Sunday, January 31, 2016

Season End.

Another year of chasing chukars has come and gone. As usual, I was once again educated by the birds. It seems like every year I think I have them figured out and then they either have moved to new locations or learned a new tactic to make me look like a fool. Thank God for bird dogs. They are the one thing on the mountain that makes chukar hunters look like they have any sanity at all. I have to say that Jake definitely showed me the way this year.

The beginning of Jake's third year had me questioning his abilities. After two good seasons, he began this year busting many birds. I believe it was because there were so many more birds this year than the last two. He couldn't handle the numbers at first but  adjusted and it soon became clear that all I needed to do was follow his lead and shoot well and we'd be eating good. The shooting part let us both down more this year than in the past. The following his lead part was fine until the last part of the season. The deeper snow and frozen hillsides slowed me, but not Jake, and also hurt my shooting percentage even further.

I'm giving up on trying to figure out what makes chukar thrive one year and be down the next. I've kept records for over twenty years and nothing makes sense. The only constant is that there is no constant and chukar numbers fluctuate from year to year about like my shooting success. The one thing that is going to keep chukar  populations healthy is where they live. Most people have no use for where the chukar lives so that land will be public for a long time. The one thing I can tell the young chukar hunters of today is, "don't listen to us old chukar hunters when we tell you about the good old days". Chukar numbers rise and fall and, at some point in our life, we get too old to chase them as hard. It becomes easier to say, " it's not like the old days" than it is to say, " I just can't walk those hills the way I used to."

I can remember great years and slack years in every decade since the 70's and I remember great years as late as 2010. This year was about average for me but I think we're on the verge of having another great one. So give your dogs a little break and then get them out for some great spring training and ready for next year.

Here are some pictures of the last few weeks on the mountain. Jake and I had a great time. Jake probably more than me watching me struggle to stay on the mountainsides. They are probably redundant to most readers but place your dog in the pictures and you'll have an idea of what to expect next year.

Jake telling me there are some birds under this fresh snow somewhere.
Jake taking me to the top on a frosted morning.
My favorite point of the year. It was snowing hard and the birds stuck like glue. Jake was actually in the middle of the birds.
I got my only triple of the season. The birds took off slow enough to let me reload my over and under.
Another point.
The intensity here told me I better not miss.
Jake styling some, except for the ears.
Pointing with a little less style.
Jake retrieving a bird on top where most birds were. He could walk on the crusted snow but I broke through.
A little more fun retrieve down closer to the road.
One more retrieve in the snow to remember January by.
Good bye for this year and hope to see some of you next year.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Birthday Brag

Today is Jake's birthday. He is three years old and is already a top dog on the mountain. With over 180 chukar hunts, another 15 or so grouse hunts, along with countless training jaunts in chukar country, he has seen and done most everything most dogs will do in a lifetime.

Yesterday we had an inch of new snow and with a prediction of four inches or so today we decided to have his birthday hunt a day early. Just like about every hunt this past month, he performed like a true champion. Yes, there were the times when he disappeared up the hill following running chukars and I saw fleeting glimpses of flying birds from his direction and could only imagine why they were flying, but that pretty much goes with this time of the year. Every dog I have owned has acted the same way on these late season snowy days. I don't know if the birds just refuse to hold or if the dog just gets too excited seeing them running on the snow and gives chase. Whatever the reason, I know that sooner or later I will get a point to walk in on.
After his point, if I do my part, he loves the retrieve. He isn't a dog who retrieves to hand but will hunt dead bird until successful and bring it to my feet. If confused with where the dead bird is, he follows commands almost as good as a retriever. Yesterday, he even figured out how to get two birds in his mouth and retrieve them both to about twenty yards before he dropped one and brought the other to me. I owed it to him to at least walk down the hill to the dropped bird. I could have told him to fetch it but figured he had already done more than his share.
What amazes me about all pointing dogs is there pointing instinct. I have seen all different types of pointing positions. Some very uncomfortable looking, but they hold them just the same. Usually, those are the points you know that a bird  is there. Sometimes the perfect point is a false point but when they are caught in an odd position and freeze that way, I have learned to be ready for action. Take this long distance point.
Over 100 yards later Jake was still in the same position.
He stayed this way until I flushed the birds and than was proud to return the trophy to me.
Although this wasn't a tough retrieve, I want to point out how much we should appreciate the retrieving of dead chukars. Although the pointing process is what we all love to see, it is the retrieving process that wears the dog out. Jake had two very long straight up hill retrieves that I could tell required a little down time and pick me up food. He covered over 25 miles to my 6 and 1/2 but those two retrieves had the most effect on him. I always make sure to show my appreciation for the retrieve because I know he is doing that for me, not for him.

Yesterday's hunt was also an eye opener for me. I thought maybe I excelled more than most people my age when it comes to chukar hunting. I thought because of my great dogs (just like every other dog owner feels) nobody could be pushed as hard as I do. Once again, I have been shown up. I took my side by side up a snow covered road that was impassable with full sized vehicles to gain 500 feet of elevation before Jake and I started our hunt. There had been no other traffic. I hunted for about three hours and for the first time this year ran into another hunter and his dog. We never got closer than a couple hundred yards or so but I knew he was being entertained by hearing occasional shots. Of course, I figured it must be some young punk and his dog. You'd have to be young to be up this mountain. After another couple of hours I made it back down to my side by side. I expected to see another atv or utv along the road but all I found were some boot tracks. I followed them down the road to the gate  at the main road. There was a truck parked there and a gentleman sitting in it getting warm. We discussed the days events and he informed me of the other hunters age. He was the same age as me. Not only did he walk the same hills as I did he also walked in 1 and 1/2 miles and was going to have to walk out that same distance along with gaining 500 feet in elevation that I didn't. So much for being a tough guy.

Anyhow, Happy Birthday Jake. Let's give this snow a day or two to melt and you can
take me out for another work out.

End is getting near

Seems like this time of the year there are several scenario's from chukar hunters out there. There's one scenario that says the birds were hit hard by these last three cold weeks and hunters can't find birds, while another one says that the weather has been so bad that the birds are congregated in the low lands and too easy to slaughter. I even heard some complaints from some that the hatch was poor again this year and the numbers never were there. Some say the birds are just too wild this time of the year and put their dog's and gun's away. My thought's say there are plenty of birds out there for both hunting and brood stock for next year, but they take some humping to get.

I've never been one to down play chukar numbers, even on the low number years. Hunter's have little effects on chukar survival. Nature is the main culprit in determining the yearly outcome of the birds. Even though I'm sure that in some area's the cold weather might have had some effect on chukar survival, most of the areas I hunt have fared well. I can honestly say that I haven't seen many birds on the roads driving into my different hunting areas, but I don't spend enough time on them to give an honest opinion of how many birds are down that low. You have to be there to give an honest opinion.

My expertise comes with the latter scenario. The one that takes humping the mountain. Expertise doesn't mean success, it just means what I have done for year after year. It has worked for me through all of the years and always has given me chukars to CHASE. Sometimes the success isn't very good, but I'm still out there doing what I and my dog love to do. Matt Hutt, a much younger chukar hunter than I, pointed out the fact that he also hunts a lot like I do and that the small chukar hunter brain is born into a person and you don't have to get old to lose the smarts of a normal person.

I probably don't hunt any harder than the hunters that hunt lower on the mountain, and there's a good chance I don't see more birds but it works for me. Besides, that's where Jake likes to go. With the weather warming some, there is a lot more open ground now and it is finally softening up to get a foot hold. About a week ago I was getting so beat up by the deep snow and frozen ground I was about to give it up for the year. I thought that maybe age was catching up with me. Luckily for me, Jake made me give it some more tries, and with the ground letting me get a foot hold, I'm able to cover more ground and feeling a lot better chasing the birds. Yes, the birds are pretty savvy now and hard to hold, but every once in a while you can get a covey or single to hold, especially when they are between you and the dog.
Trust me, there will be no more humping this kind of country for me.
There is a lot of open country out there that holds plenty of birds. Most of them require some long distance work, but they are still doable.
There is no one way to hunt that is better than others. Maybe someday I'll hunt those lower areas closer to the road and find those birds. I'll probably find out it's a lot harder than I thought and maybe find that honey hole. But, no matter where it is I know I'll have a chance of getting some chukar because there are more out there than some would have you believe. I know I'll never have the chance of seeing the young mountain lion I saw yesterday without being out there doing it. I'll also not have a chance for a successful day to make up for those days of humping over snow covered mountains just to see the birds flush wild without getting out there and doing it.
A P.S. to my last post Forest Gump. I still qualify for the "stupid is as stupid does" chukar award. I mentioned, how I was crippling birds and Jake had to chase them forever. Even though I clean my gun after every hunt, I take my chokes out and clean the threads every fourth hunt or so. I had four hunts with no choke in. Amazing how the shooting improved after putting my modified's back in.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Forest Gump

There was a line in the movie "Forest Gump" that went something like this, "stupid is as stupid does". After arriving back at my truck after yesterday's hunt, I understood what that simple statement meant. This chukar hunter isn't very smart and many times my actions show a lack of any smarts at all. Yesterday's hunt was one of these times.

After checking the forecast I decided to head to Oregon and try a spot I'd seen a good number of birds earlier this year. Driving in, the southern slopes had a lot of exposure and I was sure there would be plenty of walkable land for Jake and I to cover. I was a little disappointed to find some old tire tracks on the four wheel road going into my secret spot, but figured with the amount of birds I usually find here, there will be plenty left for me. Shortly after Jake and I started our ascent up the snowy draw I found the carcass of a boned out elk and from there my tracks were the only tracks headed up the draw. I was the only person up this way for at least three weeks. I was prepared for the super hunt.

There was plenty of snow in the draw I chose to gain altitude in, but the southern slope was bare. Jake several times followed his nose straight up the slope where I'd watch a covey of chukar bust and fly around the hill. The hill was too steep for me to chase after Jake so I continued up the draw. There was no crust on the snow so the hiking difficulty level was about four out of ten. After gaining 1000 feet in elevation, I found the trail I had walked several times in the past. It paralleled the north slope of the hill and gradually gained some elevation. The slope that Jake had been chasing the chukars on was now snow covered and he came over to the elk beaten trail with me to get over the top to the south slope of that ridge. I've been there many times over the last thirty years and have always found good number of birds. We got to where I thought the "honey hole" was going to be and found the slope not as southerly as I thought and not steep enough to collect any sunshine that might help melt the snow. It was at least a foot deep. Jake at times disappeared through some drifts. Luckily the snow had not crusted and it was still walkable. Maybe an eight out of ten now.

The elk had made a good trail down the ridge and Jake and I took advantage of it and lost some elevation. We finally got down to a more southern slope with patches of ground showing through, but Jake showed no sign of birds and I didn't see a track or dropping anywhere. Three hours into the hunt, Jake finally had a point. As I approached the point, the birds dove off the hill without me getting a shot off. I don't know whether they were that quick or I was just too tired and slow. Soon we were at the snow level and so were the birds. I had several points on birds that refused to hold long enough for me to get a decent shot and I was getting tired.

The hill I was stuck on now was as steep as any hill I'd ever hunted but I had two choices, hunt it down or go back the way I came. Chukars chuking all over the place made my decision easy. The sun had melted all the snow on this slope and it was actually dry so I decided to try and side hill it back and forth down to the main road. I think it might be the steepest hill I've ever hunted. Difficulty level at least a nine. It didn't seem to have a lot of feed but the chukars loved it. Jake had point after point with most birds flushing wild but at times it worked out for some shooting. Shooting, not hitting. I tried to always move in on the down side of Jake. That was the only way I was going to get a reasonable shot.

Finally, one of Jake's points produced a large covey of chukar that held until I was about ten yards from them. The hill was so steep I could only manage one shot without falling. To my amazement a bird fell and started flapping down the hill with Jake in hot pursuit. I can't say how far he actually went but I know it went all the way to the road which was 500 vertical feet below us. I had thought about heading straight down to the road but Jake bumped so many birds on his way back up that I decided to do some more side hilling. Jake was having a great time. He covered the ground like it was no challenge at all. Some other hunters must have had some good luck on that hill also because there were several yellow shotgun shells scattered along my route. At times it would take me ten minutes to get to Jake's 100 yard point, my legs were getting so tired and my back was cramping.

Jake's last point of the day proved to be the last straw for this chukar hunter. Jake was locked in on the ridge above the truck. As I moved below him and onto the snow covered side I could see the two birds ten yards away under a clump of sage. I squared off and raised my gun at the flush. It felt like it weighed fifty pounds and I shocked myself by hitting one of the birds. But I only crippled it and it set sail across the draw and crashed into the hill not high above the tracks of my truck. Jake chased after it for a short time but lost sight of it and returned up the hill to me. I was spent. I dug my heels into the soft dirt and slid straight down to the road. I slowly walked the road to where I had turned off in my truck earlier in the day. I had one third of a mile to go and about 150 feet of elevation gain and one chukar to find. Jake did find the bird, but with no help from me. I didn't want to get out of the tire tracks. I directed him enough to where he finally got the scent and retrieved the bird to me. It took me a half an hour to cover the final 500 yards to the truck. My back was cramping and I had to stop and stretch every fifty steps or so.

 Six hours on the hill, four and a half miles covered, 1200 feet of elevation gain, and two chukars. Not a stellar day of covering country for me. A normal day would have seen a lot more miles and gain in elevation. I had to stop six times on my two hour drive home to stretch my cramping back. As I thought back to the day, I could have hunted all the burnt off area that I saw on the way in and covered almost twice as much ground without ever having to worry about where I would end up if I ever fell.  Jake would have been just as happy and the shots I took would probably have been a lot more reasonable. I wouldn't have felt like I had been run over by a dump truck. So why did I go where I went. The dream of that "honey hole" which didn't exist. Maybe I'll be remembered by chukar hunters as the Forest Gump of the chukar world. "Stupid is as stupid does".