Monday, December 22, 2014

Continued saga: Conner's quest for a chukar

Let me preface this blog by saying, "Conner's an animal". Today we covered 8 miles and just over 2000 feet in elevation gain. Jake did a little over four times that distance and I wouldn't even try to guess his elevation gain. Conner only complained about his feet being a little sore while my whole body ached and Jake slept all the way home.

Like all my chukar hunts, we walked a couple of miles without any excitement at all, and then Jake locked up high on the hill we had just come down. I let Conner head up to the point while I took pictures. Truth is, I wasn't ready to go back up there and he was.
I followed the best I could hoping to get that perfect shot of Conner's first bird,
but three huns busted before I could get the camera in the action. Conner's gun wasn't as slow as my camera and he got a couple of shots off before they got out of range of his 20 gauge. He was excited to finally get a little shooting.

The next three hours provided lot's of points and chukar action. Jake had led us into the honey hole for alectoris chukar and he was determined that he would get Conner a bird today. He had several great points and even one of Conner's shots knocked feathers from a chukar which refused to show any sign of injury and flew off with the others.

About 150 birds into the hunt and I can't say how many shots, Conner was getting a little disgusted with his shooting. I've shot hundreds of rounds with him, so I knew it was just a matter of time and encouraged him on. Jake finally locked up in a flatter area and I really thought it was about to happen. As Conner moved in on Jake's point, Jake's eyes kept shifting from Conner to a spot on the ground as if to say "he's right there".
Suddenly a chukar took off running up the slope. Conner shouldered his Remington and, in Conner style, waited until the bird took flight and fired twice. The bird never flinched and kept flying as a second bird took off in the other direction. Conner shot his third shell at the fleeting bird with the same result. They were the kind of shots I've seen him make on quail many times and he looked at me and said "those were easy shots, I should have gotten at least the first one".

We were all getting pretty tired by this point and I could feel Conner's dejection, but that wasn't slowing Jake down. He soon found another covey.
I was trying to get both Conner and Jake in the same picture but Jake didn't budge as Conner moved about twenty yards below him. Suddenly the birds busted from the slight cover they had and Conner shot. I pointed the camera at Conner expecting a second shot but instead got a loud exciting "I got him shout".
Like a pro, he directed Jake to the dead bird and Jake was proud to bring him the trophy.
Proudly they display a great trophy. A bird that was definitely earned.
We still had a ways to go back to the truck and I pleaded with Conner to take the easy route back to the truck. He agreed and we rode his excitement back down the ridge the truck was parked on. What a way to start the Christmas week.

Merry Christmas everyone,
Barb, Jake and Larry

Monday, December 15, 2014

What makes a great hunt

Today I went on one of those hunts that just beats you up. The hill is steep and there are no flat spots. It's a place that usually holds good bird numbers because most people won't hunt it more than once a year. This was my one time for this year. A few years back, I shot 8 for 8 on this hill and regard that day as one of my best shooting days ever. Usually I come back with no shells and very few birds in the vest.

Today my shooting wasn't much better than the normal day up on that mountain, but I felt fortunate to get plenty of shooting without falling on my butt, which is common on those steep slopes. Jake wasn't real impressive at first either. He figured the birds were up high in the fog and headed right up into it. A couple times I thought I heard birds flying but then dismissed those thoughts, knowing Jake wouldn't do that. I must have been hearing things.

I took the trail up the draw as far as possible before heading up on the steep stuff and into the fog. I could see blue sky up high and was hoping to get above it.
That never happened. The fog moved up with us and before long Jake had a point.
There were a dozen or so chukars that took off but were into the fog before I could even shoulder my shotgun. It was looking to be one of those days. We kept side hilling around the draw and every once in a while hit an open pocket from the fog. Twice it opened up far enough that I could see Jake with his nose to the ground, scenting running chukars and soon chasing them into flight. Another time, Jake pointed until I got close to him and then he broke and chased what sounded to be a large covey into the fog. I was wondering why dogs can do everything so well one time and then the next time look like a totally different dog. I then remembered asking myself the same question about my last seven dogs.

After a couple of hours the fog gathered and moved up the hill, forming an overcast sky. Jake and I had done a few things right and had some birds in the vest. We decided to hunt back towards the truck and dropped about 500 feet in elevation.

 I've always wanted to get a picture of my dog on point with the birds in flight. Karl Dehart has done it as well as Leslie McMichaels and have some great photos. Maybe they're not as blind as I am. My camera doesn't have a view finder so I have to look at the back of my phone size camera and hope it's aiming in the right way. I've got several great pictures of sage, cheat grass and blue sky but never of my dog and the bird taking off. Until today. Although this bird isn't actually in flight yet, it's on the run way. 
I pointed the camera at Jake on point and when I saw movement I snapped. The bird must have been tucked in that sage. A second bird waited until I put my camera away before exiting and chuckled as he flew off.

We had a few more encounters while heading back. The last one was about a half mile from the truck and a couple hundred yards above the road. Jake was on point looking over a pretty steep part of the hill. My ankles were pretty sore by this time and getting below him took me a while. As I moved below him, the birds flushed. One bird flew to my right and the rest to the left. I hit the bird to my right while Jake was off to watch the others fly away. It looked like the bird fell over the steep bank of the road and I didn't want Jake to go down there and not be able to get back up, so I didn't call "dead bird" and headed back to the truck.

We drove back to the spot where I thought the bird went down and I let Jake out. Even without a shot, Jake trusted me and started searching dead. I pointed up the steep slope and he picked his way up to the sage that I thought the bird had hit and got a nose full. Several times he would disappear and then show up again looking for guidance from me. After several tries I finally walked back towards the truck and called him back. He went back to the brush where the bird had fallen and started side hilling the steep slope with his nose down until he got to the road where the chukar was hiding next to a sign post.
It doesn't take much to make a great hunt. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Chukar's beware. There's new blood coming to your hill.

I'd be a liar to say that getting chukars is not the reason I chukar hunt. Although, like many others, I wouldn't go if it weren't for the dog.  But, I don't go only for the dog. I love to complete the process, which is dog points, I shoot and dog retrieves. I usually can't get enough of that combination to keep me from going out again as soon as possible. I love it. Well, I didn't think this love for chukar hunting was catching.

My grandson, Conner has been bugging me to shoot a chukar. He's shot a few huns and a limit of quail behind my dogs, but hasn't really been big enough to negotiate the steep hills with a shotgun until this year. He's been on a few chukar hunts with me in the past, but never packing. So, early this morning I put my ankle brace on, tightened my boot up extra snug and headed up to the mountain with Conner and Greg.

As usual, Greg and I headed off our different ways in search of chukar. I'd like to say I was towing Conner behind me, but I think it was more the other way around. Jake covering the mountain with Conner in pursuit and me behind. I'd like to blame my ankle but that would be a lie. Even healthy, I would have had a hard time keeping up with this 12 year old. You would think without seeing any sign of birds in the first hour he would be bored, but not this kid. We just kept hiking up the steep slopes following Jake. We finally got to the top of the first ridge and I was jacked to show Conner all the fresh sign and mentioned that Jake should be finding some birds now. Then, I looked at my gps and saw that Jake was 450 yards away. Jake never ranges that far out and I assumed that he must have already found these birds and gave chase. I explained to Conner what I figured happened and Jake shortly joined us in the hunt.

We had gone about as high as I wanted to get and Conner showed no sign of tiring so I figured we would follow that ridge into the wind. It wasn't long and Jake was on point about 100 yards below us. We moved down the mountain and I instructed Conner how to approach Jake and that I would hang back and watch the action. He did everything perfect and got about ten yards in front of Jake before the birds busted. Conner got his first taste of steep hill shooting as he fired twice and than watched Jake searching for a bird that wasn't there.
As I walked down to him, he was a little bummed that he had missed. I tried to ease his mind by mentioning when there's a large covey of birds, sometimes it's hard to pick out a single bird and you end up shooting at the covey. I asked if he was ready for a break and he was having none of it. Jake was already in search of the next covey and we soon found him on point. He was on the next ridge and pointing into the wind. I instructed Conner on how I would make the approach and hung back to watch.
Once again,a veteran chukar hunter couldn't have done it any better. Except for the shooting. Once again I saw Conner disappear in front of Jake and heard two shots. I hustled over hoping to find Jake retrieving a bird, but found a young man with his head low. He's already done a lot of shotgunning and couldn't understand missing these shots. We laughed about it and then heard a bird take off from below and saw Jake standing there looking at us, wondering what was so funny.

Jake turned to head out and another chukar busted from the brush fifty yards down hill. Within seconds his radar had another bird and Conner was heading down to help him out.
The bird flushed before Conner could get to Jake, but not without a couple of shots fired at it. Conner looked up at me but before he had time to show his frustration Jake was on another point below him. I told him to get down there and I'd catch up.
I took my time getting down to him snapping a few pictures along the way. Conner got in front of Jake and the birds started flushing. Somehow they were right in the middle of the birds and they were flushing a few at a time. Even the best chukar hunter has a hard time concentrating on a chukar when another is taking off closer. By the time this volley was over, Conner had fired five times. In Oregon, you can only have three shells in your gun and he had enough time to reload in between shots. After the shots he looked down the hill exclaiming "what's wrong with me?".
Several more shots were fired off Jake's points in the following hours without a retrieve until Jake's last point. He was a little over 100 yards away and I decided to take a short break with Conner and possibly do a better job at guiding him in on this one. I directed him to the left of Jake and I would come in below him. I told him to slow his shot down a little and let the bird get out where his pattern might be better. He is very quick with a shotgun. I snapped a few shots as he approached the point and then moved into position.
A single chukar flushed and Conner did just what I said; took his time on the shot. As the bird kept flying I snapped off a shot and watched the bird sail off into the distance. "Looks like it wasn't our day", I exclaimed.

We hit the jeep trail and headed back to where Greg had parked the truck. In four hours we had logged 6 miles and Jake 24. We had climbed over 2200 vertical feet and I was dead tired. Jake was content to walk the road back to the truck instead of hunt. I couldn't wait to get my boot off and all Conner could talk about was when are we going again. I was thankful that he has to go to school tomorrow. Give this kid a few more years and his own pointing dog and look out chukars.

When I started this piece, I mentioned how much I like getting chukars. Maybe that's not always true. Today I fired one shot and never enjoyed a hunt more. Watching my two best hunting partners hunt together was all the reward I needed.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Chukar hunting. Every trip is an adventure

It might seem like all my trips are successful. Believe me, they aren't. It's just more fun to write about the successful ones or the ones that have some type of different adventure than the usual hunts. Every chukar hunt seems to have excitement in one form or another. Sometimes good and sometimes not so good. Yesterdays hunt had a little of both.

The day started as usual when I hunt with Greg Allen. We meet at the usual truck stop and load our gear into one of our trucks. Of course the dogs are situated in the back seat nice and comfortable. As we drive, we decide where we are going to hunt for the day and discuss the happenings of the week. Once at our location Greg comments about the light and that the next trip we're going to have to either get started a little later or start carrying flashlights. It was barely shooting light and seemed more like duck hunting rather than chukar hunting.

With three GSP's running circles, trying to get us to hurry, we made our decisions of where we're going to hunt for the day and head out in our separate ways. We've hunted together for somewhere around thirty years and know that we'll rendezvous at the truck somewhere between four and six hours later.

Weather conditions were pretty good as we departed, 20 degrees and a slight breeze with clear skies. The slight breeze lasted about a half an hour before it turned into a twenty mile an hour or more wind. The back of my neck or my cheeks were feeling like ice, depending on which way I was walking as I headed up the ridge. If this area was like most of the other areas I've hunted this year the birds would be high. I was right and after getting up about 2000 vertical feet, Jake started running into birds. The problem was, as soon as Jake would hit scent and point, the birds were diving off the top and sailing with the wind. In my experience, the wind seems to make chukars more flighty. I saw four covey's and I'm sure Jake saw more in the first two  and a half hours before the wind died down. I hadn't even got to shoulder my gun and was thinking this was going to be one of those days my vest would stay empty.

After the wind died, things suddenly turned in my favor. I had no idea how Greg was doing, because we were probably two or three miles apart by now with a couple of ridges between us. Once, I heard a far off shot and hoped it was Greg. Jake started nailing the covey's.  We were working great together and I shot unusually well, hitting my first five birds. I missed the sixth shot but was back on for the next two birds. What a great day I was having.

With my vest heavier than usual, we hunted our way back down towards the truck. Jake locked up again about 100 yards straight down the steep slope and I was heading down to him when it happened. Bam, I was flopping down the slope. I don't know if it was one of the thousands of rocks on the slope or a hole but my ankle gave out and I was down. I didn't think it was possible to twist an ankle with the stiffness of the boots I wear, but found I was wrong. I can't imagine what Jake was thinking as he was on point and I was wallowing around cussing. I finally got it together and called him off point. There was no way I was going to be able to get down to him on my ankle. Reluctantly he came back up the hill as about twenty birds flew off one or two at a time as if to taunt me even more.

Jake helped me gather up birds that had fallen from my vest while I gathered up the spent shells, water bottles and candy wrappers that had also scattered on the hill. My ankle was now throbbing and I started looking for the easiest route back to the truck. I was looking for a slope with as few rocks as possible and softer dirt material to help make my descent.
On the way down, Jake locked up again. He was in the right direction so I decided to hobble over to him.
The single held tight and I finished off Jake's limit. Usually I would have been pretty happy. Eight birds with nine shots. What a day it had been, but I just wanted off the hill.
Greg, beat me back to his truck and his girls, Trudi and Katie were basking in the sun. We swapped stories and both had the same results, 8 for 9. This called for a tailgate photo. Getting limits has been rare the last two years, little alone both of us and shooting 16 for 18 just doesn't happen. We bragged on our dogs as Greg figured out how to use the self timer feature on my camera.
The only thing left to do now is figure out how to tape my ankle for support and also fit in my boot. The hill's are calling.