Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Keep trudging on

Yesterday I went on a hunt in Oregon. We had a good snow fall on Saturday and Sunday the sun was shining enough to partially melt the southern slopes. Even though the snow generally congregates big game animals and upland birds, I prefer less snow on the ground than most people. The way me and my dogs hunt requires covering more country and that's hard to do when there is much snow cover on the ground. There are too many obstacles under the snow. Obstacles that create bruises to the body and nice gouges in the gun. In fact I put a new ding in my gun yesterday.
As we started our hunt, the sun was shining and the temperature was 20 degrees. A brisk wind was blowing, which made it perfect for Riley' nose. There was about four inches of snow on the ground, but I knew as we got further up the hill the southern exposures would be burned off some. A mile from the truck I swept a hillside that had some burn off and I have found birds many times in the past years. There was not a bird track anywhere and the only point I got from Riley was this.
After he got a little lighter he covered big country without even indicating the smell of a bird. We hunted for 2 1/2 hours without seeing, smelling, or even seeing tracks of birds. This was the first time hunting here this year and I was beginning to believe maybe the birds had a poor hatch here. Finally after approximately 1500 feet in elevation and four miles of walking Riley locked up. Although the point wasn't anything special I decided to take a picture and then put the camera away.
I was glad I did. The point produced some birds. The shot produced flying birds everywhere. I couldn't believe how many coveys were in the draw I was now in. There was at least five different coveys and well over 100 birds in this draw. Most of them flew around the next ridge which was into the wind for Riley and me. We were heading that way when Riley locked up again on a pair that had set tight. We dropped one of the two and all of the sudden we had three birds in the vest. As we trudged around the north slope covered with about six inches of snow, birds were still taking off from behind us. We probably could have stayed on that burned off ridge and accomplished a limit of shooting but Riley was off to where he saw the birds go.
Riley moved across the snow covered mountain much quicker than me and was soon over the top out of sight. It took me another five minutes until I was at the last point of seeing Riley and I knew since he hadn't checked back my next sighting of him would be on point. I wasn't disappointed. As I stumbled over the top of a 12 inch snow drift I found him fifty yards ahead on point. As I moved into the front Riley relocated up the hill further. He did this several times and then froze to a solid straight backed point that told me this is where they are. I moved out in front again to a flushing covey of chukars twenty yards up hill. The kind of shot you need to take your time at taking or have a bird that turns to mush at the shot. Five down and three to go.
Once again many of the birds obliged us and flew around the next ridge into the wind. Several birds were taunting us from the previous ridge and higher up on the ridge we were now on but we decided to go one more ridge. I had never been quite this far in before so I was curious as to what the next draw would bring. I was not disappointed. Riley was there long before me and had the birds pinned down. By the time we finished on this slope we had fired 12 shots and had eight birds in the bag. From the time we had the first point until the last shot was fired maybe forty five minutes had expired. We now had an hour walk back to the truck toting an empty shotgun.
We walked for three and a half hours for forty five minutes of shooting and great dog work. I put in 6.5 miles and Riley 18 miles and we shot all our birds in a one mile area. There were probably more birds if we would have gone further but that will be for another day. Even the benefits of walking the last mile back to the truck was rewarding. I saw a cougar off in the distance. I believe we might have jumped him and because of the snow on the flats saw him about 300 yards away disappearing into the sage.
After 2 and 1/2 hours of walking and not seeing any sign of a chukar I was getting a disappointed but I knew that I had always found birds in this area in the past. With the help of Riley I finally found them. They just all seemed to know where the good eating was, and it wasn't down low.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Finding chukars

While I was hunting with JPC this weekend he asked if there was a certain type of area I look for when hunting chukars. Knowing he has a hard running shorthair similar to mine, I showed him what I look for. But I do think that the style of hunting might dictate what kind of country you look for and how you hunt the country.
Personally, I don't care to hunt the rim rock edges and steep rock cliffs. I know that the chukars like to use them for cover and a place for quick escapes and for that reason you will usually find them hiding in the rocks than not. A person can get some pretty good shooting on these edges but I believe you usually need a closer working dog. The retrieving can be awfully treacherous in these areas also.  If you hunt with others, these places can be hunted successfully by having a person hunt the top and another walking the bottom. I prefer to hunt solo with my dogs so I stay away from these areas.
This picture is some of the best chukar habitat I hunt. It has a little of everything for the birds. The side I took the picture from is a lot steeper than it looks. The other side has a lot of those rocky area I'm talking about. As you get closer to the bottom of this canyon the birds will fly across and take refuge in the cliffs. Once there they love to call you across to them. I often oblige and come across but I hunt those bowls and ridges into the wind the best I can. Even though I know there are lots of birds in those rocks, I prefer to hunt the birds in an area where I can make reasonable shots than those I know I'm not good at making in the rocky slopes.
This is the type of chukar habitat I like to hunt. Once again the picture doesn't show the steepness of the hill. I'm pretty close to the top of the ridge which keeps going up as far as you would care to go. There are lots of saddles like the one on the other side of Riley all the way up the ridge. You can see forever so I can let my dogs do what they do best, find birds. These saddles usually channel the wind so it's not unusual to have a 200 yard point away from the birds. With several relocation's, the birds are held to within reasonable gun range. The other thing I like about an area like this is that the birds will usually flush and sweep around the hill for a possible second or third chance at the covey. When hunting them in the rocky areas you usually get one chance and then they are gone.
Another hunting tactic that works for me getting more shots at birds is to stay higher on the hill. Not that there are any more birds there but you get more shooting opportunities at those birds. The lower down the hill you are the more likely the birds are going to fly across the canyon, ending your hunt on that covey unless you are willing to go down and back up the other side.
I also spend a lot of time looking for bird scat as I'm walking. If there is bird sign there are birds somewhere. It's impossible for the dog to cover everywhere with the wind right. I'll make long sweeps over a mountain the same as you would cover a field for pheasants. The only difference is the sweeps may be a mile instead of a couple hundred yards.
Probably the biggest thing I see most chukar hunters do to make them unsuccessful is giving up too soon. After hunting for two hours and not seeing many birds they head for the rig and drive to another location. You are already there. It's just as easy to cover more country right where you are now as it is to drive to another location and walk a new cover another area. They really can be just right over the next ridge.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Trust your dog

Trusting your dog. It's something we all know but have to be reminded of from time to time. There has been a lot of talk about what it takes to successfully take chukars. The number one consensus is a great dog. Of course, a great dog can be interpreted differently by every bird hunter. From many years of experience, my dogs have taught me that trust is probably more important in a chukar dog than most other bird dogs. The reason is simple. The terrain you hunt when chukar hunting requires that your dog be out of sight much of the time. It doesn't have to be that way, but if you want to see more birds that's what it takes.
Tucker taught me that. Before he came along, I would stop my dogs before they went over the ridge ahead or get frustrated when I saw a covey bust ahead of me because the dog had bumped them. So my dogs wouldn't have the freedom to really find birds.
I see my boys busting birds still. But I know that they are not doing it intentionally. The wind or other conditions might be wrong and the birds get flushed. It would be different if they were out there chasing them up through excitement, but that would be my fault for not setting the proper foundation in my training methods. Many times I have had a covey of chukar buzz me from 200 yards up the ridge. I trust my dogs enough now to know that it wasn't intentional, it just happens, the same as sometimes I miss. I sure wasn't expecting to.
This weekend was a perfect example of trust with a dog. It would take me forever to go through Saturdays hunt. I quit counting covey points by Riley at 15. There was an hour or so that we had a different point every ten minutes. Riley would be on point, I would approach the point, flush the birds, and than either get a bird or miss. If I happen to get lucky, Riley would make the retrieve. If I missed he was off to cover the next area. All I had to do was walk to the next ridge or saddle to find him on point 200 yards away. There wasn't a word spoken or a reminder on the e collar all day. He just did what he was bred to do and I tried to do my best to do my job.
The big thing is, we've been out enough together to learn to do our jobs. Riley has learned through trial and error how to do his part. I have heard it said that man is the ultimate predator. HOGWASH. If we didn't have the guns and other tools we have developed over time we probably would be extinct. When it comes to hunting birds the dog is a far better predator, so trust him to find the birds, don't try and guide him to where you hear or saw the birds go.
Yesterday, Riley and I had another fantastic day on the hill. We left the truck at 9 and walked the only trail we could find that would get us higher on the mountain. I walked the trail. Riley was all over the mountain. It wasn't long and through the drizzle I see Riley on point a couple hundred yards straight above me. The ridge was steep enough that I couldn't walk straight up to him. As I sidehilled back and fourth, I often lost sight of him. Five minutes later I was within 50 yards and Riley slowly turned his head to make sure I was coming and then slowly turned back towards the birds. When I approach Riley I like to try and come in on the left side of him if possible. Ten yards above Riley and he hasn't moved yet. After hundreds of points with Riley I know that means the birds are right there. As I slowly inched my way up the steep mountain, keeping my feet planted as much as possible the birds erupt. The covey flush was perfect. They flair straight up, creating some easy shooting. The first shot droppped two birds and the second another. Riley quickly retrieved the two birds that dropped stone dead and than I gave him the dead bird command and point down the slope towards where the crippled bird went. Riley soon found the scent and I watched the chase 150 yards down the hill. He finally caught up to the bird. I sidehilled around the hill so to make it easier for the retrieve. Two shots, three birds. Looks to be a great day.
The drizzle soon turns to fog. I couldn't see more than fifty yards part of the time. There was just enough breeze to keep the fog moving so we would alternate from having two hundred yards visibility to fifty. Every three minutes or so Riley would come back into sight of me and then back into the fog looking for birds. Pretty soon he didn't return. I hit the beeper and could faintly hear it at about the same elevation I was. I kept sidehilling around the mountain and soon saw Riley on point. The tail was not as rigid as usual and had a little movement. I knew that meant he didn't have the birds locked down. As I moved to his left he relocated about twenty yards and stopped again. Tail still not rigid. One more relocation and bamm, he locked in. His head was up higher than usual and I soon saw why. As I walked past him I could hear the soft sound chukars often make just before taking flight and then could see the birds as could Riley. Two more steps and the flush. Two shots and two birds retrieved to me. Four shots and five birds, Can't get much better than this.
After the retrieve Riley is off in the fog again. I soon find Riley in a cocked hard point. You could have knocked him over he was in such a twisted position. As I approached, a covey of huns exploded from below him. I got two shots off before they disappeared into the cloud but thought I had missed. Seconds later I heard that flapping wing sound of a heart shot bird when they fly straight up into the air and than drop dead. Riley stopped and you could tell that he knew what that sound was and off into the fog he sprinted. I could hear him running and panting in the fog looking for the bird but he came up empty. We searched for another fifteen minutes but never found a bird.
The fog finally lifted for good and Riley was ranging out to three hundred yards or so. I never knew until he would check back whether he was above or below me. Once, I heard the screech of chukars flying down towards me. I watched them do a fly by and sure enough here comes Riley from that direction. Years ago I would have been frustrated by that but now I know it just happens. It wasn't that he meant to flush them. Minutes later he was on point again. As I walked ahead of Riley a single chukar flushed , which I managed to cripple with two shots. It fluttered to parts unknown to me down the ridge with Riley in hot pursuit. Several minutes later I see Riley coming back up the hill hauling a bird in his mouth. The drive and instincts of hunting dogs is unbelievable.
Most of Rileys points were initiated well out of sight from me. But spending so much time together hunting has taught me to trust that he is doing what he is supposed to do and all I have to do is get to him. Easier said than done, but he trust me to know that I will be there. Several points and shots later we bagged our eighth bird.
The day for me was as good as it gets. Riley couldn't have made me more proud. It almost seems like all I have to do is take Riley on the mountain and trust him to find the birds and the rest is up to me.
On the other side of the canyon I heard another hunter shooting several times. I never saw him or his dog. I did hear his beeper quite often and a little yelling. I don't know this but I had the feeling he was trying to get his dog to work closer. That might work well for that hunter but I believe if you want to find more chukars you have to let the dog go. But that's just my way. Riley and I were on the mountain for four hours, I covered 5.2 miles, Riley 14.6 miles, and I gained 1620 feet of elevation. In all that the only words spoken were telling Riley dead bird. Once said he hunts for a dead bird until we leave the area.
Just as Tucker and Dakota before him, we have learned to trust each other and work as a team. A good team member knows there will be mistakes along the way and just gets on with the game plan.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Boot Leather and satisfaction

Kirklan, defines the ability to find chukars as "boot leather". In other words the more ground you cover, the more birds you find.
Greg Allen, defines the ability to find chukars  as "getting satisfaction". Satisfaction to Greg is getting to the top of the mountain, no matter how tall it is.
Boot leather and satisfaction are why I believe some people are more successful in finding chukars than others. It doesn't mean that they are better hunters or have better dogs, it just means the drive is there.
I'd like to add one more factor to the equation. My dogs deserve birds. They work hard for me, so I should be willing to walk the extra ridge for birds.
I know that different strokes for different folks applies to everything, including chukar hunting, and I respect that.  But  I had a talk with an ODFW official this weekend and he made the response that he had heard some grumbling about low bird numbers are again. He said opening weekend seemed pretty good but the birds have been hard to find since. When I told him of my experiences over the last four days he was very pleased. Without exaggeration, I saw at least 150 birds every day and I hunted four different locations.
He also explained that most of the hunters he had conversations with were back to their rigs by noon and ready to call it a day. Once again, I understand that. Different strokes for different folks. But that doesn't mean the numbers are down. Remember, "boot leather and satisfaction".
I can't count how many times I walked for two hours without seeing a bird, only to find 5 coveys in the next half hour. These four days are a perfect example. I put in 18 hours of hunting. That's actual hunting time. No driving or enjoying the scenery. In those 18 hours I covered 29 miles, Riley covered 72, and we gained 6710 feet in elevation. My rewards were multitudes of points and retrieves and a happy dog. I was smiling pretty big myself.
This isn't for everyone, but it's what I believe is necessary to consistently find good number of birds. Chukars aren't always easy.
With that I'll get off my pedestal and show a few of the pictures from the weekend.





The first picture, although not a great photo, is what you get when you get away from the beaten path. Chukars in between you and the dog makes for good shooting opportunities.
The fourth picture is the country I hunted the second day. Yes there were some birds on the ridge I went down, but there were four times as many on the other side of the canyon and up in those bowls as Riley proved on the last photo.
Good luck in your hunts.