Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Still miserable out there.

I should have paid more attention to Mark's comment last night about the lack of snow covered slopes. Mark, keep me posted. I had a hard time rolling out of my truck a half hour ago. My back has never been this sore after a days hunt. The twisting and turning was too much for this old body to take. Side hilling has never been quite that tough.

That old saying "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" also applies to chukar hunting. A few days ago I was on the Idaho side of Brownlee and the Oregon side seemed to have more burnt off slopes. Today I was on the Oregon side and it looked like Idaho had more bare ground. After today's hunt I decided those bare area's are much smaller than I thought and a lot higher on the mountain. Going up the hill isn't really that bad. The snow is still powdery and makes for fairly good footing. In fact it's still so powdery, the first bird we shot today was lost in the wide open for about fifteen minutes before Jake finally locked on point in an area we had been covering looking for the bird. It had simply fallen into the powder snow and we lost it for a while, even though it was stone dead.
Side hilling was almost impossible at times and it took forever to get to points, if the birds would hold long enough. Down hill was even more treacherous. I fell several times and the birds seemed to be more flight coming down on them. Jake and I had far better luck on birds pointed above me. I should say Jake had better luck, I had a tough time squaring up for any kind of reasonable shot on the slick turf.

Anyhow, that's what the hunting is like for me. Hopefully some of you may have some hot spots where the sun has been radiating heat. I wonder how Greg Munther is doing down in Arizona. Sure sounds nice. Topping the day off, Jake disappeared as I was starting the fire. I found him sitting on the bed in the front bedroom and looking out the window.
Why can't it be like this on the chukar hill?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Advantage chukars

We got our white Christmas this year and some darn cold weather to go with it. I've had several people ask me how the chukars are going to survive in these conditions? After a couple of days of sunny and cold weather I decided to go over and find out. My answer is "much better than me."

Even though the temperature never got above 14 degrees, Jake and I were happy to see some burnt off southern slopes. Up we went to the sounds of chukars taunting us. The chuk, chuk chuk, sound made it hard for Jake to stand still as I put the collar on him and before I started up the slope he was 200 yards above me. I was a little disappointed to see him flush the first covey but watched intensely where they flew to.
Although the temperatures were cool, it wasn't long before I was taking my heavier sweater off. I was amazed how soft the ground was under the snow. It didn't get a chance to freeze before the snow came and the snow served as an insulator to the ground. As I got to the elevation where the first covey had taken flight, there were bird tracks everywhere. It looked like a feed lot. Higher up the mountain my new Astro said Jake was on point. Up I went but by the time I got to where I could see him the birds must have taken flight because he was on the move again. Straight up the ridge from Jake was a line of chukars sprinting to the top of the hill where I was sure they would take flight. To be honest, I didn't even really care. It would take me forever to get to where they were headed. Jake hit the scent trail and soon followed. Shortly after he disappeared I watched a large covey of chukar fly around the top of the mountain. They flew in the same direction as the first covey of birds so I decided to side hill in that direction. 

Jake had no problem covering the ground on the shaded slopes but I was wondering how long it was going to be before I slipped on the snow covered ground and broke something important. My head obviously wasn't holding anything of importance in it, so a fall there wouldn't harm me.
As I navigated across this miserable slope, Jake was on point on the other side of the ridge. I don't know how long it took for me to stumble over to him but by the time I got there all I found was chukar tracks everywhere with a dog pointing in the middle of them. I don't know if he ever saw the birds but there was so much scent he must have thought there were still some birds there. There wasn't. Up hill a sudden explosion of birds caught our attention and they flew over the ridge towards the next draw.
I followed Jake even higher on the burnt off slope in awe of all the chukar tracks and droppings. As far up as I could see were more chukars running and chuking before they took flight around the hill. It was too much for Jake to take. Around the hill he went to see where they were going. I gained a little more elevation before taking the direction of the birds. Once more I found the walking to my dislike.
I struggled to get over to the next burnt off ridge, which held the same fate as the previous two. Jake once again led me on some false points and we watched birds running and taking flight higher on the mountain. They were at home surviving like there was no danger to them while I was walking along on the hill like a fish out of water. 

Somehow my brain finally made some sense and told me it was futile for me to think I was ever going to get any of these birds today and head back down to the road. Jake wasn't real excited about it with all the birds. Hell, he didn't care whether we got any or not, it was still fun. So down the ridge we went. To my amazement, Jake got a couple of points on the way down. I was surprised to find birds where he pointed.
Why would birds hang out in this snow? I won't complain though. I think it's the first time this year I shot 100%. The loner was ours.
In a little over two hours, I covered two miles and 1220 feet of elevation. I saw around 100 chukars and figured out that these conditions favor the birds. In just a matter of seconds they can be on the next burnt off slope where they can find all the food they need. The higher up and steeper the mountain, the more bare ground on the southern slopes. Chukar don't need to come down to the valley. Even in sub freezing temperatures. Mammals, like humans and coyotes are of no danger to them. Predators from the air may get a few of them but all in all, the chukars hold the trump card in these kind of conditions. As long as the sun shines, there will be bare slopes up high.

Now, if I can only find that internet page that shows the mountains of eastern Oregon and western Idaho. My gas card is running low and I'm getting tired of driving over there to find out there is still too much snow covered ground for me. Here in Horseshoe Bend, the skies are overcast like an inversion and there will be little burn off today but it's hard to say what it is like 40 miles away as the crow flies.

So far this winter is turning out good for the birds. We still have another month to try and get even.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas break

It's the eve before Christmas eve and Jake and I were forced to take a break from the chukar mountains. We'll be in town for the next two days and the snow kept us at home today. We had four new inches of snow last night and between that and the snow already on the ground I decided against falling several times on the steep chukar slopes.

I was excited to get out and try my new Christmas present to myself. My Astro 220 finally quit me for good yesterday and after following Jake around the mountain with a collar that I could remotely beep I decided to have Barb pick me up a new Astro 320 for today's hunt, which didn't happen. So I decided to do a local camera hunt on flat ground to test out my new toy. It worked great.

Although I could hunt these birds, I prefer not to and save them for this kind of moment plus they're great birds for helping to get a dog birdy during the training season. Here was my morning.
Jake styling a little.
Jake knows there is something in there.
That rooster probably would have been good eating.
Another point
Moving in
and getting closer
Ah, there he is.
Another of his many points
where we could catch the bird coming out on the camera. Trust me, it's hard to do with one of those little camera's that you look at the screen and can't tell what you are seeing.
Another reason the bird's held so tight is because of mother natures drone. He followed Jake and I around and made several attempts but the birds were quick to get back in the cover.

Here's wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and hoping you're enjoying the season as much as Jake and I are. We'll be back on the mountain the 26th, weather permitting, and plan on being there as often as possible through the 31st of January. There are still lot's of chukar up there even though it's getting to be more of a challenge for both dog and hunter to get them to cooperate. Just a little sampler from yesterday's hunt before the new snow fell.
and the reward.
There's still loads of this kind of action to be had out there so get your dog out there and have some fun. Merry Christmas.

P.S. Happy birthday to an old friend. Riley would have been ten today. He was one great dog that deserved a longer life.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Shooting

As promised, with the rain falling again this morning, Jake and I stayed home in hopes of regaining some confidence in my shooting. The first thing I did this morning was watch the movie "Hoosiers" and the last thing I watched last night was the movie "Rudy". I've been thinking maybe I need some motivation. "Hoosiers" got me thinking of the basics of shooting but at my age, if I don't have the basics by now I'll never get them. "Rudy" was all about working hard to obtain your goal. Trust me, I usually hunt hard until the tank is empty. So, I've decided just to laugh at myself and hope that maybe someone out there might give me a clue. I know Jake would appreciate it also.

The day started out promising. Greg and I departed from his truck and headed up the mountain. I love hunting with Greg. I know he'll be covering the top of the hills so I just as well hunt lower. Who knows, maybe he'll push some birds down to me? The cover was sparse but I had found birds here in the past and was ready to give my Astro a try. With new batteries I was pleased when it showed Jake on point 175 yards away.
I moved down the hill and came up in front of Jake. With the birds in between us and above me, they didn't have a chance. As the 15 or so birds busted, I picked one that was almost stalled in flight. I hit it but it kept flying straight up. They call it a head or heart shot. You've probably seen it before. The bird just flaps straight up in the air. I decided to shoot at it a second time to make sure of the kill. Still looking like a stalled bird, I missed the second shot completely. The bird finally stalled out flew down hill a hundred yards or so and then tumbled to the earth. Luckily for me, the bird's flapping wings made enough noise to keep Jake's attention on it and he made one of those long retrieve's.

Wow! That was like shooting at patterning paper. Couldn't have been any easier. I felt my shell pocket and made sure I had plenty of shells. The next point had my full concentration on shooting.
I moved to the front of Jake and a single flushed. With a leg hanging he flew from my right to left and neither one of my shots even drew a feather. A twenty yard shot on a crippled bird and I missed twice. Did I not follow through? Did I lead him too much? I was kicking myself in the butt and Jake went on hunting. He was glad I had the camera to prove he was doing his job.

The hunt continued with lot's of points and even more poor shooting. It didn't matter where the birds got up I was destined to miss. After somewhere around ten misses in a row I decided to concentrate on making just one shot. It worked. On Jake's next covey point, I dropped a chukar stone dead.
It was even a shot that I usually miss. Going straight away and down the hill. Okay, I'm back. I thought. Several points and shot's later I decided to go back to shooting both barrels since I obviously wasn't putting enough lead in the air. Not only were the birds not dropping, they showed no sign of being hit. The chukars even started holding tighter, having no fear of me and my shotgun. They started holding even when there was no cover. I became tempted to resort to ground shooting but refrained.
I finally dropped another bird and Jake was happy to put something in his mouth again,
With a lot of birds down below me I headed down towards the reservoir in hopes of maybe shooting better as I headed back to the truck. Jake did his job but my confidence was gone and my shooting didn't improve much.
I finally shot one more bird before I hit the road and decided to walk the mile back to the truck on the road. If I went back up the hill I'd probably just miss so I'll end it with a positive note.
I took the collar off Jake and turned the remote off and headed down the road. Shortly before I got to the truck I realized I was missing Jake, I walked over to the edge of the road to see Jake on point between the road and the reservoir. There was very little cover between all the litter scattered on the shore  and I was sure he was not pointing birds. With my shotgun empty and broke over my shoulder I yelled for Jake and was even further discouraged when a large covey of huns busted in between us. They were in such a tight group I could have probably flock shot and got two or three. RIGHT!!!!  

About ten minutes after I reached the truck Greg and his girls, Katie and Trudy, came off the hill. I was sure his vest would be full and he'd have some good advice for me on our two hour ride back to town.
Maybe Jake and I will watch "Rocky" or the "Gladiator" tonight before our hunt tomorrow. I'm searching for something.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Dependency

Being dependent on something is usually a bad thing. I found out a couple of days ago that as a chukar hunter I have become dependent on my Garmin Astro. I've owned it since the first year they came out and have loved it. My fear of losing a dog was almost completely gone. Within a matter of seconds I could tell you what my dog was doing most of the time and where he was. Most of the other advantages of the Astro I didn't use and didn't really care about. After using it for a while, I found myself searching for my dog in thick cover at times, even when the Astro said he was within 20 yards. So, I incorporated my electronic collar with the beeper to the Astro. If I couldn't see my dog I pushed the beeper and, voila, there he is. I also had the luxury of correction if I needed. Luckily for both me and the dog the stimulation isn't much needed anymore, but the beeper and the shock collar is an all in one unit.
Through being brain dead and product malfunction, I quickly learned how dependent I have become to an electronic device. I still don't know how to use a smart phone, but the Astro has become my right arm when it comes to chukar hunting.

The day started out great. I pulled up to the end of the road and was pleased to see the fresh snow that started where I parked and looked like even more snow up higher.
As we headed up the draw, Jake kept moving up the slopes and looked back at me to follow,
but I decided on taking the easy route up the middle of the draw. Besides, look at all the sign where I was at.
After a mile or so and the only birds I saw were birds that Jake busted high on the slope, I decided I'd better follow up on his points, even though it was tough getting up the slope.
As usual, it paid to trust Jake. Thing's were going great with lot's of action
until we gained over 1500 feet of elevation and the fog started dropping.
I kept heading up the draw and waited to either see Jake as he checked in or let the Astro tell me that he was on point. I'd head in the direction that the Astro directed me and find my best buddy holding birds for me.
When I could see the birds for more than 2 seconds I even would occasionally drop one for Jake to retrieve.
And then it happened. My Astro said Jake was on point 189 yards away. I started in the direction of the arrow, counting steps, and when I counted 100 I looked at my Astro again. I was still 189 yards away but the direction had changed. I started walking again, this time watching the Astro, and the yardage would not change no matter which direction I walked. There was no panic yet. There was still the beeper collar. I reached for the remote and suddenly realized I had left it on the back seat of the truck. Panic time was getting close. I'm guessing about ten minutes had gone by and I reached in my pack and took out my whistle. After several blows and no Jake I started calling for him and headed up the last slope I had seen him on. I crossed his tracks several times but never heard or saw him. It seemed like an hour but I finally saw a large rock outcropping with Jake locked on one side of it. In reality, it was probably only twenty or so minutes but I was not going to let Jake disappear into the fog again. I walked up, commanded whoa, and continued to flush the birds without shooting. Jake and I sat on the rocks trying to enable the Astro without any success. The fog was thick and I decided to heal Jake down the mountain.
After a while we finally broke clear of the fog.
Yes, as far down as you can see is where the truck was parked. The good thing was that I could let Jake hunt again unless I saw the fog dropping any. As we headed down, Jake had several more points and retrieves while I mixed hunting with trying to fix the Astro. I thought I had tried just about everything and when Jake retrieved our last bird close to the truck I turned it off for good.
As we loaded up in the truck I was thinking how upset Barb was going to be with me for spending $750 on a new Astro (now called the Alpha) but I wasn't going to go through that scare again. I was even thinking I might have to start a fire on the hill where I thought I had lost Jake and would be up there yelling like a crazed man for him, but the fuel was very limited. I was going to hit the freeway and head straight for Cabelas. I have an addiction and only the Alpha could help me.

About half way back to Boise, my mind still going back to the mountain, I pulled off on a farm road with another idea. I hadn't tried removing the batteries. I had put a new pair in the remote before I started the hunt and didn't think that would be a problem. With the collar on I removed the batteries and then put them back in the unit. It seemed to be working. I put the collar on Jake and took a short walk. Everything worked as it was suppose to. I could now go home and not worry about explaining to Barb why I spent so much money on myself just two weeks before Christmas.

Yesterday, Greg and I went back over to the big pond with our dogs. I'm happy to say I had no issues with my Astro. I hope no one else has issues with their devices, but if you do, removing the power supply for a few minutes might just be the answer. It sure saved me.

I did have another problem on our hunt yesterday. It was shooting. If it rains as much tomorrow as it did here today maybe I can provide some form of laughter for you.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Wet weather

We made it through the cold inversion weather and so did the birds.
I spent a couple of days with the family getting some pre Christmas stuff done and they ended up being the two nicest weather days of the week to be up on the mountain.

The next time out, Jake and I made it up the hill early and then a slight mist began to fall. It only fell for a half hour or so but with the temperature being somewhere around 25 degrees everything turned to ice. Jake didn't seem to be effected by the frozen rocks and ground and found plenty of birds.
Although it didn't look that bad, evidently I got an accidental picture of my fall
between Jake's point and retrieve.
I can't even guess how many times I slipped and fell that day. But it was worth it getting to Jake doing his thing.
My next time out was in a slight rain. It rained hard the day before and Jake and I were excited to get back on the mountain even if we got a little wet.
We put in a lot of miles and Jake was proud of his days take before we headed down to the truck.
It was so much fun we thought we'd head out to another place today even though it was raining slightly.
The day ended up much like yesterday with a lot of great action the higher we got on the mountain.
The rain picked up a little more as we got further into the day and further away from the truck. It didn't seem to faze Jake for a while because he kept coming up with these long distance points. You can see him down below on the lower right of this picture.
He held the point until I got in position
and for a change I did my part.
The day continued like this and we ended up having a pretty good day. The last hour we headed straight back to the truck because the weather really set in. Jake and I were both soaked. We even busted a couple of chukars as we headed down the hill but like Jake, I was just interested in getting off the mountain. You can see how cold Jake is by the way his tail is tucked and the hair is standing up on his back.
I'm sorry about so many pictures, but I'm pretty proud of Jake for doing so well in the rain. I usually try to avoid hunting on these days but obviously I should change my thought process. There are only so many days in the hunting season and by staying at home waiting for that bluebird day the season could be gone in no time at all.

A post script to this post. It's amazing how hard it is to find the flushing birds on these dark overcast days. Usually by the time I would finally get on a bird they were at the far end of my shooting range. Especially when dark brush was involved.