I asked a friend that I hunted with several times if he had been down to the "Thursday hole". That was a place in unit 36 you could always find bulls but if you didn't get your elk by Thursday there was no way you could get him out if you had to be home Sunday. I have never been in there when I didn't at least have a bull offer a shot. They all joked and said only a fool would go in there.
I understand that mind set. But the point I am getting at is, these older friends of mine are the ones saying there just aren't any elk anymore. They don't want to say "hey don't ask me, I spend most of my time in camp now enjoying the camaraderie." These are the people that have more time to complain to the fish and game or whomever because they are retired now and have nothing else to do. During hunting season, go to some of the local coffee shops and listen to the group of retired gentlemen talking about the way it used to be and how the fish and game have screwed it up. You don't see a bunch of young hard hunters sitting there. They are either at work or out hunting hard trying to find the game.
Don't hang me yet If you are over 60. I'm right there with you. The hills have gotten steeper for me also. But I refuse to say the opportunities aren't out there the same as twenty years ago. Yes, it might have changed some, but they're still out there.
What has this got to do with chukars? Since February 2010 we have been having a lot of discussions about chukar/hun numbers. Idaho fish and game commissioners put out a survey to sportsman to see how hunters felt about lowering the limit on these birds. Evidently the hunters felt like the numbers were bad enough to warrant lowering the limit. In 2011 chukar/hun limits will go down by two birds. I am trying to be open minded about this decision but it is hard to see the justification. As long as I can remember the limit has been 8 birds. There have been some great years and there have been some poor years, but the bird numbers have always seemed to stabilize without changing the limits.
I have been involved in a lot of discussions about this matter in the last six months. I have heard a lot of pros and cons. But once again I here the same old things from mainly people in my age group. "I used to see chukars here all the time, but I didn't see one chukar today when I DROVE down that road". One guy I occasionally chased chukars with has become a big Boise State football fan. I think that's great. He'd rather be at the tail gate party than out chasing birds. His reason. There just aren't any birds anymore. The real reason is tail gating is a lot easier and he doesn't want to admit the hills are getting harder to walk. Of course when he filled out the fish and game form he wanted to lower the limit so if he went out chukar hunting again it would be easier to obtain a limit. Plus he might get a limit without having to hike so long and hard.
The Upland Idaho forum has had several posts on this subject. I don't know the ages of most of the people on that site but I'm guessing they are of the younger generation. Most talk of seeing large number of birds, even though sometimes hard to get. They seem to be more willing to work with fish and game and see if we have a number problem and if there is something we can do about it. Some of the other forums want to beat up on the authorities rather than trying to solve the problem.
Here is another statement made by a hunter who believes the chukar number are at a catastrophic low. "I went to one of my favorite spots. When I got there it had been burned earlier in the year. We hunted it for about a half a mile and got up two covey of birds that flew away before we could get to them because the grass was so low. We just packed up and went home." How can you make a determination on bird numbers from that? I think when you have as strong of an opinion as he had than you should give a little more effort.
I'm sure by now many of you think that it is about numbers to me. It's not about numbers. It's about a reason to be out there. I am sorry I am not like most people and just enjoy the beauty of it all. I enjoy the beauty but I need more. I wish there was a shoot and release program for birds. I wish the dogs understood that a point and flush was good enough. I wish I felt that I would've hit that bird had I shot at it but I know my shooting ability is not always that good. There are days when  a four bird limit is hard to get. Those days would keep me out in the hills. There are days when a eight bird limit comes too soon and I wish it were twelve.
Bottom line is I hope the commissioners made their decision based on sound biologic evidence and not just by a survey. Surveys are usually filled out by people that have more time on there hands than others. The other point is, you younger guys, get involved and know what's happening. Don't take the word of us old farts and get out there and find out for yourselves. Let your young legs find what we can't get to. Idaho has lots of game and game birds. Get yourself a good dog and get out there and enjoy the resources we have.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

getting older

I just got back from a scouting and dog training hike. A couple of things happened today to remind me that I am getting older. Nothing bad, but just reminders to me that before this hunting year is over I will be starting my seventh decade on earth.
First thing happened right out of the truck. Within 15 minutes I noticed that the hill seemed steeper. I've hiked this particular hill probably fifty times but it seemed steeper today. I thought to myself, " I might not be hunting as far this year as I have in the past." But before long I was as far up the mountain as I had ever been. Somewhere along the trip I had gotten my second wind and was hitting the mountain just as usual. That first half hour or so is a warm up period for us older folks. It takes a lot longer to get the mechanism lubed for the hunt. But the good news is, once lubed it works as good as ever. In fact I walk further now on a trip than I did when I was thirty or forty. Once I get over that first hump I feel like I could go on all day. So to steal a phrase from the cowboys, us older chukar hunters need to CHUKAR UP for that first hour or so. It gets better after that.
Just before the end of the trip, Riley, my shorthair, let out a war hoop like he was having a confrontation with something. Of course I start thinking the worst. Coyote, porcupine, snake, cougar. All of which I have seen in this area before. I yell and whistle for Riley as I head in his direction. He meets me half way. Looking him over, I find nothing different about him. No bite marks, scratches, or sign of a fight. We get to the area where it happened and Riley runs around looking through all of the rock crevices like he is looking for the culprit. The only thing I can imagine that happened is he got bit by a rock chuck. There are a lot of them in this area and I assumed he tried to grab one and it got him on the lip instead. This little episode made me realize how age has slowed me down. Years ago I would have been on the sprint to Riley. Today I was lucky to be at a jogging pace. At thirty or forty years old I always felt that whatever I encountered I could kick it's tail. Daniel Boone, who killed a bear with a bowie knife, was no tougher and quicker than me. Now, I'd be lucky to move out of the bears way. The quickness and agility is gone. Times when you would trip on the hill going down and do a gainer but still land on your feet our gone. Now I just get to the ground as fast as I can knowing the farther I go the more it's gonna hurt.
Age has it's price. The price is lack of mobility to make the shot or stop a bruise making fall. You have to suffer a little more when you start up the hill waiting for all your joints to start working correctly. Your reflexes have slowed so that bird that takes off behind you won't be getting any lead flying it's way. Your wife laughs at you when you try to roll out of your truck at the end of a long day of hunting. She criticizes you for not acting your age because it takes five minutes to straighten up after your two hour drive home.
But age also has it's rewards. You've been up these hills enough times to know the best route. Let the young guy slip and fall on all those rocky canyons. You already know the rewards that await you once you've got past that lubing in process. Reflexes aren't as important as they use to be. You've trained plenty of good dogs in the past and you know they will show you where the birds are. Those that the dog doesn't point don't deserve the cost of the lead shot. If you play it right, you might be able to work a back rub out of the spouse. Most of all, at the end of the day, you sit on your recliner, dog at your side, cold drink in your hand, and reminisce the great day you had. If your really lucky, you and your canine partner can start planning on tomorrows hunt while your wife is calling you an old fool.