Sunday, September 29, 2019

Non residents

Barb and I took a four day trip over to a popular camping spot which also provides some pretty good chukar hunting. There were plenty of other campers there and many of them having hunting dogs meaning we weren't alone at chasing chukars. It was evening time so I decided to make my rounds and see what people were finding. For the most part people seemed pretty happy and were finding birds. 3/4 of the hunters were from out of state. I was a little slack on getting pictures and names but the states included were Georgia, Wisconsin, Arizona, Washington and Tennessee. All of them were positive and were pretty excited about the number of birds they were seeing. Except for the guys from Arizona and Washington this was their first trip to Idaho. I have to say one of the reasons I didn't get to visit more with them was because they were out hunting almost all day. They evidently were taking advantage of their time in Idaho.

Dog's breeds were also very different. We had many English pointers and English setters along with Weimaraner, Brittanies, Labs, and GSP's. I didn't see one unhappy dog.

There were two different groups of Idaho hunters also. We got a little more time to talk because shortly after I returned from hunting each day they were at our camper to see what I had found. If these two groups read my blog I'll probably lose them after this post. They seemed to be the only ones upset with the bird numbers. Of course they were back at camp by noon while most of the non residents weren't back until very late afternoon. I guess we all can read between these lines and make what we want out of it but I can tell you I enjoyed my conversations with the non residents because they were just excited to be here.

The only pictures I got were of these two Georgia guys and their dogs. These two, along with a guy from Wisconsin had hunted many states for various birds but this was their first time at chasing chukars.
They definitely were from down south with that accent. Oh gosh, I hope that wan't politically incorrect. From the feathers around the camp I could tell they had at least chukar, huns and Blue grouse in their bags. Listening to their stories I could tell they were getting the full deal with their Idaho hunt, especially when they talked about where they were finding chukars and how they couldn't make those down hill away shots. Pretty familiar stuff to me.
Two thoughts I came up with this week. As residents, maybe we expect too much when it comes to bird numbers and secondly, maybe we give up too soon and get off the mountain. These guys didn't seem to have a problem with either.

Now, what did I find. Day 1 had me thinking maybe the bird numbers weren't there. It started hot with Grady taking off like a mad dog and soon we saw three blue's flying down the hill. Barb, wanted to walk a ways with me and do some filming and it wasn't long before Grady found birds with Jake honoring. Barb decided to keep me out of the picture so I wouldn't be caught missing again.
After this video Barb left and the three of us covered many more miles and saw only three covey of huns and never got a shot. It was looking pretty dismal. But I decided to not give up on this area and cover more different country the next day. As everyone knows of this country you can get out of your rig and never step on the same ground as you did the day before. Take a look at the grass in this picture and you can see why the birds were probably distributed everywhere. We never see this kind of green up this early in the year.
The next two days were much better. Once Grady would slow down and quit over running his nose points became a lot oftener and day ones negative thoughts were soon behind us. Bird numbers were good and not so good. We saw more huns in this area than ever before but fewer chukar. We also saw more blue grouse than I can ever remember.

We took day four off due to the three of us feeling a little abused by the mountain.
Grady put in 67 miles in the three days and Jake put in 58. I put in 24 miles and felt I a little break was deserved. We ended up getting a good number of huns and a few chukars and blue grouse. A first for me. I have never come home with more huns than chukars but I have to say they were every bit as fun.

They're out there. Maybe not in the numbers I hoped, but a little extra walking seems to produce birds. Who knows, over the next ridge might be that honey hole.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Opening day take away

After a hard first day on the mountain I decided to look at a few other upland sites and see how others viewed the upland opener. It seemed to be a mixed opinion on bird numbers. There were plenty of success pictures and a few disgruntled opinions about how the fish and game reports were wrong and numbers weren't up. I'm not advocating either way but here's how my opener went. It's not pretty.

First off, I found out how poor of shape I am now in. The last month I made fewer trips to the chukar mountains than I can remember and it showed. I made more short stops heading up the mountain than I can remember and the boys were a little flustered. Especially Grady, who was excited to finally see a gun in my hand and decided full out was the proper speed for the morning. It wasn't long before he ran head long through a large covey of huns. I guessed about thirty. They just helped him find a gear I din't know he had, super high. The good news here was that I had never seen huns in this area, only chukars. Man, I was stoked up for a double limit on opening day.

My main purpose of opening day is to get a picture of the boys on their first point of the season and to make my first two shots count. It wasn't long before I accomplished both. The points weren't picture perfect but they were points all the same.


So, now it was time to make my past dogs proud. Once again the boys had a covey of huns on point as I approached. The first shot was way behind the bird I was shooting at and I knew I had stopped my swing through but I learned from that and dropped the bird on shot two. Whew! I only carried two shells with ashes and knew the boys were looking down hard at me after shot one. You'd think with the moisture we had last week the dead bird would put off plenty of scent but it took a while before Grady came up with the find and brought it proudly back to me. With pictures and first shots taken we sat and reminisce about past dogs and hunts. The would be the last time we sat the rest of the day.
As we headed further up the mountain I hoped to loosen up some but the hiking struggles stayed with me for the day. I had thoughts of cutting the day short but the dogs were working hard and loving every minute. Grady is quite an athlete an outran his nose several times. I couldn't believe how much green up there was on the hill already. One inch green grass shoots were every where so I figured the birds would be scattered and they were. The boys finally had a point an honor on a group of chukars and as I was trying to get the perfect picture but they flushed without me getting a shot. Camera or gun. I decided that this out of shape hunter better leave the camera alone for the rest of the day.

The day progressed with the dogs finding several more covey of chukars and me struggling to get to them. Some times the birds held and sometimes not but when they did I usually emptied both barrels with out touching a bird. The most dismal shooting I can ever remember. Two take aways from my poor shooting. Number one; a person should not put his gun away at the end of a season and expect to take it out of the safe on the first day of the next season and perform well. Number two; one of the things never mentioned when talking about becoming a decent chukar shot, conditioning. I couldn't believe how slow I seemed to be at getting into position and getting the gun up. It seemed like the birds had gotten faster but in reality I have gotten slower, a problem I plan on working on. 

Eventually a few more birds hit the ground but not after having a game pack full of many empty shells. The best way to describe it is to say Jake and Grady were very embarrassed for me.

When we returned home both dogs were very tired and sore. I had to help Jake get upon the couch. At least that made me feel better to know that my dogs hurt almost as bad as me. The only difference now is that both dogs are ready to go out again this morning but my body says "let's give it a day".

We found plenty of birds. Most coveys had at least twenty birds in them and were this year birds. The hatch seemed to have been good with most birds being from the later hatch. The only take I can get from that is that the earlier spring rains might have had an impact on some of the hatch so they renested and conditions were good for the second time around.

Last week we had some rain and that produced some of the best opening day conditions I can remember but I was surprised that the bird scent was not as strong for the dogs as I thought it would be. They still bumped a few covey and had a tough time finding downed birds. But at least their noses weren't covered wit a crust of dust and sage dust. I've never seen the rye grass (if that's what it is) so tall. In places it was up to my chest and the birds weren't in these areas even though there was plenty of green shoots under. I believe the chukars avoid these areas because they have a hard time taking flight. Huns seem to like it more.

Final tally for the day, No I'm not going to give away my shooting percentage, I saw at least 8 different covey of chukar and would say they averaged twenty per covey, and two covey of huns. I probably saw more but have to consider of few of our finds might have been the same covey as earlier. We spent more time on the hill than I intended and maybe that is why we found so many birds. Why did we spend more time on the hill? Because I shot so crappy and was hoping to right the ship which never happened.

Sorry about the lack of pictures. I ended up putting the camera into it's pouch and it will remain there until I get my act together. Chukar hunting is a team sport and the team can't come home feeling good when the quarter back keeps fumbling the ball.

Looks to be a pretty darn good season so get out there and have some fun with your dogs. Good Luck.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Final preparations for the chukar season

The season is about to begin for me and the boys so we're beginning our final preparations. We've already got the vest and shotgun ready because we've been out on a few grouse hunts. Not that grouse aren't a great bird to pursue, they definitely are, but our hearts are more into chasing the chukar. So Jake, Grady and I spent the afternoon loading our special shells and talking about my past buddies.

My special shells are filled with ashes from past hunting dogs of mine.
I combine their ashes so that my first two shots of the year at chukars will bring me as much good luck as these dogs did when they were running the mountain for me.
So far, since I began this tradition, it's brought me fortune all but once. These few hours of reloading and visiting with the dogs are a fantastic way to show my appreciation for all the wonderful times my past dogs provided me.
Without going into all the detail that I gave Jake and Grady I'd like to introduce my past hunting companions. The only girl of the bunch was Alli and we never got her ashes but her memories are just as fond as the others. Each dog had a special talent and taught me much.
                                                                                                                                                                    First off is Rookie. Although I had a couple family dogs early in life, I hunted with this Brittany who was the first dog I spent much time with training and hunting.
Rookie had more heart than any dog I know. He loved to hunt and loved me. I was definitely an amateur trainer and trained with a stiff hand. I would stop him from going over the hill in front of us in fear he would bust birds. To be honest I was a little quick with the collar. I was one of the guys who was the boss and it had to be my way. In spite of this he hunted with the exuberance of a dog that loved hunting.   There wasn't any bird he couldn't handle but he didn't like retrieving quail but I always forced him to bring them to me. I read that a dog should put the bird into your hand so by God that was what I expected. He could have been as good a dog as I ever had but I didn't give him the chance. I put to many restrictions on him. In fact he was so good I hated to leave the Brittany breed and the only reason I did was that a good friend of mine, Greg Allen, had German shorthairs and never had the problem with cheat in the ears like we had. Rookie was only 35 lbs. but he became a 300 lb. giant when at the vets to get cheat out of his ears and had to be put to sleep every time. He lived for 14 1/2 years before he left us but got a couple of years of good couch time for me to realize how special of a dog he was and try to make up for my rough treatment. To show how big his heart was, I often hunted with my son Doug back then and Rookie would have nothing to do with Doug when he wandered away from me. He actually wanted to be with me, the hard ass. So, along comes Alli.
Alli was the only dog I didn't get as a pup. She was a pound pup with German shorthair blood and something else in her. We picked her up from the pound for Doug to have a dog to hunt behind when we would go hunting. Doug was in high school back then so you know how much time he spent training Alli and hunting her. It wasn't long before she became one of my pack. Somehow she worked her way into everyone's heart and whenever a visitor would come by the first thing they wanted to see was Alli. Her hunting ability wasn't the best but she would point and retrieve because that was what Rookie taught her that a good dog should do. So she went on every hunting trip with Rookie and I and made sure we didn't forget her by laying on top of my gun case in the morning. She really had stole my heart and at five years of age she suddenly lost her appetite and would just lay in the front yard with no energy. Our vet, Katie Wright, Diagnosed her with Addison's disease and warned us that she might not live a full life. The meds were very expensive, but Alli was worth every penny and she lived another four years. At 7 she was shot by another hunter and I had to pack her two miles through the steep and rocky terrain to my truck. She was about 70 lbs. and not an easy pack. Carrying her in front of me Alli seemed to know that she could trust me and stayed perfectly still. Dr. Koob showed me the xray that showed over 100 pellets in her. She stayed at the vets for two days until they were sure none of the pellets had penetrated any organs. To show how special she was to my family, my daughter, Kerri, spent the whole time at the vets with Alli. She passed away at 9 years of age and even in dying  she found that special way to touch my heart. Barb and I noticed she was feeling a little down and decided to take her for a truck ride, one of her favorite things to do. As Barb got ready Alli and I were sitting in the front room when she got up and came over and put her head on the arm of chair. Like usual I gave her a few love pats and she lay down. When Barb came back in Alli was gone. Her heart had given out. There were lot's of tears of love for that girl, not only from the family but from many of our friends that got to know her. Alli passed away two years before Rookie and a year after that we made the decision to get another hunting dog. 
Tucker.
I could truly write a book about Tucker and the things he taught me. It started off negative but turned into a positive experience in short time. When I went to the breeder I was looking for a whiter shorthair to compliment Rookie but the only male he had was solid brown. He was a pistol of a dog and I figured I could live with the brown color. Since then, I've done nothing but search for solid shorthairs. From day one, he took control and showed me how things were going to get done. We have plenty of quail around the property and he was constantly on point. There was no need in making him birdy. A little retrieving training and introducing him to gun shots was all he needed and at just under 4 months of age he made his hunting debut. When he locked up in the field I was ready for a quail but to my surprise a rooster erupted from the grass. You would think the loud noise would have spooked the young Tucker but it didn't. When the bird hit the ground he was on it immediately and had to drag and carry the bird back to me. As we headed back to the house I knew I had a winner. We became very tight and he checked in quite often when we would hunt the chukar mountains. I knew that when he went over a ridge he would stay out of sight for just a short time before checking in and if he didn't check in I had better head for the last point I saw him. Those were the days before the Astro so my only connection with him was the beeper. I had finally learned to keep my hand away from the shock collar and let the dog do what he was supposed to do. He taught me that he was the better predator between the two of us and if I would let him be he would find the birds and keep me rounded up at the same time. Tucker had only one fault. I was his and any other dog that tried to get affectionate with me was quickly taught not to get between us with a quick bite to the snout. Every dog in the neighborhood had a bite mark on the nose. He played with all of them but when it came to me they figured out that I was Tucker's prize possession. Rather than writing a book about Tucker I'll just point out what I felt is best trait was. He didn't like me out of his sight very long just as much as I didn't care for him to be out of sight for long. Quite often when he would go out of sight and point birds, if I didn't show up in short order, he would back off the point come back and make eye contact with me and than reestablish point. It happened so often that it wasn't a coincident. He had kind of a separation anxiety because several people I had hunted with would notice that when he would approach them, thinking they were me, he would get a panic look and head out for me. Tucker lived to be almost 15 years of age with the last couple of years just earning some couch time and run of the neighborhood. At 14 years of age Barb and I took him for a short chukar hunt where he made his last point and retrieve. Barb snapped pictures of us and that day will forever be in my mind.

When Tucker was 3 years old, Greg Allen, the person responsible for my GSP addiction, had a great female named Moki that was looking for a boyfriend.  Since Tucker wasn't fixed yet we thought they might produce some fine hunting companions. I decided that if there was a solid brown male I would like a pup. There was and as strange as it may seem I wanted the runt of the bunch. I figured with Tuckers alpha tendencies it would be better. I made a great decision and along came Dakota.
My worries were soon forgotten when Dakota came into out lives. Within two weeks Tucker had accepted him as part of the pack. Tucker never got into Dakota's face for getting close to me and was the only dog I can remember that didn't have a Tucker mark on the snout. Although he was the smallest of my shorthairs, his heart was as big as any. He covered the ground like a chukar dog should and soon learned all the great traits Tucker taught him. We had a few solo hunts but it wasn't long before I couldn't leave either dog at home and they became a terror on chukars. They became "TEAM TUCKOTA" and my license plates have remained that ever since. The two of them hunted together for seven years before Tucker finally got couch time and Dakota had to go solo. Whenever I took the two of them on a hunt I remember thinking all I have to do is follow them and shoot well off their point and we'll come home with birds. They were that good of a father and son chukar team. Dakota's points were less than stylish but the birds would be there all the same. Many times his belly was almost touching the ground in a crouching position but he never moved a muscle as I walked past him. If the birds were on a steep down hill decline he would almost be in a sitting position but once again not moving a muscle as I flushed the birds. His strong suit was trailing wounded birds. He loved to retrieve and Tucker quite often would back off the find and let Dakota retrieve while he headed out looking for more. He was one of my more vocal dogs and many times you could hear his yipping bouncing off the opposite canyon wall as he chase the cripple down the steep slope. I always knew it was time to take a break because Dakota was relentless and wouldn't come back without the bird. I can only remember one time that I heard him in chase and not show up with the bird. Dakota was an instant honoring dog and I have 100's of pictures of the two of them on point and honoring each other. I don't know how they did it, but although each dog might be hunting different areas they always seemed to be complimenting each other on the same covey of birds. As Tuckers time grew short, Dakota was also slowing quite a bit on the mountain and I knew if I were going to keep hunting it was time for a young pup to enter the game. The only solid liver colored shorthair we could find was in Oklahoma. We made sure his parents were hunting dogs and immediately got him coming to Boise. Riley showed up at just over 8 weeks old.
Once again, just like the others, this character requires a book to describe the short 7 years he was with us. From the beginning the breeder had warned us that the vet said he had a slight over bite. When he first showed up it was hardly noticeable but got more pronounced each week. From the moment he got off the plane no disfiguration would have mattered. He was family. His medical bills were just beginning with the dental work we had done to keep from having other problems later on. A character dog like this I had never seen. He soon ballooned into the tallest gsp I've ever seen and somehow took on a clowns personality. He was always ready to entertain anyone new that came around. His first year he looked like a skeleton before we finally got him on the right feeding program. With his tall structure it was very often that he got caught in strange positions while pointing but he would still be solid as a rock. Probably my favorite memories of chukar hunts was when I hunted Tucker, Dakota and Riley together. It only happened 6 times but each time I got the thrill of seeing all dog's on point with different leads from each. God, that was fun.
Riley's hunting style was a little different than the rest in that he wasn't up and down, here and there, and quick sprints. He used trail and the topography to cover the country with a high head, like he knew his big nose could suck those bird scents in from greater distances. He was right. One of the years when Riley was a solo dog we got out on 80 chukar hunts and averaged the most bird per day than I probably will ever see again. He did it all like a great hunting dog. Looking back I should have realized maybe so many long hunts wasn't right for a dog with his build. He blew both knees, had a surgery to chase a piece of cheat that mad a journey through his body heading for his internal organs and busted his front leg. Throughout all this he never missed a hunting day. He blew his first knee on the last day of chukar season and did the second 14 weeks later and was back up chasing chukars on opening day. He broke his leg on a May day and the vet said it would be a lengthy healing process and he would have to be fairly immobile for quite a while. So Barb and I turned the master bedroom into a master living room where we all slept. We built a special ramp out the back door so that he could easily negotiate the steps for bathroom duties. We spent most of our time in the room with him. A month of this and the vet said it was okay to move around more. Riley busted two of the screws and we had to start over again. At the end of the second month the same thing happened and Riley was in for the third time. So after three months of being bed ridden he finally got some outside time. We spent a lot of time down by the pond. It was his favorite place to be. He loved swimming and picking up rocks from under the water and I'm sure as we lie in the sun he was looking forward to the day he could do those things again. He started having seizures and lot's of pain. Short story is that after watching a few and finding out that blood clots were the culprits we couldn't stand to see him in such pain any longer. I don't mind saying I've shed tears for each of my past friends but this guy produced buckets. The last three and a half months this guy had spent in confinement just to have an ending like that. By the time he past away we had spent over 17,000 dollars in vet bills but I would have spent another 170,000 to let him live the full life he deserved. Maybe it was because he didn't get to live his full life as to why it hurt so much but as I looked back I would have gladly stopped after his first leg operation failed and never hunted with him again just to let him live a full life at the pond.
So that is what Jake, Grady and I talked about during our reloading process and I'm sure next Saturday when the ashes fall to the ground we'll sit down in respect to our fallen partners and discuss a few more of those great memories.

Looks to be a cooler opener than normal so good luck to those hitting the hill.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Education

Most readers are more interested in how the chukar season is going to be, more than what I'm writing about today and for those my views haven't changed since I haven't been in the chukar mountains since my last post due to the heat. For those interested in more than just the numbers, read on.

Two days ago, Jeff Knetter (Idaho Fish and Game migratory and upland bird biologist) and I were invited to speak to an upper level zoology class at Boise State University. Jeff spoke about how the F&G operates as well as showing many interesting biological facts about upland birds. He finally got it soaked into my head as to how upland birds are aged. Although upland birds were the focus, the main bird discussed was chukar so my perspectives as a hunter was much easier to talk about than I thought it would be.

I spoke of how passionate I am about my dogs, the bird and the country chukars live in. My main points were how important my dogs are to the hunt and how they work for me, why chukars are such a great bird for pointing dogs, the roughness of chukar country, and the other magnificent animals we see while chukar hunting. As chukar hunters, you already know this stuff, but imagine how much fun I was having relaying this information to mostly people that have never hunted the bird nor been to the high desert country chukars inhabit.

But by the end of the class, I learned much more than the students. I'm still trying to process what I've learned about chukars and combining that with what little knowledge I have about the bird to not only be a better hunter but see what I might be able to do to preserve this great bird for future generations to enjoy as much as I have.

Jeff Knetter and I have been friends for several years now and have hunted chukars together several times. We usually leave shop talk at home so it was interesting to find out how complicating his job can be and how important his interaction with the public is.

Jennifer Forbey (Professor) and her assistant, Brecken Robb, were fantastic people with great personalities and super knowledgeable about the internal organs of upland birds and what they do. I was impressed by what they and their students showed me. By the time I left their class I was confident that with their studies we might one day be able to identify more the reasons we have such up and downs in numbers of birds each year and how we might change that for the better.

Many times I have examined the crops of chukars to see what they were eating. My evaluations usually were to see if they were eating grasshoppers, green grass or seeds and that was the end of it. This class goes much deeper as these pictures Jeff took show. I provided some birds from last October for the class to dissect and here's what they found.

This bird seemed to have a lot of mud in his crop but after washing the mud away we were surprised to find a bunch of snails and a wild onion.
I keep track of where I have shot the birds and other conditions so they can compare to another bird shot in the same place at different times and see what changes. These snails were a surprise for all and we were wondering if the muscles in the gizzard were strong enough to crush the snails against the gravel to get to the actual useful food. Examining the gizzard contents showed they were.
You can see the broken shells and gravel in the contents and from there the good stuff moves on down the system to be utilized for energy etc. for the bird. Here is a picture of what the students find when they open up the bird.
But their work doesn't stop there. They take measurements, examine other contents, and record what the contents exist of along with many other things. By many of these findings they can tell the health of the bird and many other things. Who would ever guess that the length of this birds intestines could tell the health of the bird,
They take measurements of the beak and other parts and record them along with the other records. Wow! Things aren't quite so simple after talking with this class. After talking with them there may be an idea out there that the spring conditions aren't as important as I thought and that this years conditions might be caused from last years fall conditions. It's only a possible theory but would be very interesting to finally find what makes for good and bad years. I'm going to stick with the good spring for now but keep my mind open.

This last picture looks like maybe I'm teaching the class but in fact I'm just standing there while the students are teaching me how things work.
In the end I came out with a great respect for their work as well as the F&G's work with upland birds. Together along with the sportsmen we may be able to keep this bird one of the top sought birds in Idaho and available for decades to come. They have already got me scheduled to take a few birds at different times of the season with records and pictures so that their studies can continue. Gosh it's a tough job to do my part.

Good Luck this season.