Saturday, December 31, 2016

Good Bye 2016

I just got back from my final 2016 hunt. It was the most disappointing hunt of the year. Not because I didn't get any birds or lack of points from Jake but because where my mind was. I really didn't plan on hunting today but was compelled to check out the conditions of the wild game. The country I was hunting is usually full of game. This is where we were heading.
To get there we had to walk an old road about a mile and gradually climb about 1000 feet. The whole way in we could hear the chukars calling us from above and Jake busted a couple of covey's way out of range. This eagle showed little concern that Jake and I were on his mountain.
I had at least a dozen long range points
with some of them so far out (325 yds.) you have to really search to find him even on zoom.
Four times I got to his point and four times I got one shot off at the coveys. . They were all close flushes but not a feather flew. Footing conditions were so poor that I felt lucky to get one shot off.
We saw two deer in the 2 1/2 hours on the hill but by the tracks on the road below there were plenty around.
This brings me back to the point of why today was my most disappointing hunt of the year. It had nothing to do with the day but a call I received a couple of nights ago. Another chukar hunter who I know just through the blog called me and asked what I knew about the Idaho Chukar Foundation asking the fish and game to close the chukar season. I had no knowledge of it, but decided to look into it and got into the foundation's blog and found it was true that they were recommending it. I put my input in and before the next day was through Drew and I were comparing ball size and it ended up with me being a mouse.

I stand by everything I said in his forum, which in short was that all chukar hunters should have a saying and not just an elite few with self resumes that says how much they do for wildlife. I think everyone should look at his site and make their own determinations as to how they feel and let him know. Maybe not get in as deep as me but let him know your voice.

With that being said, I have decided to stop posting for the rest of this year. Barb says I'm getting too emotionally involved again as I did 8 years ago. She's right, and I'm gonna put the camera away and concentrate on Jake and I enjoying the outdoors the way it is supposed to be. Those of you who like reading about chukar outings should tune into Bob McMichaels Chukar Hunting blog. He still keeps it fun and has stories and pictures that make many of us envious. I hope to meet him and Leslie this year.

Meanwhile, stay posted this spring. Who knows. Maybe I'll be announcing ticket sales for the premier boxing match of the year. We could turn the proceeds into one of our favorite charities. It's sure to be a comedy special if nothing else. Can you imagine the speed of the blows of two men approaching their 70's. It will be bone crushing.

Happy New Year

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas

Looks like we got our white Christmas this year. A little more white than these old bones like, but there are lot's more people that are loving it right now. As far as the animals, I'm sure most of them aren't caring for this last storm that dropped another 6 inches of snow up here at my house. The quail are enjoying the warmth of my porch
and the deer don't mind looking at me through the window as long as I leave them a little food.
 It looks like we have another cold spell coming through after Christmas that will keep the snow around for a while. As long as we get some sun shine, the southern slopes will be where the game animals will congregate. The problem for us chukar hunters is getting to those slopes. Check out Bob McMichael's "Chukar hunting" post and see how the tough guys hunt with snow shoes. With this last storm it may be the only way to get to them.

I'm glad I got out a couple of times this week before the big stuff came. I could still negotiate the slopes enough to get to the higher burnt off ridges. The two spots I hunted this week looked like this
going up but opened up and was more negotiable towards the top. The problem for me was having enough energy to keep hunting once Jake and I reached our destination. The frozen ground under the snow made for some exciting approaches to Jakes points.
Even though the birds were holding pretty good my shots were usually from a compromising position and Jake would watch the birds fly across the hill untouched. I could go on and on about this weeks hunts but I'll keep it short by just saying I was on the ground as much as I was walking upright, but it was worth it and somehow fun. Here's a few of my pics from our snowy hunts.

Jake loving the cold early morning start.
A cold point
One of those long points that you know the birds will probably bust when you are about 50 yards away.
A retrieve that makes the side hilling worth the effort.
The kind of ending that makes me proud of such a wonderful dog.
Another day of great dog work.
with plenty of action.
And more birds than I probably deserve.
Merry Christmas to all of you and here's to hoping 2017 is the best year your dog's have ever seen.

A short P.S. We took a Christmas Eve hike and I found that although Jake likes to point turkeys
he wasn't as excited about me doing the flush.
Maybe he was afraid I might shoot one and he'd have to try and retrieve it.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

My oh my

The weather has reached the single digits for the high temperatures which triggered my urge to stay in the house. Even though there are some football games to watch, my mind still wanders off to the mountains and the well over 1000 chukar hunts I have had with my canine companions while Jake stairs out the window and looks at the possibilities.
I thought back to a conversation I had with another chukar hunter earlier this year. This fellow stopped by my camp and by the time he left I knew everything there was to know about hunting chukars. In short, getting birds really isn't that important, but what was important was how you got them. First off, you must have a dog with certain lines in his pedigree. I learned that these dogs with the great pedigrees will out perform anything else on the mountain. Secondly, they have to pass the NAVDHA tests. His dog had one more test to complete and than he was on his way to the "hall of fame."

I don't know much about these test or trials, but I'm sure that I have never had a dog that would excel in them. As I ponder over my hunts I can remember quite a few text book points from all my hunting dogs. You know, the ones with one front leg bent, a rigid straight back, high tail and pointed head. But I remember many more that weren't quite as classy. Those points that would not make the hall of fame or raise the bar on the pedigree. Dakota, the smallest shorthair that I've had, quite often squatted in his points and almost sat with his butt just inches off the ground at times. The important thing, as far as I am concerned, was that most of the time these points produced birds which was what we there for. Tucker, my first shorthair, was probably my boldest but would still back off a point and come back to get me if I didn't show up on time. He would usually back off slowly, not spooking the birds, come back and make eye contact with me and then go back and repoint the birds. It took me some time to believe he was really doing this, but after several confirmations with other hunters watching I became a believer. I think Jake has done Tucker's trick a couple of times but time will tell whether it was luck or not. Riley, being such a tall dog, was caught in a variety of weird position's on his points. With his longer tail he also had some beautiful stylish points, but the point I remember the most was a point when he had a chukar in the rocks right under his belly. I remember how goofy he looked as he stared at me. I didn't know where the bird was, but I knew by his staunchness that there was a bird close by.  Riley probably giggled as I missed the bird that surprised me with his location. Jake, like all the others, has some quirky points, but I'm still wondering how long he might hold a point until I get there. At almost four years old I'm sure I'm in for more surprises. I would say that only 25% of my dog's points would pass the test or trials that are required to become a hall of fame dog. 

As far as stop to flush. My dogs would get a grade of F if that were required. As the birds rise to my flush, so do the dogs. I do realize the safety issue of having a dog hold as you shoot, but I don't have anyone hunting with me but Conner. Conner is well aware of how unimportant a shot is whenever a dog is close by. The flush is very exciting both for the human and the canine components. How many of us feel our heart beat step up a pace or are startled by the flush? I think dogs have the same reaction and it doesn't make them a poor hunting dog to show an excited reaction. For me, if they take off running forever, it's a different type of reaction than the short 25 yard chase. Once they see no birds falling they're back to finding birds. I trained Riley to stop at the flush and it became quite a headache for me. There were times when he would bust a covey a couple of hundred yards up the hill from me and would lock up. All the begging and pleading wouldn't get him to break. I had to get to him and kick  at the brush before he resume hunting. It saved me a lot of miles once I got him to quit. I think the pup should get a better grade for hustling after the birds at the flush instead of staying froze on point. It creates shorter retrieves on the steep slopes and we all know how far a bird can get in just a couple of seconds falling down those chukar slopes.

Honoring is probably one of the places my dogs would excel in one of these tests or trials. They have all honored naturally. That is probably the biggest thing I miss about hunting with multiple dogs. It's amazing to watch how they learn to work together when taken out enough. That competitiveness soon becomes team oriented. Dakota developed his own style of helping me get birds while honoring. If he was the honoring dog, he would back off point as I approached and circle around behind me and try and come in on the birds from a different angle. I'm guessing that is a pack animals way of trapping the prey in between them. Quite often it worked and at other times it made shooting a little dangerous. I never tried to stop him from doing this because it was his personal style. I'm thinking he might have been down graded if he were in a trial. To this day, some of my fondest memories are when I had all three dogs, Tucker, Dakota and Riley on point and honoring. Even a few times I had the chance of seeing all three retrieving birds to me at the same time. That's like making the game winning catch in the super bowl and something that can't be scored in any contest.

Now, let's score the retrieve.  It always has amazed me how important the retrieve is to most upland hunters. I agree that it is very important that we get the downed bird, but does it actually have to be given to the hand? In some cases the dog must sit beside the handler and then deliver. I also see some contests where the dog must deliver the bird to no more than one step from the handler. Every one of my dogs would get a good score about 1/3 of the time. It depends on the terrain, type bird and how long we have been in the field. I've never had to force fetch a dog and maybe that's because of their willingness to get a dead bird and bring it to me. I don't scold them for parading around with the bird for a while or just dropping it close to me. Because I hunt a lot and stay out for hours at times, I won't put restrictions on to my dog's deliveries that makes it any less fun for him. At the end of a long day in the hot weather and on steep slopes I have to be pretty lazy to not make an effort to move towards my dog who has already made x amount of retrieves. By now his mouth is dry and he just once to get the bird out of his mouth and wet his lips. A perfect retrieve has no importance right now. Dakota use to chase wounded birds down the slopes with an exuberant yip. You could hear his barking bounce off the canyon walls and when it stopped you knew he was on his way back up the hill with bird in mouth. Tucker had a finicky mouth. He had no problem with chukars and would usually hold them until I took them from his mouth but wanted to spit huns out as soon as he got to me. I quit shooting quail around him. He couldn't help but to swallow them. He would be coming back to me with the bird going deeper and deeper down his throat and all the hollering couldn't stop it. He looked at me like I can't help it, there is something evil in my gut pulling it down. I just found it easier not to shoot the occasional quail around him. They'd probably banned Tucker from hunt contests even though he was one of the greatest chukar dogs I've ever seen. Jake, once in a while delivers to hand, but more often lays the bird on the trail I might be on. He also parades around me quite often with the bird. I've finally figured out that those birds he parades with are still alive. He's had to chase enough cripples down hill twice to know not to put them down. We have finally developed a system where he lays the bird down on the hill right above me where I make a quick grab and hopefully get the bird before another chase resumes. It works most of the time, but can you imagine the score the trial judges would be giving me.

I don't know how they judge on quartering and covering country, but I'm sure my boys actions would not score high. Thanks to the Astro, the guessing game as to where they are is usually taken care of. Although my dogs have all been great at checking in at regular intervals, I never know in which direction they are coming from. It always amazes me how a dog can be covering country 200 yards ahead of you and suddenly show up behind you. When you are chukar hunting you can't walk the field into the wind. Not only are the winds constantly changing on the slopes the terrain makes it impossible to always walk into the wind. Dogs figure out how they want to cover the country and find birds. Riley, my too tall shorthair, had his own way of covering the field. He saved miles on his legs by covering trails with his head up high and when he caught any scent would vacate the trail towards the smell. Although he traveled fewer miles per trip than any of my other shorthairs he found more birds than the rest. Jake puts on more miles than any of my dogs in the past, but he also checks in more than the rest did, a trait that trial runners say is a waste of valuable energy.

I've never heard much talk about any way of rating a dog for ability to find a crippled bird. If there were, I'm sure Jake would be high on that list. When dead bird comes out of my mouth, Jake becomes relentless at finding a bird on the ground. My Astro showed he once traveled down a ridge over 400 yards and came back with a crippled bird I had shot. Just three days ago, Jake was retrieving a bird to me when another cripple jumped from his path and flew over the rocks behind him. I though it looked crippled but didn't see enough to know for sure. Jake dropped the bird he had in his mouth and began the chase. I had to walk down the hill ten yards and pick up the dropped bird and wait for Jake's return. Sure enough, up he came with a crippled bird. I can't say how many times Jake has retrieved a bird to me while other birds were taking off and didn't drop the bird in his mouth but with this bird he knew. He probably would have been deducted points for this in a trial but I thought it was pretty darn cool.

How many of us have seen our dogs point a bird while he had another chukar in his mouth? I don't recall Riley or Jake ever doing this but I can recall several times Tucker and Dakota doing it. There should be bonus points for this. It is pretty impressive watching dogs do blind retrieves but I'll settle for walking towards the area of the downed bird and repeating dead bird until my dog finally finds it. It's not as glamorous, but it gets the job done.

I can't judge as to whether a field trial dog or just a plane old hunting dog is better at finding birds because I have never watched a fieled dog hunt. I do know that my dogs seem to find more birds than most other guys. They haven't been trained any better or come from a specific line. The only qualification I cared about when picking a pup is that the parents were hunters and that he is brown. (The color makes no difference except for my preference). What makes them better bird finders is time in the field. Every one of my shorthairs have had 60 plus hunting days on the chukar mountains per year plus another 40 during the off season. They know where and how to find chukars. They have never hunted pheasants so they probably aren't as good in the beat fields or stubble as most others.

Swimming is another thing required by some of the trial enthusiasts. Three out of four of my shorthairs loved swimming. They would troll out in my pond all day if allowed, but the minute the temperature drops they wanted nothing to do with the water. Jake is the only shorthair that I've owned that doesn't like the water, but he handles cold and wet weather better than the rest. Go figure. So my dogs fail again when it comes to the water aspect.

So I have to face the fact that my dogs will never make the hall of fame. They will only be recognized by me for their great feats. Only the few others that have ever hunted with me will ever realize their greatness along with me. But, that's good enough for me. I don't have to watch no film or read any book to relive their hunting success. All I have to do is close my eyes and think back to our hunts. I can dream of those hunts and the hunts to come and know they scored an A+ for me. My boys may not make the hall of fame the trialers are so proud of but they make great pictures in my hall for the fabulous thrills they have given me.

My wish for all of you dog owners, no matter what kind of breed or what their purpose may be, is that you take the time out on these cool days and appreciate the joy and excitement they bring us. Close your eyes and relive some of their funny and great moments. Think about what you would have lost without these animals in your life and when the time permits, take them out and do something that they like. Show them a Merry Christmas with a treat. They have no idea what that plaque on the wall is for.

Also, to the trialer I spoke of earlier, Merry Christmas. I hope your efforts are worth it and your dog makes that hall of fame. There is definitely a reason for the trials. They do keep the breeders more honest and also hare a valuable tool for picking hunting companions. Just do me a favor. The next time someone visits with you about hunting dogs and shows some sdmiration, repay the compliment and maybe hear their story. The shorthair that was sitting next to me was Jake and yes we did get some birds.

Merry Christmas to all of you chukar nuts out there.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Attitude

Being an x high school coach you'd think I would know the importance of attitude in everything we do. In work or play success is preceded by attitude. I was reminded of that today.

Jake had the last two days off due to the cold weather and me being such a wimp. He let me know that he was ready for some action so I reluctantly got up early and headed for the mountains. The temperature when I left was 10 degrees with starry skies. I knew the slopes would all be frozen and hard to maneuver. The forecast was for snow somewhere around 11:00 and I figured on being on my way home by then, whether Jake liked it or not. What a sour attitude to start the day.

By the time I got to my hunting location, the rising sun didn't even get my hopes up. Heck, it was up to 18 degrees. As soon as I put Jake's collar on he made a quick dash up the frozen trail. I was hoping he would stay close to the trail because I didn't want to venture off onto the frozen ground very much. He didn't and I didn't. Going up the steep and frozen slope my strides were about 6 inches apart. I was thinking, "wow! this is fun". My Astro interrupted my thought's with a reading of Jake on point 231 yards on the other side of the draw.
Reluctantly, I side hilled around the hill and came down behind and above Jake. Every step felt like I was going to go down until I got on the same ridge as Jake where the ridge was not as steep. As I moved to Jake's left the birds busted well within range but kept flying after I emptied both barrels. It was almost like I expected to miss. That was our last glimpse of the sum and the storm was moving in. We were about an hour away from the truck and I seriously contemplated going back but Jake decided in another direction. I watched him covering the slopes with ease and decided it was time to pull my head out. This is December 8th and it might not get any better than this so I'd better get my act together. Soon the snow was falling and the ground was turning white. At first it made the hill slicker but after a while it made the traction better.

In the next hour, Jake had three points with no birds. I found fresh tracks in the snow but they evidently flew wild. I was finally taking almost normal steps and didn't feel like each step might throw me to the ground. The next point was the way hunting is supposed to be. Jake locked in some sage and I was confident there were birds.
I moved to the front of him and birds flushed everywhere. We somehow got right in the middle of them. As the gun fired twice, two birds fell, and for the first time this year two more chukars stayed long enough that I reloaded and got both of them. Not only was I tickled with my shooting, I was super impressed with the way Jake followed my hand signals and retrieved every bird quickly. It was a quick reminder as to why I enjoy being on the mountain so much.
I was now super charged and ready to handle whatever the mountain had to throw at me. Jake and the mountain were real kind to me and made the rest of the day a real treat. We had four more points as the snow kept falling and we were in an area that didn't conceal too many rocks.                                  
We also had four more retrieves, which means I had a great day of shooting once I got my head out of my a**. For some reason, I've gotten into this attitude that these winter conditions are tough, thus making it less fun. Today it sunk back into my head that winter conditions are tough, but tough conditions make it that much more rewarding when Jake and I make it happen.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Snow

I woke up this morning to about an inch of snow at my house. I questioned going west but decided against telling Jake to get out of the back seat of the truck. As I drove west the snow was diminishing so I was becoming more excited about my decision. Than I made the turn to the north and the snow started getting heavier again. I didn't think there was that much elevation change but by the time I got to the ridge I wanted to go up there was 3 inches of snow on the ground.

3 inches of snow didn't use to mean much to me but over the last few years I'd just as soon stay home than to hunt in it. Jake didn't feel discouraged at all and as soon as the collar was on he was ready to scale the mountain.
As you can see, there are plenty of rocks and other hidden objects in the snow. I don't glide over the snow with the ease that Jake does, in fact I do more stumbling than I do walking. I don't dare look up or I know something is going to reach up from under the snow and pull me to the ground. If I want to see if there are actually deer at the end of the tracks, I have to stop and make sure both feet are planted before I look up. At least in January when the slopes are frozen I can see whether my next step is going to propel me down the mountain. In this fresh snow I don't see those hidden surprises until it's too late.

Although I wanted off the mountain early, I stuck it out for Jake. He did his job and found birds. But the first two points resulted in flushes at 20 yards and I never even got my gun up. Finally Jake held a covey of chukar on a flatter area and I managed dropping a bird on the first shot and shot way over another bird on the second.
Watching Jake hustle down to retrieve the bird was fun but it didn't quite ease the pain I felt as I looked at the two new rock gouges on my stock. It's funny how the snow doesn't ease the sound of a gun butt hitting the rock like it does the sound of the gun going off.

The day kept going about the same for 3 hours of hunting. That was all I could handle. Even a half of dozen or more points didn't help much. Four new scratches on the gun and countless bruises that will be showing up on me tomorrow out weighed the birds shot. Jake was solid and fun to watch covering the miles looking for birds but it was better for me to get out of the snow.
One of the advantages of being retired is having the pick of days to chase chukars. I know many hunters love the snow and more power to them but for me, I'll take the burnt off slopes that has some of that softer soil to sink my soles into.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

What a week

After giving Jake such a bad review he made a fast turn around and went from zero to a hero in one week. Not only does he have me eating crow he also filled my freezer with chukars and huns.

The week started last Saturday with Greg Allen and Conner over in Oregon. Although the birds were pretty wild, some of them held for some pretty good action for Conner. I backed off this point as Conner moved in.
He took the shot
and Jake brought the flopping bird back to him.
Although we didn't bring a lot of meat home we had a great day of hunting and Jake had a very good day.

Next Jake and I headed over to a lake closer to the Boise area. Jake was constantly on point.
Although I didn't get a lot of camera action, Jake provided me with some real shooting opportunities.
Then Jake and I headed for the big pond and a 4 day hunt. It would be just Jake and I for Thursday and Friday and Greg Allen meeting us for Saturday and Sunday. This would be my first trip into this location this year but by the bird numbers I've seen in both Oregon and Idaho along the reservoir I figured on having a good hunt. I just had no idea how good it would be. This was my camp on top of the hill. It's the last place to get phone reception before dropping down the canyon.
I wasn't there alone. These guys were down by the reservoir and out hunting.
I brought my side by side and tried a 4 wheel trail on one of the days. Although I got into some pretty good hunting I was shocked at the end of my hunt to see nine 4 wheeler's parked at different spot's on my way down the trail. This is just part of the parking lot at the trail head.
That's a pretty good reason to leave the side by side at home and start from the road from now on. Another good reason is that by starting at the road and going up your return trip is down hill. My return trip to my 4 wheeler was up hill and it about cashed me in.

I got over forty pictures of Jake pointing and retrieving and still managed to shoot decently. I have to attribute that to Jake who was almost rock steady all weekend.
Not to mention that there wasn't a bird that hit the ground that he didn't find. Some of them very long runners.
After day one I was looking forward to Greg showing up to enjoy some of the fun. Here's Jakes first days take.
I had four shells left from a box of 25 left in my vest to show how solid he was. That's way out of my league.
The next two days were almost as good with birds scattered everywhere. We hunted different places all three days and I don't think we ever went more than 1/2 hour without a point. In fact it was more like a point every ten minutes or less. I covered over 7 miles, 6 miles and 6 miles on each day. Jake logged in 26 miles, 25 miles and 19. My elevation gain was 2200 feet, 1900 feet and 1700 feet. I can't even imagine what Jake's elevation gain was.
I very seldom run into people on the hill but I met two guys on Fridays hunt. Glenn and Harry are a couple years older than me and it was great visiting with them and watching Gauge work. Talking with them I could tell they had the same love of chasing chukars that I have. They also stopped by the camp and swapped stories with me on their way home.  I always enjoy the company.
I also met another guy on the hill who had recognized me from the Upland Idaho forum. I think his name was Tim and he was running a couple of beautiful dog's. A pointer and a shorthair.
There were a lot of other animals on the hill with us. This coyote seemed very interested in watching Jake work. We were both surprised when I came around the hill towards one of Jake's points and found him about ten yards away. Needless to say his interest in Jake vanished and he was soon out of the country.
My eyes are usually watching the ground for the next obstacle to stumble over and I don't see many game animals until they are running off but I caught this doe watching Jake work the hill. I didn't even know the buck was there until I got home and looked at the picture.
As you can see the country is wide open. It's steeper than it looks but it's great country for watching your canine partner work. Jake's longest point was 277 yards away and it happened to be on a steep slope so it took a while to get to him but he held point like a real pro.
His finding the dead bird is almost automatic.
I called Greg on Friday night and he had stretched a hamstring playing racket ball so he was going to just make a shorter hunt on Sunday. Greg hasn't figured it out yet, he still insists on playing those sports he's too old for. So I decided to cut my hunt a day short. Besides, if Saturday was anything like the previous two days I would be close to my possession limit, something I never had to worry about in the past.
I've never seen the weather like this for as long as I can remember. I'd start my hunts in the morning with the temperatures in the low 40's and come off the mountain with the temps in the low 60's. Green grass is everywhere. The only down side was the amount of water I had to carry for Jake.
The rancher that runs his cattle in the area said it was the hardest November he could remember for rounding up the cows. Usually by this time of the year they are down low and easy to find. This year with all the green up they are scattered everywhere just like the chukars and huns.
It's been a week of great action. The kind of week chukar hunter's dream of. It's why we find it so easy to forgive our dog's for those trips when they seem to go brain dead. It makes you realize that maybe your gun barrel isn't bent after your previous hunt of going 0 for 19. More than anything else it leaves you with the feeling that LIFE IS GOOD.