Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Alectoris chukar

Having a few days to piece myself back together after all of the falls in the last week, I've decided to take some time and pass on some observations I've made in the past twenty or so years regarding chukars. Today is the 29th of December and the last of a snow storm is passing and my grandson and I are going to get back after them tomorrow.
I am not a game biologist so don't hold me to any of the things I am about to tell you. These are just my personal observations and views on hunting chukars.
Chukars and huns pair up early in the spring. They are not like pheasants or Turkeys where the male has several females to take care of. The only fighting you'll see with the alectoris chukar is defending his territory and partner. In my observations, it seems to me that huns pair up a little earlier than the chukars. I've seen huns paired up early in February at times. Chukars stay in coveys a little longer and are usually paired up by mid march. They are not nesting yet, just paired. So this is a good time to be out training your dog. The birds are more scattered now and seem to hold like early in the season.
The nesting period seems to be similar to pairing as far as timing between the huns and chukars. The huns tend to nest two to three weeks earlier than chukars. The huns are normally nesting early April  to early May while the chukars are late April to mid May. Both prefer dry open slopes, although the hun tends to pick flatter spots for their nests.
Chukar and hun hens both lay one egg a day or an egg every other day . Clutch sizes vary from 10 to 20 eggs. Incubation period starts after the last egg is layed and lasts for 24 days. At this time it is very important to stay away from the nesting areas as it is vital the mother stay on the nest. She seldom leaves the nest except for a short feeding or watering period. It is very important she maintains the temperature of the eggs for maximum incubation. Once the hatching starts, the peeps and movements of chicks in the eggs travels along the nest and the covey is hatched within usually just a few hours.

Shortly after hatching, the coveys are formed. If a nest is lost and eggs don't hatch ,renesting will often occur. There usually won't be as many eggs. If one or more birds hatch, the mother will not renest. Only if she loses the whole clutch. If you think about it, it would be impossible for her to raise a covey and also set on eggs at the same time.

I have seen chicks hatch as late as mid August and have seen birds during the hunting season that were probably even hatched later than that. My personal feeling is that the majority of birds are hatched mid June. Huns are a little earlier. Spring conditions usually dictate the hatch.
Chukars will fly individually at two weeks but usually don't fly as a covey until approximately four weeks and that is done with the parents.
The habitat that Alectoris chukar prefers is dry mountain slopes. Huns prefer the less steep terrain, but will also be often found on the steepest slopes. Although most hunters prefer to hunt the rocky benches that chukars use for shade and cover, I prefer to hunt the steep open slopes that have lots of ridges and draws for the birds to fly around to. I like to parallel the side hill, pushing the birds ahead of me. The chukar usually flies downhill but makes a sweeping turn once over a ridge and actually will be back at the same level you first jumped them. They fly down and run back up. Anyone that has spent much time chukar hunting will attest to how fast they can move up the steep ridges.
Although the huns tend to like the dense brushy cover, I've found that chukars prefer open hillsides unless they are hiding from predators flying above. Chukars have a harder time getting off the ground without running than a hun does. Maybe due to the fact that they are a little bigger body wise with the same size wings.
Early in the season hunters tend to hunt near watering holes or rivers. I've never found this necessary. Chukars will go as far as two miles to water and then feed there way back to wherever they want to go. But they will continue to use these watering sources until they are harassed away. It doesn't matter whether they are hunted on September 15th or October 15th, they will keep using these places until they feel it is not safe. The only thing moving an opening date from September to October will affect is the size and age of the birds.
I try and hunt as many different area as possible. I have over 50 good places to hunt chukar in Idaho and Oregon. Some areas are down one year and great the next. I try to never over harvest an area knowing that I'll be back again next year. Although chukar hunters don't have much effect on populations it is possible to over hunt an area especially the easy to get to ones.
Predation doesn't have much effect on chukar and hun populations either.  I have, however, seen Coopers hawks that are quite deadly on chukars. One chukar can fill a Coopers hawk belly for several days.
Idaho has a limit of 8 chukars and 8 huns in one day while Oregon has a limit of 8 which includes both chukar and huns. That makes a day in Idaho a little more desirable.

When the snow starts flying I usually find the chukars up higher on the ridges. They prefer the wind blown south slopes although they can be found running on top of two feet of powdery snow when they have to. Huns and Quail are more likely to gravitate to the low lands and can be found while driving the roads. Although Chukars can be found low, they tend to use there legs more and will head up hill to avoid contact with humans.
The average lifespan for a chukar is two years.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Family outing

My 33 year old son, Doug  and I took in a chukar hunt yesterday. It was a super treat for me for two reasons. First, Doug doesn't take much time for hunting since he is in the middle of raising a fine family and second, Riley never gets to hunt for anybody else so I was interested on how he'd do. I must have been a very good boy this year because Santa Claus was very good to me and gave us a fantastic hunt.
Not long into the hunt, Riley treated us to several nice points on birds that were very obliging.
As usual in chukar hunting the terrain starts separating hunters. I look up the hill and Doug is several hundred yards away trying to out run some fleeting birds. After getting his attention he slowed and waited for me and Riley to catch up. He commented how those little chickens don't play fair and the last time he saw them they were running over the ridge up ahead. Bending over trying to catch his breath, he was more then happy to let Riley do the chasing after I explained how it is supposed to work. We'll let him do the work and hopefully the chukars will hold for him. The worst that could happen is the birds flush and we haven't killed ourselves trying to catch up to them. It wasn't long and Riley was above us on point. I hung back and told Doug to try and work in on the left side of Riley for the shot. He did so and got his first chukar of the day with two shots.

From that point on we alternated turns coming in on Riley's points. Although Doug was a little rusty with the shotgun he soon started putting the hurt down on the birds. I was thrilled the way that Riley would hold as Doug approached for the shot. He has never hunted for two people.

It became point after point and before the day was over we had no fewer then 25 solid points to flush birds over. If a person doesn't have a great time on a day like this than he should find another past time.
Tired legs we made it home to a fine meal of chukar cooked by Barbara but not before getting a success photo.

What a great early Christmas present.
Happy Holidays to all of you chukar hunters out there. May your points be solid and plentiful.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Learning from birds

This week was one of those Idaho weeks that was for the birds. Most areas around here had a foot of snow covering the chukar hills. I tried chasing them the first of the week but gave into the snow after the first day and waited until the end of the week and the southern slopes were melted out some. Although I saw plenty of birds early in the week they were very hard to get to even when the dogs had them pointed. Yes, there were a lot of birds lower in the draws, but they had no problem running straight up the hill on top of the snow.
Not only was the snow hard for me to traverse, the dogs also cover only about half the country.
I made it out the last three days because the snow on the south slopes was minimal and the soft ground underneath made footing obtainable. Even at that, I noticed that Riley only covered twice the country as me when he usually covers three times the ground. Maybe that was because of the snow and maybe because there were so many birds he didn't have to cover big ground to find them.
I should point out that it seemed like there were a lot of birds. Because of the snow I saw tracks and birds everywhere. It seems like birds are everywhere when there is white stuff on the ground mainly because of the visibility of tracks and birds.
It seems like every year about this time I get another education by the birds. Because they seem to be a little more vocal and you can see them better I sometimes try to be smarter than the dog. The last few days caught me moving away from Riley because I could see the chukar tracks heading for a certain area. About the time I would reach the end of the tracks with no birds in them, a covey would flush in front of Riley who was thirty yards behind me and now in the lane of  any possible shot. You have to wonder what your pup is thinking when you do this. Had there been no tracks, I would have approached my dog from the left and moved out in front instead of walking away from him.
Not only are the birds more visible to humans they are more visible to the dogs. Many times this time of the year I hear people talking of their dogs having bad habits of breaking point. I have done the same thing. I've watched my dogs bust right through covey of birds after pointing them for three or four minutes. I couldn't see any reason why they would do that. But the snow can sometimes point out what might have happened. Unless you have a totally broke dog, which I don't, quite often the dog might be seeing a bird running to take off and run through the bunch that his hunkered down.
I had several false points the last few days. I was surprised to find that Riley will point the sound of chukars. I walked 50 yards in front of him before he would finally break and head for an area where I was hearing birds. I don't know if this is good or bad, but it's Riley and that's okay with me.
Another hunting tactic Riley has developed is pointing running birds up hill from us. I'm talking 100 yards or more that are real visible. It's a very high head point but it still gets the idea across to me. After I get ahead of him and the birds are still sprinting straight up the slope, he will break and head up after them. If they don't stop, neither does he. I let him go, knowing I'll never get to them anyhow and the worst that can happen is they fly to the next ridge.
Probably the best lesson I learn this time of the year is the same thing people tell us time after time. Trust your dog. It's easier to see where the birds are going in the snow so we try to lead the dog rather then to let him take the lead. They do a great job when there is no snow so let them continue doing the same in the snow. Also, don't start correcting your dog for bad habits until you know why he might be doing so. The white stuff makes everything more visible to both the dogs and the birds creating a lot different situation at times. Remember how hard it is for you to not take a shot at a bird taking off even when you know there will be another possible better shot. It's the same for your dog.
Good luck staying on your feet in the next seven weeks and following your canine partner around the hill.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Keep trudging on

Yesterday I went on a hunt in Oregon. We had a good snow fall on Saturday and Sunday the sun was shining enough to partially melt the southern slopes. Even though the snow generally congregates big game animals and upland birds, I prefer less snow on the ground than most people. The way me and my dogs hunt requires covering more country and that's hard to do when there is much snow cover on the ground. There are too many obstacles under the snow. Obstacles that create bruises to the body and nice gouges in the gun. In fact I put a new ding in my gun yesterday.
As we started our hunt, the sun was shining and the temperature was 20 degrees. A brisk wind was blowing, which made it perfect for Riley' nose. There was about four inches of snow on the ground, but I knew as we got further up the hill the southern exposures would be burned off some. A mile from the truck I swept a hillside that had some burn off and I have found birds many times in the past years. There was not a bird track anywhere and the only point I got from Riley was this.
After he got a little lighter he covered big country without even indicating the smell of a bird. We hunted for 2 1/2 hours without seeing, smelling, or even seeing tracks of birds. This was the first time hunting here this year and I was beginning to believe maybe the birds had a poor hatch here. Finally after approximately 1500 feet in elevation and four miles of walking Riley locked up. Although the point wasn't anything special I decided to take a picture and then put the camera away.
I was glad I did. The point produced some birds. The shot produced flying birds everywhere. I couldn't believe how many coveys were in the draw I was now in. There was at least five different coveys and well over 100 birds in this draw. Most of them flew around the next ridge which was into the wind for Riley and me. We were heading that way when Riley locked up again on a pair that had set tight. We dropped one of the two and all of the sudden we had three birds in the vest. As we trudged around the north slope covered with about six inches of snow, birds were still taking off from behind us. We probably could have stayed on that burned off ridge and accomplished a limit of shooting but Riley was off to where he saw the birds go.
Riley moved across the snow covered mountain much quicker than me and was soon over the top out of sight. It took me another five minutes until I was at the last point of seeing Riley and I knew since he hadn't checked back my next sighting of him would be on point. I wasn't disappointed. As I stumbled over the top of a 12 inch snow drift I found him fifty yards ahead on point. As I moved into the front Riley relocated up the hill further. He did this several times and then froze to a solid straight backed point that told me this is where they are. I moved out in front again to a flushing covey of chukars twenty yards up hill. The kind of shot you need to take your time at taking or have a bird that turns to mush at the shot. Five down and three to go.
Once again many of the birds obliged us and flew around the next ridge into the wind. Several birds were taunting us from the previous ridge and higher up on the ridge we were now on but we decided to go one more ridge. I had never been quite this far in before so I was curious as to what the next draw would bring. I was not disappointed. Riley was there long before me and had the birds pinned down. By the time we finished on this slope we had fired 12 shots and had eight birds in the bag. From the time we had the first point until the last shot was fired maybe forty five minutes had expired. We now had an hour walk back to the truck toting an empty shotgun.
We walked for three and a half hours for forty five minutes of shooting and great dog work. I put in 6.5 miles and Riley 18 miles and we shot all our birds in a one mile area. There were probably more birds if we would have gone further but that will be for another day. Even the benefits of walking the last mile back to the truck was rewarding. I saw a cougar off in the distance. I believe we might have jumped him and because of the snow on the flats saw him about 300 yards away disappearing into the sage.
After 2 and 1/2 hours of walking and not seeing any sign of a chukar I was getting a disappointed but I knew that I had always found birds in this area in the past. With the help of Riley I finally found them. They just all seemed to know where the good eating was, and it wasn't down low.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Finding chukars

While I was hunting with JPC this weekend he asked if there was a certain type of area I look for when hunting chukars. Knowing he has a hard running shorthair similar to mine, I showed him what I look for. But I do think that the style of hunting might dictate what kind of country you look for and how you hunt the country.
Personally, I don't care to hunt the rim rock edges and steep rock cliffs. I know that the chukars like to use them for cover and a place for quick escapes and for that reason you will usually find them hiding in the rocks than not. A person can get some pretty good shooting on these edges but I believe you usually need a closer working dog. The retrieving can be awfully treacherous in these areas also.  If you hunt with others, these places can be hunted successfully by having a person hunt the top and another walking the bottom. I prefer to hunt solo with my dogs so I stay away from these areas.
This picture is some of the best chukar habitat I hunt. It has a little of everything for the birds. The side I took the picture from is a lot steeper than it looks. The other side has a lot of those rocky area I'm talking about. As you get closer to the bottom of this canyon the birds will fly across and take refuge in the cliffs. Once there they love to call you across to them. I often oblige and come across but I hunt those bowls and ridges into the wind the best I can. Even though I know there are lots of birds in those rocks, I prefer to hunt the birds in an area where I can make reasonable shots than those I know I'm not good at making in the rocky slopes.
This is the type of chukar habitat I like to hunt. Once again the picture doesn't show the steepness of the hill. I'm pretty close to the top of the ridge which keeps going up as far as you would care to go. There are lots of saddles like the one on the other side of Riley all the way up the ridge. You can see forever so I can let my dogs do what they do best, find birds. These saddles usually channel the wind so it's not unusual to have a 200 yard point away from the birds. With several relocation's, the birds are held to within reasonable gun range. The other thing I like about an area like this is that the birds will usually flush and sweep around the hill for a possible second or third chance at the covey. When hunting them in the rocky areas you usually get one chance and then they are gone.
Another hunting tactic that works for me getting more shots at birds is to stay higher on the hill. Not that there are any more birds there but you get more shooting opportunities at those birds. The lower down the hill you are the more likely the birds are going to fly across the canyon, ending your hunt on that covey unless you are willing to go down and back up the other side.
I also spend a lot of time looking for bird scat as I'm walking. If there is bird sign there are birds somewhere. It's impossible for the dog to cover everywhere with the wind right. I'll make long sweeps over a mountain the same as you would cover a field for pheasants. The only difference is the sweeps may be a mile instead of a couple hundred yards.
Probably the biggest thing I see most chukar hunters do to make them unsuccessful is giving up too soon. After hunting for two hours and not seeing many birds they head for the rig and drive to another location. You are already there. It's just as easy to cover more country right where you are now as it is to drive to another location and walk a new cover another area. They really can be just right over the next ridge.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Trust your dog

Trusting your dog. It's something we all know but have to be reminded of from time to time. There has been a lot of talk about what it takes to successfully take chukars. The number one consensus is a great dog. Of course, a great dog can be interpreted differently by every bird hunter. From many years of experience, my dogs have taught me that trust is probably more important in a chukar dog than most other bird dogs. The reason is simple. The terrain you hunt when chukar hunting requires that your dog be out of sight much of the time. It doesn't have to be that way, but if you want to see more birds that's what it takes.
Tucker taught me that. Before he came along, I would stop my dogs before they went over the ridge ahead or get frustrated when I saw a covey bust ahead of me because the dog had bumped them. So my dogs wouldn't have the freedom to really find birds.
I see my boys busting birds still. But I know that they are not doing it intentionally. The wind or other conditions might be wrong and the birds get flushed. It would be different if they were out there chasing them up through excitement, but that would be my fault for not setting the proper foundation in my training methods. Many times I have had a covey of chukar buzz me from 200 yards up the ridge. I trust my dogs enough now to know that it wasn't intentional, it just happens, the same as sometimes I miss. I sure wasn't expecting to.
This weekend was a perfect example of trust with a dog. It would take me forever to go through Saturdays hunt. I quit counting covey points by Riley at 15. There was an hour or so that we had a different point every ten minutes. Riley would be on point, I would approach the point, flush the birds, and than either get a bird or miss. If I happen to get lucky, Riley would make the retrieve. If I missed he was off to cover the next area. All I had to do was walk to the next ridge or saddle to find him on point 200 yards away. There wasn't a word spoken or a reminder on the e collar all day. He just did what he was bred to do and I tried to do my best to do my job.
The big thing is, we've been out enough together to learn to do our jobs. Riley has learned through trial and error how to do his part. I have heard it said that man is the ultimate predator. HOGWASH. If we didn't have the guns and other tools we have developed over time we probably would be extinct. When it comes to hunting birds the dog is a far better predator, so trust him to find the birds, don't try and guide him to where you hear or saw the birds go.
Yesterday, Riley and I had another fantastic day on the hill. We left the truck at 9 and walked the only trail we could find that would get us higher on the mountain. I walked the trail. Riley was all over the mountain. It wasn't long and through the drizzle I see Riley on point a couple hundred yards straight above me. The ridge was steep enough that I couldn't walk straight up to him. As I sidehilled back and fourth, I often lost sight of him. Five minutes later I was within 50 yards and Riley slowly turned his head to make sure I was coming and then slowly turned back towards the birds. When I approach Riley I like to try and come in on the left side of him if possible. Ten yards above Riley and he hasn't moved yet. After hundreds of points with Riley I know that means the birds are right there. As I slowly inched my way up the steep mountain, keeping my feet planted as much as possible the birds erupt. The covey flush was perfect. They flair straight up, creating some easy shooting. The first shot droppped two birds and the second another. Riley quickly retrieved the two birds that dropped stone dead and than I gave him the dead bird command and point down the slope towards where the crippled bird went. Riley soon found the scent and I watched the chase 150 yards down the hill. He finally caught up to the bird. I sidehilled around the hill so to make it easier for the retrieve. Two shots, three birds. Looks to be a great day.
The drizzle soon turns to fog. I couldn't see more than fifty yards part of the time. There was just enough breeze to keep the fog moving so we would alternate from having two hundred yards visibility to fifty. Every three minutes or so Riley would come back into sight of me and then back into the fog looking for birds. Pretty soon he didn't return. I hit the beeper and could faintly hear it at about the same elevation I was. I kept sidehilling around the mountain and soon saw Riley on point. The tail was not as rigid as usual and had a little movement. I knew that meant he didn't have the birds locked down. As I moved to his left he relocated about twenty yards and stopped again. Tail still not rigid. One more relocation and bamm, he locked in. His head was up higher than usual and I soon saw why. As I walked past him I could hear the soft sound chukars often make just before taking flight and then could see the birds as could Riley. Two more steps and the flush. Two shots and two birds retrieved to me. Four shots and five birds, Can't get much better than this.
After the retrieve Riley is off in the fog again. I soon find Riley in a cocked hard point. You could have knocked him over he was in such a twisted position. As I approached, a covey of huns exploded from below him. I got two shots off before they disappeared into the cloud but thought I had missed. Seconds later I heard that flapping wing sound of a heart shot bird when they fly straight up into the air and than drop dead. Riley stopped and you could tell that he knew what that sound was and off into the fog he sprinted. I could hear him running and panting in the fog looking for the bird but he came up empty. We searched for another fifteen minutes but never found a bird.
The fog finally lifted for good and Riley was ranging out to three hundred yards or so. I never knew until he would check back whether he was above or below me. Once, I heard the screech of chukars flying down towards me. I watched them do a fly by and sure enough here comes Riley from that direction. Years ago I would have been frustrated by that but now I know it just happens. It wasn't that he meant to flush them. Minutes later he was on point again. As I walked ahead of Riley a single chukar flushed , which I managed to cripple with two shots. It fluttered to parts unknown to me down the ridge with Riley in hot pursuit. Several minutes later I see Riley coming back up the hill hauling a bird in his mouth. The drive and instincts of hunting dogs is unbelievable.
Most of Rileys points were initiated well out of sight from me. But spending so much time together hunting has taught me to trust that he is doing what he is supposed to do and all I have to do is get to him. Easier said than done, but he trust me to know that I will be there. Several points and shots later we bagged our eighth bird.
The day for me was as good as it gets. Riley couldn't have made me more proud. It almost seems like all I have to do is take Riley on the mountain and trust him to find the birds and the rest is up to me.
On the other side of the canyon I heard another hunter shooting several times. I never saw him or his dog. I did hear his beeper quite often and a little yelling. I don't know this but I had the feeling he was trying to get his dog to work closer. That might work well for that hunter but I believe if you want to find more chukars you have to let the dog go. But that's just my way. Riley and I were on the mountain for four hours, I covered 5.2 miles, Riley 14.6 miles, and I gained 1620 feet of elevation. In all that the only words spoken were telling Riley dead bird. Once said he hunts for a dead bird until we leave the area.
Just as Tucker and Dakota before him, we have learned to trust each other and work as a team. A good team member knows there will be mistakes along the way and just gets on with the game plan.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Boot Leather and satisfaction

Kirklan, defines the ability to find chukars as "boot leather". In other words the more ground you cover, the more birds you find.
Greg Allen, defines the ability to find chukars  as "getting satisfaction". Satisfaction to Greg is getting to the top of the mountain, no matter how tall it is.
Boot leather and satisfaction are why I believe some people are more successful in finding chukars than others. It doesn't mean that they are better hunters or have better dogs, it just means the drive is there.
I'd like to add one more factor to the equation. My dogs deserve birds. They work hard for me, so I should be willing to walk the extra ridge for birds.
I know that different strokes for different folks applies to everything, including chukar hunting, and I respect that.  But  I had a talk with an ODFW official this weekend and he made the response that he had heard some grumbling about low bird numbers are again. He said opening weekend seemed pretty good but the birds have been hard to find since. When I told him of my experiences over the last four days he was very pleased. Without exaggeration, I saw at least 150 birds every day and I hunted four different locations.
He also explained that most of the hunters he had conversations with were back to their rigs by noon and ready to call it a day. Once again, I understand that. Different strokes for different folks. But that doesn't mean the numbers are down. Remember, "boot leather and satisfaction".
I can't count how many times I walked for two hours without seeing a bird, only to find 5 coveys in the next half hour. These four days are a perfect example. I put in 18 hours of hunting. That's actual hunting time. No driving or enjoying the scenery. In those 18 hours I covered 29 miles, Riley covered 72, and we gained 6710 feet in elevation. My rewards were multitudes of points and retrieves and a happy dog. I was smiling pretty big myself.
This isn't for everyone, but it's what I believe is necessary to consistently find good number of birds. Chukars aren't always easy.
With that I'll get off my pedestal and show a few of the pictures from the weekend.

The first picture, although not a great photo, is what you get when you get away from the beaten path. Chukars in between you and the dog makes for good shooting opportunities.
The fourth picture is the country I hunted the second day. Yes there were some birds on the ridge I went down, but there were four times as many on the other side of the canyon and up in those bowls as Riley proved on the last photo.
Good luck in your hunts.

Friday, October 29, 2010

5 days of heaven

The boys and I took five days and headed over to Oregon for the first time this year. What a wonderful trip. The weather was more than cooperative and the birds were obliging as well.
The first day found Riley and Dakota together on the mountain finding the birds. There was a slight drizzle, but not enough to make us uncomfortable. The camera stayed in the truck but I had plenty of opportunities for good camera shots. We had a great day and managed to get off the hill just before the skies let loose with the rain.

On the second day I went to a different location. The weather was perfect. I left Dakota in the camper and hunted Riley. He had an outstanding day. We found plenty of chukars and I had ample opportunities for camera work as well as gun work. Riley at age three has turned into a fantastic chukar dog.
When I returned to camp I was pleased to find Kirklan of waiting. Kirklan is quite a bird hunting guru so I was excited to pick his brain. We discussed dogs, birds, falconry and every other topic involved with the outdoors and retired for the third day of chasing chukars for me.

On day three I had both Dakota and Riley with me and Kirklan split in his own direction with Darko and Rader. That was the last I saw of him until he met me back at camp hours later. That guy covers some miles and elevation when he hunts chukars. Rader is a ground covering fool. Back at camp we discussed the days activities and laughed about his shooting. It seemed like the first 6 birds went down as designed after the shot. The seventh wasn't long afterwards. But the final bird of his limit was taking a toll on his allotment of 20 guage shells. I could laugh with him because I knew the feeling well.
Day four Kirklan and I went to a fourth area and had the same fortune with the birds. Kirklan admitted to shooting much better that day. It saves a lot of miles on the feet and dogs when you shoot well. I made the mistake of taking Dakota two days in a row and he suffered for it. 11 year old dogs need a break when it comes to chukar hunting. It was my only slow day on the hill. My old boy just wasn't covering the country like normal.

The fifth and final day for me was the fifth different place to hunt. The results were the same. Lots of birds making for lots of excitement. Kirklan and I said our goodbyes before we headed off in different directions. If I got back first I was hooking up the camper and headed home and if he got back first he was picking up and headed for central Oregon for some more chukar hunting and possibly mountain quail. The last time I saw him he was a speck on the hill even with the binoculars. That guy covers the mountain. I had Riley with me that day and he had an almost perfect day. My shooting wasn't perfect though. But it made for more enjoyable points. We still had a mile or so back to the truck after we filled our game vest which presented some photo opportunities.
The trip was as good as they get and the company of Kirklan topped it off. I hope his final three days are as good as the first three. Now I'm going to take three days to get some of my honey do's taken care of, watch the grand kids in sports and celebrate Barb and my 36th anniversary before getting back to the birds on the mountains. I hope everyone else out there is enjoying the outdoor activities as much as I am.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Don't cheat on your dog

I was out hunting the chukars again today and came upon a situation I thought I could address and help some of the young dog owners and hunters that are coming up.
After a couple of hours of hunting I acquired a new dog. It was a GSP and a good looking one at that. When I got him to come to me he had a dog collar on but no name or number. Just the collar. It wasn't long before I heard three shots and started working that way. Sure enough the shots came from the owner of the pooch. He was a young guy and said that Savage usually didn't stay away that long. He was calling for him and informed me he had just lost a bird back on the rim rock 100 yards or so away. We took the dogs and went back and found the bird.
I mentioned to him that he might think about putting a phone number on the collar in case the dog ever got lost and he thanked me for the advice as we parted. I watched Savage and the young man hunt as they headed back towards the river. His dog was working the hillside very well. At one point I think the dog was on point but I saw a covey of birds get up wild 100 yards or so above the dog. The man was oblivious to his dog because he could hear birds chuking on the rim rock edges and that's where he was headed. Sure enough at the sound of the shots his dog sprinted down the hill from a couple of hundred yards away to what I hope was a retrieve. The was the last I saw of the two.
I'm sure most of us have been in this situation before. My advice to this guy, had he asked, would have been to explain that hunting with a dog is a team thing. Wait for your dog to get back to you and then hunt the rocks together. Don't watch your dog go one way and then hunt in another direction. Your dog may be on point and waiting for you to come and do what you are supposed to do. If you go to him and there are no birds pointed,  the birds at the rim will still be there.
In short what I'm trying to say is that let your dog know what your plans are. It's not hard to do. If you are going in one direction don't all of the sudden go another way without your dog knowing  where you are headed. Wait until he comes back to you and then change directions. That way he'll be hunting with you instead of that other guy a half mile away.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

October hunt

Barb and I went on one of our October hunts the last five days and I was more than happy at the amount of wildlife we observed. Of course it was mostly of the upland kind, but there were deer, elk, bears, turkeys and other small game. The weather was semi cooperative as long as you got out early in the mornings. There was a good breeze every day but one, which was our less fruitful day for finding birds. It was very still that day, not carrying the scent across the tops of the cheat.
Day one had Barb walking with me and the dogs. After about an hour I decided that Dakota would head back to the truck with Barb while I finished the hunt. Having 11 hunting seasons behind him, Dakota has developed a few of his own tricks to compensate for his age. His health and nose are still great and he hunts as good as ever but he is a little slower. Especially compared to his 3 year old tall hunting partner. Dakota is still honoring great until I get in close, than he is trying to circle around the birds to trap them between him and Riley. It's fun to watch but usually ends up with busted birds. I could correct him but would rather just let Dakota do his thing for the next few years before he will retire.
It's harder on me than the dogs. I love having both boys out with me and have a hard time leaving one at home but I've decided to take them both once a week and than alternate them on the other days as long as Dakota doesn't get to stoved up.
The bird numbers are definitely up. I saw over 200 huns and chukars the first three days and at least 100 the last two. I hunted four different areas and returned back to one so that I could show a new friend and his pup an area where I had had some good fortune. Jon and his wife, Debbie hit the mountain with their 6 month old pup called Neka. I have to say that was probably my best day. We didn't actually see as many birds as I expected, but I got to watch Neka work. I have forgotten the enthusiasm of a young bird dog. What a great hunting partner she is going to make. She even found one of my birds that I had crippled. I didn't pack my camera on my hunts this week or I'd have some pretty impressive shots of a six month old pup locking in tight.
The fourth day I took both dogs and it was our slowest day. The weather was very dry, warm and still. The boys had a tough time finding birds although we knew they were there someplace. As I said, even at that we saw at least 100 birds.

This can be a great year for those of us who decide to put some miles on the boots and let our canine partners use their instincts and abilities to find birds. The birds are out there. Here are a couple pictures of Dakota and Riley's best days this week.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It's hot

Man it's hot out there. The way the month started I thought we were going to be off to a great start. Rain and cool at the first of the month had me out hunting for grouse for the first time in my life. It was fun, but the problem was it got me and the boys fired up for chukar season. We usually don't hunt but a couple of times in September due to the hot weather but got a little over excited this year. Now we're paying the price.
We tried a short hunt this morning. It ended up 6 and 1/2 miles for me and 14 miles for Riley. Dakota was somewhere in between. There was no breeze and the temp was 55 when we started and 75 when we got back to the truck. Not a cloud in the sky. We drank every ounce of water we carried and the boys found a couple of water seeps to roll around in and drink out of hoof prints. The birds were probably around but we didn't find very many. Back at the truck the dogs noses were caked with a greenish brown substance. Dust and pollen which had been sucked into their nostrils for four hours. Now they both lay besides me thankful for the shade of the house. The 28th of September and I'm contemplating turning on the air conditioner.
The good news for all the chukar hunters is that there are plenty of chukars out there. They just have to grow up a little and conditions for hunting have to improve a lot. Even short morning hunts are rough on the dogs. Especially the older ones as my 11 year old will attest to.
The next weeks weather is calling for upper 80s to 90 so I've decided to give it up until the weather cools a little and hopefully a little moisture will knock the dust down. But when it does I see a great year of chukar hunting ahead.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

special opener

The chukar opener in Idaho was today. It has been a day I that have been anticipating for several months.   We were there to chase the birds that heve beckoned us for the last seven months, but we had another agenda for the day. Dakota nd Riley didn't realize that we had alternate reasons for being on the mountain but they soon sensed that something was different.
The weatherman  was predicting a warm day so we got an early start. It was barely shooting light as we started hoofing up the mountain. In fact about ten minutes in to the hunt the dogs pointed a covey of quail and as they flushed there was not enough light to tell the different between the mature and immature birds. The dogs seemed to understand me not firing at the covey. I rarely shoot quail when we're on a chukar hunt.
We headed further up the ridge in anticipation when Dakota locked up. Riley crossed the ridge above him and after a quick glance locked up on honor. A sight I never get tired of. I moved in front of Dakota and flushed a covey of chukar. As they flushed in a magnitude of directions I was amazed by how young most of the birds were. I swung on a bird but didn't fire. After the last bird flew out of sight Dakota gave a couple of quick barks of discust. I'm sure his thoughts were "man it don't get much better than that, why didn't you shoot?" Even if there were more mature birds in the group I wasn't ready to shoot.
A half hour later I got another point and honor. There wasn''t quite as many birds in this covey but we went through the same moves as the covey before. This time Dakota ran twenty or thirty yards in the direction of the birds I had failed to shoot at and barked with discust.  I believe at that point he thought I had lost my eye sight.
About an hour into the hunt the boys locked in again. I'm not sure if they trusted my sanity, but they held point all the same. I knew that this was the point I came for. I walked in front of the boys for the flush and once again a rather large covey erupted. Both young and mature birds. As I threw the shotgun to my shoulder I picked a more mature bird to shoot. At the report of the gun I saw the bird crumple but then my eyes went to half way between the bird and myself. There was a white dust settling towards the earth. I stood there and watched as the dust slowly dissappeared into the cheat grass.
Suddenly I was brought back to earth by Dakota. He had retrieved the bird and was bringing it back to me.
We found a rock and went over and sat on it. That was another thing we rarely do when we chukar hunt. Although it was different Dakota and Riley obliged and sat by me and accepted a drink of water. We examined the bird and I visited with the boys. I explained to them that this was the hill where Tucker pointed and retieved his first bird. It's the same hill that Tucker, Dakota's dad, had taken me for every opener for the last fourteen years. I didn't really care which dog retrieved the bird but I was glad it was Tucker's son Dakota. I told them we would have to sit there for a few more minutes to get the water out of my eyes. Some of that white dust, the ashes of Tucker that I had reloaded into a shotgun shell, must have gotten in my eyes.
We got several more birds today, but not a one that was as special as that one. The boys and I got to say hello to Tucker one more time. The sun was consuming the shadows very rapidly now and the weatherman's predictions were coming true so it was time to come off the hill. What a great start to another bird season.