Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Determination

Last night Jake spent a restless night moaning and even threw up a couple of times. Obviously to me, he was whipped from the yesterday's hunt. It was a tough hunt and I'm hoping after reading the events of the day, a better understanding of our dog's determination and dedication to us might be understood.
I must confess to picking this hunting location because of the toughness of the terrain and the usual good number of birds. A gentleman from Wisconsin was going to spend the day with me, but got stalled hunting eastern Idaho so he didn't make it. I figured if things went as planned he would either love chukar hunting or hate it. The way things ended up, I think he would have loved it. The bird numbers were there.
So Jake and I started up the mountain at 9 in the morning. The temperature was 35 degrees and the wind was calm. About 15 minutes into the hunt, a covey of chukars did a fly by over my head. I looked at my astro and Jake was straight up hill about 150 yards. Soon a single came buzzing by from the direction of Jake. After about thirty birds or so, I decided to recall Jake and find out what the problem was. He came to my whistle and was jacked up like a three year old child on two pounds of sweets. I gathered that the birds were running up the hill and with the lack of breeze he was following their scent up the hill and started bumping them. At nine months old, I couldn't fault the pup. A couple of bumps later and about an hour into the hunt the pace slowed to a normal hunting situation with Jake hunting hard with his nose.
The first covey of birds pointed were huns. I flushed the birds and dropped one out of the covey with a great retrieve following. Over the next hour the dog work was great and Jake covered the mountain like a seasoned pro. We had gained about 1500 feet of elevation and the huns were close to the top of the ridge on slopes, not quite as steep as where we had come up so the retrieves were not as tough.
After five huns in the bag I wanted to find some chukars. I needed to move to the steeper slopes like where we saw the chukars coming up. I had to break through a brushy draw to get to the slope I wanted to be on. It was steep and brushy enough that it took about fifteen minute to make about 100 yards before we got to the other side. I no more than got through and I could hear chukars calling from above. Jake heard them too and minutes later my astro said I had a point. As I mentioned, this part of the mountain was extremely steep. My knee was starting to really ache as I headed towards Jake. Luckily, this time of the year the slope is sandy and manageable. As soon as the first hard rain and freeze these slopes are almost impossible to navigate, even with good knees. I moved to the right of Jake. The birds flushed before I could get a solid footing and I fired a shot that was probably ten feet behind the bird I had picked out. With the report of the shotgun, Jake was following the covey looking for a dead bird. He was probably 50 yards down the hill before he realized there was no bird and came straight back up the hill to resume our hunt.
Soon after that covey, Jake was running down the steep slope chasing something. I hustled over the best that I could to find him trying to get a badger to play with him. It's amazing how fast a badger can slide down a slope on his belly. I yelled no at Jake which fell on deaf ears so I grabbed the shock collar. I must have turned the volume a little too high. Jake did a back flip on the hill with a loud yelp. I'm lucky he didn't hurt himself. Once again he came straight up the hill and hunkered beside me not liking what he had just felt. Hopefully he'll associate that pain with the next badger he encounters.
I wish  I had my camera with me. The next 2 hours provided points and retrieves that you expect from a well seasoned dog. He became quite an athlete on the hill. But getting shots on these slopes with a gun is tough enough without carrying a camera. Even though I feel I shot decent on those steep slopes, the birds always seemed to end up over 100 yards down the hill or better. Jake would get the dead or crippled bird to me and then look for a shady spot to stand while I gave him a drink. Four battles of water now gone and his breaks were getting longer. My knee was now hurting so bad I had to carefully plan each step to get off the hill. Jake was still on the hunt and even though I wanted to get down to a trail, I had to honor his points and somehow get to him. Every point produced birds and possible shots. Shots weren't always possible because of my footing on the hill.
By the time we hit the trail that took me back to the truck we had 8 chukars in the bag to go along with the 5 huns. I had no more water for Jake and my gatorade was gone. Jake was using each shade patch to stand in while I would catch up to him. My knee felt like a piece of bone was poking my knee from the inside and it took and hour to travel the final half mile of trail back to the truck where Jake and I started putting the fluids back into the systems.
As soon as I got refreshed I called Barb with instructions to get a hold of my knee doctor and move the operation up as soon as possible. As rough as the hill was on me it was at least three times as tough for Jake. I covered 7 and 1/2 miles to Jake's 29. My elevation gain was 1900 feet and I have to guestimate Jake at close to 600 feet of gain with 1/4 of that with a bird in his mouth restricting his breathing some. He never gave up his determination until we hit the trail and than he, like me, was ready to quit for another day. I know if my knee would let me, Jake would be ready to go through it all again.
Unless a sooner date becomes available, my replacement will be on December 4th. Until then, I'll get Jake out as often as possible but on slopes that are less steep and probably have fewer birds. But Jake will enjoy it all the same. In the end he is going to be the big loser while I am down. He loves what we do and though it won't be the full deal, he'll be fired up for spring training.
On a side note away from the chukars, my son in law Nick, Conner and I went on a deer hunt Sunday where Nick shot this nice buck.
We were better than 2 miles up the hill so I used my knee as an excuse to let them do most of the work. Congrats on a great shot Nick and a man size effort of a 11 year old pitching in on the drag down. Knowing that there will be many more days like the last two make the knee surgery worth doing.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Sunny Beeches

Hi guys. Jake here. Since the Big Guy is laying on the couch watching football with ice on his leg, I thought I'd post what I've been seeing in my first month of chukar hunting. It's been a blast. except for the grumbling of the Big Guy.
Before going too far, I think I'd better mention the Gig Guy is losing it. I'm hoping to get him through the season and send him to Hawaii or some other ocean front place. He is talking an awful lot about Sunny Beeches. Just today, while chukar hunting, I was racing by him on a steep slope with a narrow trail. Right after I passed him I saw him sitting on the hill mumbling something about a Sunny Beech. Go figure. A little later he crippled a bird which I graciously retrieved. I guess he didn't enjoy me teasing him by dropping it before he could grab hold. Things like that send him to that far away land. Three times I dropped the bird and three times he started calling for that Sunny Beech. I always give him the bird in the end. He's so predictable.
Although the Big Guy says there aren't as many birds this year, I have nothing to compare it to and I'm seeing what I consider a boat load. Today I saw 6 or 7 covey's and some singles. I don't think the Big Guy saw as many. He must be a crack pot shot though. He shot one bird out of each of the first two covey's I pointed and a single I pointed. Three for three. Too bad he can't shoot that well at those orange pigeons. He'd probably see more birds if he didn't day dream so much. Several of the birds I saw just flew up for no reason. Just because I made a mad dash at a runner doesn't mean the rest of the covey shouldn't hold. Every time that happened I heard the Big Guy saying something about those Sunny Beeches again. Somehow I have to get him to focus.
One day we got eight birds. He made such a big deal of it. Took pictures and the whole deal. I must admit that maybe the Big Guy isn't too much of a sportsman. Anybody can shoot birds when they are given five minutes to get in the right position for the shot as his dog boringly keeps them from flying until he is ready. A good hunter will also get birds when his dog does sporting tactics like flushing the bird when the shooter is stepping behind a rock. The Big Guy just goes to that far away place when that happens.
Wow! The other animals we have seen. Deer, elk and bears, oh my. Skunks and porcupines along with snakes get the Big Guy a little excited, but I don't care much for them.
It sounds like we're going to keep hunting as long as the Big Guy can tough it out. He's kind of a wimp. Hopefully when he gets a metal knee he'll toughen up and learn to focus. Just today he barely made six miles to my twenty two. That's probably because of his day dreaming. I wish Riley was around for some pointers on training the Big Guy but he left me with enough that I can at least put up with him. I know we're sure having a lot of fun with each other and plan to find a lot more chukars before the years end. You other pups out there, don't let your Big Guys fool you. There are plenty of birds out there. Pester the heck out of them until they finally give in to taking you hunting. You know, break something, dig a hole or just become a nuisance to get your way. It will be worth it and your Big Guy will be happier in the end.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Staying positive

Sometimes things come along and turn your life upside down. I know, losing a season of chukar hunting might not mean much to many, but it's like losing a year out of my life. I know God realized that and that's why he steered me to Montana where Jake was born. Before that I couldn't imagine ever chasing chukars without Riley by my side. He was my best companion and we enjoyed the mountains together. I'm sure that if Jake hadn't come along before Riley left, it would have been the end of my chukar career. It hurt that much. But Jake did come along and with that I owe him the same as I owed every other dog I have ever had, to take them up on the mountain and let them do what they were intended to do. Hunt birds.
With only a nine month old pup to hunt with, most people would accept the notion that the year would be fairly unsuccessful. Not me. With all the promise Jake showed early in his life I know more success will come with each hunt. Not so much in birds taken, but in good dog work. As the dog progresses, so will the bird count. Needless to say, as the season has progressed, Jake has already reached the good hunting dog class and quickly becoming a great dog. We've had 16 hunting trips for chukar so far and  another 50 or so should do the trick.
Success depends on birds also. Both for training and good table fair. I must admit that there seem to be fewer birds this year than any of the twenty years since I have been keeping records. At first I didn't want to admit this and figured it might be because my young dog hadn't learned how to find birds yet, even though he knew how to point and hold. But now that Jake has learned to throw that head high into the wind and scent for birds and cover the hillside in search for that scent I am pretty sure something happened to the chukar hatch this year. The positive thing is that each trip seems to produce more finds for Jake, even though the covey's may be smaller. I figure we just have to cover more country to make things happen.
Covering more country has become a problem for me this year. During the Turkey season this year, I tweaked my left knee. The MRI said I needed arthroscopic surgery, so after Riley broke his leg I scheduled the surgery for the same time while Riley was recovering. After the surgery my knee felt so good I got right back on the mountain. It wasn't long before I was limping again. Ibuprofin seemed to help me stay on the mountain at first but it wasn't long before I was back at Dr. Moore's office getting a cortisone shot. It helped some, but it wasn't long before I was supplementing in some pain medication. The second cortisone shot didn't have much effect at all. Pain medication helped me make it through a day on the mountain. Finally 25 days into the chukar season and 12 painful days on the hill with Jake I got a third cortisone shot. That was Oct 15th. Dr. Williams said it would take a couple days to really kick in and if that didn't work we would be back getting another MRI and hopefully be able to arthroscopically fix the injury.
So the next day, Jake and I were up chasing chukars. I have to say it hurt like hell and it was hard to walk up to Jake's points with much enthusiasm. I'd get some relief sitting down and waiting for the retrieve. There is no way to get a hunting dog to sit and relax with you shortly after they have found birds so the rest would be short.
Barb, Jake and I spent the next three days at Brownlee reservoir where we met the Carter clan for a chukar hunt. I was sure that the shot would take effect by then. It was not to be. Each day on the mountain hurt a little more and took more pain meds to get through. Getting to Jakes points in the rocks hurt with each step. Lot's of good things happened on that trip, but knee improvement wasn't one of them. Besides Jake improving even more on the mountain I was pleased to see that he would hunt with other dogs and not want to play grab ass. When we're not hunting Jake likes to play a lot so I wasn't sure if he could separate hunting and playing. After the third day I decided to take Sunday off. My knee hurt so bad I took my first day off that I can ever remember when I was camping in hunting country.
It hasn't quit hurting since. Pain meds knock it down some but it still aches constantly. So the MRI was Monday and I meet with Dr. Williams on Wednesday to see what the next step will be. I'd love to hold off until February but can't quite tough this one out. But no matter what happens, once we get rid of this pain, Jake and I are going to find a way to hunt chukars. Although I'm not much in favor of using four wheeler's, I'll use one if I have to. Who knows, Jake may become so good at holding birds that I can approach them on crutches with my shotgun slung over my shoulder and still get a shot. If nothing else, that would be a success story in itself.
No matter what happens you can bet on Jake and I being on the mountain somehow and finding birds. I hope we have some great stories to tell.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Oregon opener

Jake and I spent three days on the other side of Brownlee reservoir and found conditions similar to the Idaho side. Bird numbers seem down some, but not dismal. A positive note is, I saw more huns than I've ever seen in Oregon. It seems like the huns faired better than the chukars. In Idaho I saw very few huns in places I normally find them. Speaking to other hunters, they pretty much echoed my findings. Fewer covey's and fewer birds per covey.
Jake showed some real improvement this week. He is now keeping his nose to the air and producing more finds and long distance points. He now uses the wind to his benefit most of the time and held point on birds 100 yards into the breeze.
His retrieves are just short of great. Not bad for a dog 6 days short of 9 months old. It's taking more boot leather this year but we're finding it worth the hike.
Many of the old hunting areas have been singed by the hot sun this summer. There is little to no cover to hold the birds. Just like in Idaho, if you cover enough country you'll find new places that the birds seem to have migrated to. When you get to these areas it's easy to get excited. Suddenly there are droppings everywhere and the pup steps up the intensity. It's not too hard to find a positive note. Rock creek in Idaho was burnt last August. While driving the road in Oregon I snapped this picture of some of the burned area.
It won't be easy hunting this year, but it's pretty obvious that next years cover has a great start. Who knows for sure what cause these years of lower bird numbers. I still see plenty of grasshoppers and other insects that the birds need for growth protein. There is still wet springs on the mountain. Maybe it's just simply survival of the fittest. Natures way of culling out the weak for a stronger future for the birds.