Tuesday, January 31, 2017

One more hat retired

For the past 18 years I have started the season with a new hat. Team Tuckota began on Dakota's first hunting season. He was Tucker's son who had just turned 4. The two of them became the best hunting team I ever hunted behind and thus the name Tuckota. Jake proudly carries on their tradition but does it solely. He is the only shorthair of mine that has not had a canine partner to share the duties with.
Since yesterday was our last hunt of the 2016-2017 season this hat will go on the rack with the rest of them.
There is a lot of tradition and enjoyment in those hats and the journals I have kept over the years.
Although Jake and my hunt yesterday was successful it was hard enough that it discouraged me from making another hunt today. I don't know if it was because this was our only hunt for the month of January or because of the deep snow but my legs and back were as sore as I can ever remember.

A mountain lion hunter I met this year told me of some slopes I might be able to get to by walking on top of his snow mobile tracks into the area. Although tougher than walking on dirt slopes it was easier than walking on unpacked snow. You can barely see the road (trail) the cat hunter made on the far hill in this picture.
You can also tell why he finds lion tracks in the area quite often. This was the bare slope the trail led me to.
After getting there I found the slope not quite as bare as I had hoped. The chukar tracks kept me excited though. They were everywhere but it was impossible to tell if they were fresh or not because the snow had been on the ground so long. Jake had no problem covering the country because most of the time he was on top of the crusted snow. I wasn't so lucky. Some of the time I could stay on the top for three or four steps but most of the time I was breaking through half way up to my knee or further. The birds were running up the snow covered mountain everywhere I looked and Jake was often on the chase. It wasn't the right thing to do but I shot a couple of the flushing birds out of frustration. I ended up getting several birds off point and Jake had a great day. It almost seemed like he knew which birds were runners and which would hold. This was his last point of the day and it produced a double for me.
It was one of those classic points that looked like it was scripted and we were getting close enough to the trail that I bagged the retrieved birds and headed down.  although Jake had only covered 12 and 1/2 miles to my 3 and 1/2 I could tell he was tired also because he never got off the snow mobile track on the way down. I looked for a good place to take a picture of Jake's success and found it fitting to take a picture in the snow. After all, that's where we spent 90 % of our time getting the birds.
Although this was our only hunt in January this year, the season was a great success. We saw lot's of birds most everyday we hunted. I got out on 44 chukar hunts and hunted 36 different areas. I hunted one place three times but stayed pretty scattered out thanks to the number of birds. Yesterday I saw probably close to 150 birds and although most of them will be dead by nesting season the ones that survive should go into the season healthy by the looks of the fat on the birds and amount of feed in their crops.
Let's hope for another good spring and summer for the birds.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

snow day

The schools have been getting a lot of snow days this year and rightfully so. The snow has stayed on the ground for a long time this year with the cold temperatures. This is the first January in over 30 years I have not hunted. Even three years ago when I had my left knee replacement on Dec. 8th I got out four days in January. It's been really tough for Jake. The snow is so deep that we haven't really even got to do much hiking. We have been getting into the chukar country when the roads permit and Jake at least gets to see some birds.

Up until yesterday Jake couldn't get much more than 20 or 30 yards off the road before he'd return through the crusted deep snow to clean himself out on the edge of the road where at least his back side was out of the snow. Yesterday Barb, Jake and I took a snow day and went west. I got a new camera to replace the one I left in Stanley this summer and wanted to test it out. We got some short hikes in and found a lot of fun things and even though we weren't carrying a gun Jake got some action. Maybe too much action. By the end of the day he was yipping at chukars running up the hills.

Almost everywhere we went we found chukar tracks.
They were utilizing every type of food imaginable.
They were teaming up with other wildlife to get their daily meals and for the most part looked very healthy.
By the end of the day they were gathering into covey's for the night. For those of us who are still hunting until the end of the season, try and get off the hill a couple of hours before sun down. The birds need time to covey up and stay warm during the night.
As I mentioned, the birds for the most part looked pretty good, but there were a few places where the snow had not receded at all and birds were on the road and not looking quite as healthy.
Several places Barb and I came upon evidence of predators from the sky, such as remains of a chukar
and piles of feathers with big bird tracks all around them.
Barb and I watched several hawks and eagles diving on chukars and at times it seemed like they were working together with one bird diving to make them fly while the other birds hovered above waiting to dive on the fleeting bird. I tried to capture some pictures but wasn't fast enough to get any decent pictures. This red tail looked at us like we were intruding on his territory.
This golden was enjoying his meal from a distance.
Most of the animals were in that lethargic mode and were pretty calm as long as we kept our distance.
The deer, elk and sheep we saw all looked healthy and should come through the winter pretty good unless we get another long stretch like we just had. A little sun on the hillside would sure help some. Even though the animals look good we still found some evidence of nature and how it culls out the weaker animals. We couldn't tell how this animal died but could see all the animals that benefitted by it's death by all the different tracks around it.
It was a great snow day for us. We got to see lot's of fun animals, I took a lot of pictures, we got some exercise and we found some country that might be huntable before the season closes.
Getting the birds to hold or staying upright might be difficult but it might still provide us with the opportunity for a few more outings. Jake also had some fun on the hill. He got to point some chukar when they weren't running on top of the snow and straight up hill.
He also got to watch them fly straight over the top of me and was glad I didn't have a gun. The snow was so deep in places he'd have to dig a dead bird out.
God, I love being out on the mountain with Jake. Having Barb along was a plus. I can't wait until this snow recedes enough for some great jaunts. If it's during the chukar season, great. If not, that's all right too. I wasn't made to sit by the fire and talk about the outdoors. I was made to experience it. My dogs have been the force that drives me further up the hill. Their exuberance is like a drug that get's me high. There is only one cure for me to get over this cabin fever and that is Jake on the mountain with me. Just like my dog's of the past have done, he'll make me feel like I found the fountain of youth. Even if at times he runs across the hill yipping at flushing and running chukars, he's still my drug.
 



Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Jakes keeping practice.

The snow depth is still way out of my ability to hike through. At least while we're at home, Jake can entertain himself. Today he sat on the chair and watched the quail out front
until one decided to get too close to the window.
He slowly climbed off the chair and pointed the quail.
He stayed on point for about 15 minutes until I opened the door and flushed the birds.
We have less than two weeks left in the Idaho and Oregon season. Jake and I are keeping our fingers and toes crossed that we still might get out a day or two before the closing. If not, Barb and I may have to make a gambling trip down to Nevada. Of course Jake will be along.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Bored

Like most of you, I am getting cabin fever already. What's worse is my dog is too. Not only can we not hunt, the hiking is terrible and we can't get out and cover the country like we would like. So, I decided to fib once again and come back to posting.

Jake and I have taken a lot of rides over towards the reservoir but most of the time have been turned back due to freeways being closed or roads we couldn't get in on.
Yes, I finally got sucked into a snow drift and spent two hours digging out and getting turned. Shortly after I got turned around I met a cougar hunter heading into where I tried to get. The big difference was that he had a snow mobile on the back of his truck and I had already provided him a good parking spot. Yesterday, this is what the same road looked like.
As we got closer to the summit the hill looked like it hadn't gotten out of that 0 degree pattern yet.
We didn't take a shotgun because we knew getting up the mountain would be close to impossible for Jake and impossible for me. We just had a camera and what we figured we needed to get around. Anyhow, that's what we thought until we ran into a coyote hunter stuck in a snow drift. When I got into my tool box to get my pulling strap and chain to help the hunter they were gone. I racked my brain to figure out where I might have left them and tore the shop apart when I got home but have come up with only one answer. I always leave my tool box unlocked when in the hills. I figure if someone comes along in an emergency and I'm not there, they might find what they need in the tool box. I guess they did but didn't want to leave a note as to how I could get the strap and chain returned. They didn't take any tools that I can see but they're so rusted I hope I don't have to use them. I'm a little disappointed but I'll get over it.

Good news is that there were birds everywhere.
I mean all kinds of birds.
Once in a while we found some big game, but not as much as I expected.
But the chukar looked very healthy and were scattered out quite a bit.
I never saw any large covey's and I'm thinking maybe it was because of all the predators flying around.
One of stranger sightings was a rock chuck. I wasn't quick enough with the camera but I came around the corner and he was hunkered on the snow out side of this hole
It isn't Feb. 2 yet but maybe he figured it a good time to be out with all the hawks concentrating on the chukar population.
Just one more picture of a hawk
that might be interested in these early morning road side chukars before I get into the really good news.
With this weather being so bad and one of the worst storms I've seen sense the 70's I decided to reread a lot of articles pertaining to the chukar and it's survival. My findings mimic what several other guys have posted. None of the studies were from Idaho or Oregon but Nevada, Utah, and one from Colorado. I averaged them together and came up with these stats. 83% of all chukar that go into the fall season will be dead by the following spring nesting season. 39% of the mortality rate is from avian predation (after this last week of being over at the reservoir and observing, I have to believe it's true), 17% mortality is from mammal predation, hunter harvest is 8%, and the other 36 % unknown because the collars or whatever were not recovered.

Every reading stresses the importance of the early spring and early summer conditions so that the hen comes into the breeding season healthy and the chicks have lot's of protein via insects once they are hatched. The worst conditions for nesting and survival of chicks are hot weather and droughts.

So, my answer to the question of whether to hunt these late season birds or not is, "do what you feel is the right thing to do and don't chastise those who decide to do the opposite. You both have your merits. There is a chance that you might be shooting one of the 17% that survive to spring but you also take that chance earlier in the year. The bird's I'm seeing look to be in good shape although I hear from others that they are looking poorly. I question whether those birds that are stressed would survive anyhow but it would just be a guess. Remember that survival of the fittest theory and passing on those good genes. I'll be better qualified to survey their condition when I finally get a chance to shoot a bird again.

I hope that chance comes soon. If the hills burn off enough that Jake can spread his wings and cover some ground I'll be there trying to keep up with him. That is my preferred way to hunt. Covering a lot of ground and watching my dog do what he loves to do. I have gone west 8 of the last 11 days and most of the time never reached my destination because of the weather. When I have reached my destination, Jake was up to his belly just getting out of the truck to relieve himself. Oh, he got excited seeing chukars run up the hill when we got close enough, but I'm hoping that excitement is burning in him like it is me. I'm sure it's going to be a few more days before we even think of packing a gun but if the sun peeks out enough some slopes may burn off enough to provide some thrills as long as I can bust through the snow on our way to them.

Either way, hunt or not the rest of this year, I'm going to think positive and believe that all this snow is going to make for good spring and nesting conditions that provide the best season (2017-18)that we've seen in a quarter of a century.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

I lied

I got a few requests as to why I was stopping my blog for the month and was going to answer them after the hunting season. But when I got home from an Oregon hunt and found a couple of messages on my computer I felt compelled to say something more. First off, for those interested there are still birds over there but you'd better be ready to hump it. I wasn't. I made a one hour try and decided the mountain and birds were bigger than me. I did drive the road almost to Richland and saw two other vehicles that looked to be chukar hunters that were tougher than me. I did run into one other older gentleman hunting the road with his lab. He was stopping at some of the bigger draws and walking in as far as he could looking for quail and chukar. So far he had got a couple of quail. I got a good picture of him and his dog plowing through the snow and although it's not my way of hunting I felt good that this guy had an opportunity to be out with his dog and hoped he would find some more shooting along the way.

I'm not very computer savvy  so I don't know how I even came up with these messages. I'm hoping that there aren't more in here that I don't know about.

Message #1. From Drew Tim Whalin.      You're a horses ass. Little man complex?
Message #2. From Drew Tim Whalin.       Boy you've had a stellar career. Accomplished nothing in life. Need to be real proud of that. Wife is the same size as you and almost as wide as tall.

Both messages were sent last Friday. Maybe he sent these in response to our discussion in his Idaho Chukar Foundation blog when I posted he was a Professional chukar hunter, a Professional golfer, a Professional photographer, a Professional water chukar catcher, and professional many other things. I wasn't calling him names, just quoting what he has said in his the Idaho Chukar Foundation blog several times. He has never even seen my wife and I'd love to see the conversation between him and her if I showed her this. As far as accomplishing nothing in my life, he knows nothing about me except how I feel about chukar hunting.

Anyhow, this is why I've decided to try and ignore the computer for a while except to follow up on messages and phone calls from you. Jeff, I got your message and I appreciate it. I will call you back. This blog was started for the love of the hunt and my great dogs. I know that most hunter's aren't like Drew but it disappoints me that those are usually the kind of guys that like to step forward and represent us. Yes, we have some strong differences and maybe I come on a little too strong at times, but as a leader of an organization you have to be a little more diplomatic and respond to the nay sayers as you do the people that agree with you.

Hopefully this will explain my short departure as well as inform you of our Idaho Chukar Foundation leader. I encourage you to go to his forum and read from the beginning his posts. Read as an Idaho chukar hunter and form your own opinion.

To end. I'm not a person to turn the other cheek, as my lovely wife puts it, so although it may seem that I am giving in, I'll be back. Drew and I will have our talk and maybe after we settle our differences we can come to a head on what is best for chukars and chukar hunting.