Friday, November 21, 2014

The trophy

Every hunter has that special trophy he is search for. Whether big game or small game, there usually is that certain size. The score of the antlers, the weight of the animal, the length of the tail and so on. Yesterday Jake provided one of those trophies for me. It was a trophy that had no measurements but could only be scored by a judge. That judge was me.

The day started as all days have this week. Cold with frozen northern slopes to encounter. I had decided to hunt this country because of the steep southern slopes that would be burnt off. Of course, like most intelligent chukar hunters, I hadn't rationalized that for every steep burnt off slope there would be at least one frozen steep hill to encounter. By the end of the day my body told me that it was more of a 3 to 1 ration on the frozen side. Jake covered the hills like there was no difference. He logged five times the miles that I did and probably five times the elevation.

As we started up the snow covered draw, I was hoping for maybe a covey or two being down low in the thistles. By the amount of sign, I could see they had been there and it wasn't long before I saw a nice covey flush from about two hundred yards up the hill. Shortly after, I saw Jake standing where they had flown from. Evidently he followed the running birds up the hill and must have given chase. Most hunters probably would have been scolding their mutts but I just whistled at him to get back down here. I never could have gotten to those birds anyhow was my excuse for Jake's chasing. In truth, that probably happens more than I know on running birds. How would I ever know? Sometimes he's out there three hundred yards away.

We kept trucking up the draw until we hit our first burnt slope. It was about 1300 feet higher than where we had started. Jake was immediately on birds and it wasn't long before we had the first point which produced a rather nice covey. As I've gotten older, my reflexes have slowed considerably and I could only get one shot off from my double gun. It hit it's mark but Jake was watching the covey and giving a short thirty yard chase. I had to convince him that there was a dead bird and threw a rock in the direction the bird went down. He found the bird and happily brought it to me. Another covey had flown from higher on the mountain and swung around the same direction so we decided to pursue them.

Shortly over the ridge the birds had flown was another frozen side to encounter before the burnt ridge I figured the birds had flown to. It was only about 100 yards wide but took at least 10 minutes for me to dig my feet in and negotiate across. It took Jake about 10 seconds. I was about half way across the ice covered slope when Jake went on point. It was hard enough just getting myself and gun over to him safely so I left the camera in my pocket. I walked in on the birds about twenty yards above Jake and as the covey exploded I noticed there seemed to be a few birds added to it. I had the same result as earlier but two stragglers held back and I got a shot at them with my remaining shell. There was probably five seconds between the covey flush and the straggler's flush, but I'm still going to count it as a double.

Anyhow, the next two hours continued on the same path. Gaining elevation and finding some burnt off slopes with lot's of cheat and bunch grass for the birds. The bunch grass was great for grabbing on to with my spare hand to keep me from falling. My shooting wasn't always so good but Jake offered me plenty of opportunities. One more time, Jake flushed some birds from about 200 yards above me and they flew straight over me. Even if I would have wanted to, I couldn't shoot because I was lucky just to be standing up on the slope. Sometimes I was questioning how much fun I was having. Was, it worth fighting these slopes for the birds? Then, I'd watch Jake slam on point and remove my doubts.

Our trophy bird came at about 3 and one half hours into the hunt. I could see Jake at a distance working his nose and going straight up hill on a frozen slope. As he disappeared over the ridge I expected to see chukars flushing from the area. Thirty seconds later my astro beeped "dog on point". I looked at the distance which said 232 yards away. At that point I was hoping I would see the birds and I could call him back down the hill to me. But the astro stayed on pointing dog. He was at least two hundred feet in elevation above me and 232 yards away as the crow flies. I didn't want to go up there and as I struggled up the hill I was hoping he'd quit waiting for me and break point.

It was just shy of 30 minutes when I finally reached the edge of the hill where the snow quit and the open slope began. I knew Jake was about 40 yards away and frantically looked for him, not wanting to screw this up after all that time. I found him hard on point and slid the camera out of my pocket as I approached. I zoomed in the best I could and then pocketed the camera
. Moving slowly I finally got to the right and front of Jake before the birds exploded. I think the number of birds that flushed got me frustrated and I missed. Discussed with myself, I was about to break open my gun when the straggler took off. I drew feathers but the bird kept flying down the draw. Suddenly, it flew straight up in the air and fell to the canyon. The flapping of the bird flying straight up caught Jake's attention and he watched it fall. He was immediately off for the retrieve. He disappeared down the canyon and all I could do was hope. There was no way I was going down into that draw and then have to come back up. About ten minutes later, up comes Jake with the bird in his mouth. I have no idea as to whether he had to chase the bird down or it just took him awhile to find the bird, I just know I was tickled with my 22 month old dog.
From the time of Jake's point until the retrieve, I figured about 45 minutes had elapsed. That's definitely a trophy experience for me and Jake. I'm sure there will be many more in our future.

Monday, November 17, 2014

I'm back

My computer is back and I'm ready to bore you some more. The bad news (for me) is that I've lost all my notes and pictures from the past five years. All my hunting pictures of Riley and Jake are gone. All of Conner's (my grandson) hunting accomplishments are gone. Everything is gone, except for what I have posted on this blog. The good news is that I have a better reason to get out there and hunt some more. I need proof.

So, I waited for what I thought was reasonable amount of time for this snow storm to retreat. I know it's still awful cold, but I figured the sun would have melted most of the snow off the southern slopes so I headed for chukar country early this morning. I have to admit to a little disappointment as I approached my hunting area. The first hill looked more like a ski slope than a hunting area.
I suddenly wasn't sure I wanted to do this, but decided to drive up the road a little further. The draw wasn't looking much better as I meandered up.
I finally found a decent place to pull off the road.. Even though I knew the snow would not be as deep up higher on this southern slope I wasn't to excited about heading up. It just looked cold out there.
Jake immediately headed straight up the mountain. He had five days of pent up energy to start releasing. As I was unloading his water from my vest, I could hear chukars talking somewhere up above. I was pretty sure Jake had picked up on them also. A couple hundred yards up the hill I decided to hike a trail up the draw rather than go straight up like Jake. The snow was deeper but it was a little less steep. Shortly, Jake joined me about 100 yards up the draw. He got all excited, making a few short points and then reestablishing. He finally looked back at me as if to say, "hustle up here, they're all over the place".
I didn't get too excited because I had already seen that they were quail and a bunch of them were right here about twenty yards from me.
We finally got to a point where it was more advantageous to get out of the draw and walk the steeper burnt off hill. Besides, that's where I thought I had heard the birds earlier. The breeze was blowing quite a bit heavier up at that elevation and Jake was loving putting his nose into it. I wasn't too excited about the way my cheeks were starting to feel but Jake was covering the hill like he knew something good was there. And as usual, he was right. As he hit the ridge he sucked in the cold air and pointed the fine smell.
Now it was my turn to be impressive. I've been wanting to get some good pictures of the birds flushing and here was a great chance. Heck, Bob McMichael's wife, Leslie does it all the time. So, as they flushed I snapped a picture of the covey.
I obviously am as good with a camera as I am with a shotgun, always behind the birds. Luckily for me, there was straggler that gave me time to put the camera away  and provide me with an easy left to right shot, making Jake happy to get a bird in his mouth again. I'd have gotten a picture of his retrieve but my gunshot interrupted some other visitors to the semi burnt ridge which I decided to snap shots at.
I'll let Leslie take the pictures of birds in flight and I'll focus on animals that can't get off the ground.

The rest of the morning had a few good points but I decided to concentrate on the gun and dog. Truth is, my fingers were getting too cold to take my gloves off anymore. After three hours on the hill and the breeze picking up, I decided we were close enough to the truck to call it quits. While walking the tire tracks back to the truck, Jake locked up. I was sure it was the quail so I approached his point with my gun broke open. Yep, out of the deep snow flushed a chukar. Jake looked at me as if I was as stupid as I felt. I thought  I'd take a picture of where he flushed and show Leslie that I could at least get wing action in the snow.
Although Jake was ashamed to ride home with me, he jumped into the truck anyway. There was nobody else he could ride home with. I fired the truck up and headed home.
To top the day off, when we got home the neighbors lab came over and started running laps with Jake. He didn't even act tired. The lab's owner walked over to me and said, "are you alright, you look awfully stoved up"? 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Computer down

My computer picked up a virus and I lost all my hunting pics and notes. I'm taking it to town with hopes that they can find the right solution. I hope to hear lot's of great stuff from everyone when I get back on line.

Happy hunting,
Larry and Jake

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Just quit thinking

It's taken me several decades, but I think I finally figured out why some people struggle finding chukars while others seem to always be able to find enough to fill their dinner plate. Don't get me wrong, I don't know if I qualify as one of the elite chukar hunters, but I have covered enough hard miles to qualify myself as a chukar hunter.

It's a known fact, that to qualify at being a true chukar hunter, is that you must be brain dead. Only someone who lacks intelligence would continually chase these devil birds up and down the steep ravines that they tend to like. That being said, I think most hunters who decide to chase the chukar think too much and put them at a disadvantage. I've been trying to think a lot lately, about the why's and wherefore's of chukar hunting, and my bird vest has been a lot lighter because of it. I figured as dry as it's been, the birds must be near water or they might be close to any green up. I've looked over the mountain range and said, "If I were a chukar where would I most likely want to be?" I'd then let Jake loose and head up the mountain.

Tuesday the alectorus chukar smacked me on the side of the head with a piece of sage brush. Jake and I were driving down an old cattle road in a dry ravine that I never would have thought held chukars. The only reason we were there was five miles further on this rocky road was a great place to find birds. You can imagine my surprise when about fifty birds flushed off the road. They split up and flew up the canyon walls about forty yards or so before landing. Jake saw them too. It didn't much look like a place I wanted to hunt, but Jake wanted to give it a try. We drove up the road a quarter of a mile or so and after putting the collar on Jake we headed off. Jake knew exactly where the birds were and I had to persuade him to stay in contact with me.

I flipped a coin to decide which side of the canyon to go on and started up. I knew the birds would probably be running uphill, which soon proved to be right with Jake hot on their tail. I'm not sure, but with Jake being three months shy of two years old, I don't know if he has ever seen this many birds running in the wide open. After I had gained about 300 feet in elevation and Jake about 600, the chukars flew across the canyon to the chukars talking on the other side. Ten minutes into the hunt I was already sweating and discouraged. As I said, I would never have picked this spot to hunt and was ready to head back down when my astro said "dog on point". I couldn't see Jake but suspected maybe he had a straggler on point and it was my duty to get to him. As I crested this arm of the canyon there was a little more cover and Jake had a point on a piece of sage. To my shock, about fifteen birds took off and I managed to knock one down.
The birds flew around the canyon and I decided to pursue a little further. It still wasn't someplace I would probably hunt, but I was already there. By the end of day one this was Jake's take.
These birds were taken in an area that I never even thought birds would survive. No water, no green up, nothing that should attract chukars. Most of the area looked like this.
Point is, I think we over think this chukar stuff. Just get out and hunt. The more miles put on by you and your dog, the more likely to find birds. Jake and I hunted five of the last six days and I logged 31 1/2 miles and Jake logged 109 miles. I have to admit that it will probably the last time I put in those kind of miles on the steep chukar hills because of how bad both Jake and I are hurting tonight. We're going to start spreading those days out some.

My point is, I've been reading a lot of negative comments about the chukar numbers, and although the numbers are still down some, they're still out there. On my five days on the mountain and the back roads I never saw another chukar hunter and only heard two distant shots. People have given up, which is alright with me and Jake. The birds are out there for those who really love to chukar hunt.
I have to admit to not hearing chukars. The first birds I found were chucking, but I never heard another bird the whole week.

That's it for my inspirational speech for this week. I'll blow Jake's horn with a picture essay the rest of the way.

Hustle up here. There are birds everywhere.
I told you.
There's a big one here somewhere.
You know where I'd like to put this one. Quit crippling them.
There down this way.
This mountain is steeper than you think. Try dropping them as soon as they get up.
Hey, we don't got all day. Get over here.
Please quit shooting them downhill.
Try and get this one on top. I'm tired of this up and down stuff while you stand in one spot.
What do you mean they don't hide in the dirt? That's not gophers I'm smelling.
Luckily for Jake, Barb came over and camped with us for our 40th anniversary. She insisted that Jake and I take a break on day five and just take a ride and short hike. Here's a couple of our sightings. This lamb got caught off guard.
Love can you in a lot of trouble.
A short hunt on day six and than home. I didn't even want to go out this morning but the big guy made me. Look how steep this hill is. I hope he misses because the bird will roll forever.
I shouldn't have to listen to this. Would you shut this guy up.
Okay. Enough is enough. This bird could end it all. Don't screw up.
I'll give it to you. That was a great shot. Now can we please go home.