Friday, September 23, 2016

Leaves were falling

With the last few days feeling more like fall than summer, Jake and I decided to take a long drive over to a place we haven't hunted for several years. With the number of birds we've seen on our last three hunts this spot could shine some serious light on what the season might look like. The drive into this spot has quite a few miles of dirt road and in the dark a nice buck jumped off the side of the road right in front of my truck. Luckily for me, his reflexes were a lot quicker than mine and he bound off the road before we could find who was big dog on the mountain. I decided that seeing game that close up must be a sign of good luck. Four miles later we stopped and prepared for the hunt. I was amazed how many leaves had fallen off the tree's.

Normally, we start at the bottom of the mountain and hike as far up as my legs and the birds will let me. It's well over 4000 feet to the top which I never have made. Today we took a shortcut and got about half way up which was about 4000 feet in elevation. Jake and I hunted yesterday and it was a pretty tough hunt so we thought we'd take it easier today. It was the right thing to do. My legs and lungs were still burning from yesterday and it seemed like every fifty yards or so I had to stop from either hip pain, back pain, or shortness of breath. I wanted to voice my opinion of the getting old process but knew it really had to do with the extra pounds around my waist as well as the extra weight in my vest which was from the water for Jake.

There was no way I could zig zag up the steep ridge like I use too so I found a game trail and walked it until I would find another game trail going a little higher. With Jake covering all the ground in between I knew it shouldn't be long before we found birds. As luck would have it, Jake's first point was straight uphill but only 52 yards away. Understand, the astro only shows vertical distance so he was actually further, which my leg's and lungs soon confirmed. As the birds flushed straight over me, I fired a shot as I spun my way to the ground. I had some help from above because Jake was soon running down hill and came up with a dead bird. I didn't even know I hit it. The bird was a first year bird and probably hatched in June. The next three hours found me stalking a point about every fifteen minutes or so and I really didn't gain a whole bunch more altitude. The problem became the age of most of the birds. About 1/3 of the birds were about the age of the bird I had already bagged but the other 2/3 seemed to be about 5 to 6 weeks old. Very young for this time of the year.

These young birds would have been easy to limit on because they would hold until the very last moment and than just fly 50 to 100 yards around the hill where Jake would see them land and immediately run over and point them again. I finally had to stop Jake at the flush of the young birds and encourage him to go another way. As I said, we did find some more grown birds to shoot but too often came across another covey of small birds. Most of the covey's of small birds were fewer in number than the larger bird covey's. I finally decided to shoot one of the young birds for picture purposes and have to admit it seemed like it took eternity for the bird to get far enough away that I wouldn't blow it apart.

I'd have to say we saw somewhere around 150 birds in the three hours of hunting and gained only 600 feet of elevation. Could have been a great day. It probably will be a great day in the future since  I opted to let these young guys go. I've seen young birds on my other three hunts this year but not like this area. I encourage everyone to hold back on these birds. They provide a much better experience for you on a later hunt.
This is a two and a half month old bird(left) and a five week old bird(right). You'll definitely know the difference as they flush.
The meat retained is not even as much as a mature quail.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Adjusting

The chukar season opened today in Idaho. After Jake's performance the last couple of weeks hunting grouse I was a little skeptical about what his performance would be like today. During our grouse hunts Jake very seldom ranged out past 50 yards or so and was logging just over a mile more than me on our hunts. Normally he covers over 3 times the distance that I cover on a chukar hunt. His pace was even slow.

I guess I forgot how great our hunting companions are. From the first step out of the truck Jake's demeanor changed back to the chukar hunter of the past three years. Suddenly, 200 yards was his average range and at times ventured out to 300 yards. His pace was back to mach 1 and I was now hoping he wouldn't bump the birds before he got scent. I was soon reminded how well a hunting dog will adjust to the conditions given the chance.

The season opener was better than I had expected. The weather was a bit warm but an overcast sky kept the sun from beating down on Jake's brown hair and burning him out soon. We made it up the first long ridge and found our first covey of chukars. On Jake's cue, I moved in with my over and under loaded with shells of ashes from past hunting companion's and some lead. For the first time since I started this tradition, I missed the first shot but luckily knocked a young bird down on the second barrel. After Jake's retrieve we hiked over to the rock I've sat on every year since Tucker's death and gave thanks for the great hunting companions I have had.

From there we traveled further up the hill. My lungs and legs were hurting some, but the number of birds we were finding made walking through the pain a little easier. I am very excited about the 2016 season especially after seeing the number of birds we saw today. I didn't see a hun, but we some blue grouse holding tight on the hill along with the chukars to make things even better.
Every bird I got, except for the blues, were young birds pointing towards a good hatch this year.

Be careful with your dog's in this hot weather and take lot's of water. Good news, Ed, I was on the hill for 4 1/2 hours and never saw a snake. With the good number's will come more hunter's but don't despair, they will burn out soon. Their dogs don't know what our seasoned dogs do.

First retrieve of the 2016 season.

On a side note. I got a new vest last year at the end of the season. It is the Q5 centerfire vest. Bob McMichaels suggested it to me and wrote a review in his "Chukar Hunter" blog. He nailed it in his review and I thank him for turning me on to such a good product.






Monday, September 5, 2016

Early moisture

The upland season has finally arrived. Grouse season opened 7 days ago and with the cooler weather Jake and I made a trip out three days ago. The temperature gauge read 50 degrees when we got to our hunting location and I was actually hunting with a long sleeve shirt. Jake was excited to see me with a shotgun in hand and we were off for some grouse. It didn't take long before I realized how bad of shape I was in. I blamed it on the smoke from the fires and the dust I was kicking up off the trails. I had to stop quite often to catch my breath. It wasn't much better for Jake. He drank 2 quarts of water in the first 45 minutes on the hill.

You probably remember me talking about all the grouse I was seeing on an earlier post. Well, I was hunting that same spot but Jake didn't even act like he scented a bird for the first hour. We had seen probably twenty grouse in this area in August but now couldn't even find a grouse feather. At the end of our 3 hour hunt, Jake had bumped three birds which I never saw to distinguish whether they were rough or blues. As we drove home I questioned my grouse forecast for 2016. Did Conner and I really see that many birds?

The next day Jake and I stayed home, licking our wounds even though it was supposed to be even a little cooler. I checked my notes to make sure my memory served me right and I decided that even though I'm in terrible shape my memory still was okay. That evening a rain storm came through and being a little stubborn I decided on a return trip to the same area today.

When Jake and I reached our hunting destination we were pleased to see that although the ground wasn't soaked the dust was knocked down and there were even a few puddles in places. It was 2 degrees cooler than our last trip and Jake was ready to cover some ground. About 15 minutes into the hunt, Jake was on point 52 yards away. I plowed through the brush until I could see him and snapped a quick picture of his first point of the 2016-2017 season.
There were at least 3 birds flushing but I could only see 1 flying through the thick brush. With a quick snap shot I somehow hit the bird and saw it flutter down. I yelled dead bird to Jake and he was on the search. My thought's of a crippled bird were soon confirmed when I could here wings flapping in the brush and Jake running through the same brush. Ten minutes of  calling dead bird and encouraging fetch finally found Jake bringing the blue to me.
I was excited to finally have our first bird in the bag. What some moisture will do for a hunting trip this time of the year is amazing. Jake and I hunted the same area as we had two days before and the rest of our hunting trip was fantastic. The grouse were in the thicker stuff and many of Jake's points went by without me seeing the birds but hearing the flush. After 2 1/2 hours on the hill we had our birds and headed back to the truck.

Although I did see two ruff grouse, we had to settle for blues on the dinner table this trip. This trip is a great reason to never write off a hunting spot. Had I not of seen so many birds here earlier this year I would have figured the grouse numbers down in this area this year, but the right conditions proved different. Also, it's amazing how much better in shape you feel when there is lot's of action. I hardly remember my lungs burning.