Friday, October 12, 2018

The aging chukar hunter and the mountain

He woke up early this morning as he has done for the past 50 or so years. There was no alarm clock, just something inside his head telling him to get up. It seems whether it was for work or play this internal time clock always went off before the sunrise.

Getting out of bed takes a little more work now with a stiff back making it more of a roll out of bed than just sitting up. With the movement two GSP's jump from the foot of the bed and make their long stretch before heading for the breakfast bowl. The aging man tries to imitate the stretch but the body won't bend that much any more and a groan comes out waking his wife who asks "are you okay?" He confirms feeling just fine and that he's going to take the dogs chukar hunting for the day.

The dogs bounce around the living room as he puts his hunting clothes on and grabs the shotgun and hunting vest. They know we're headed for a chukar mountain and their excitement seems to help the aged man lace up his boots which just a moment ago seemed to hard to navigate with his arthritic hands. The lady of the house helps him load their lunch and gives him a kiss on the cheek with a "be safe comment" as the two dogs leap into the back seat ready for the hour or so drive.

The radio is on the oldies channel which helps the hunter feel a little peppier and the volume is turned up maybe a little louder than the mutts like, but it helps him get in the mood for a fun day on the hill. The sky is starting to show some light and the sun will be shining by the time they arrive at their destination.

Slowing to a stop on the dirt road gets the dogs fired up and their enthusiasm helps wind up the aging man. He opens his door first and once again rolls out of the truck with a groan. He tries a quick stretch but the dogs are having none of that and want the back door opened. The door barely hits the stops and both animals leap from the truck and make a few laps around the truck before relieving themselves. The aging man tries to get collars, guns, snacks and the works together as the two bounce around with gestures that say "what's taking so long?". They don't realize the joints don't work so good anymore. Pushing buttons and snapping buckles isn't as easy as it used to be. Finally he puts on his vest and gives a big groan of pain because his shoulder does not want to move in that direction anymore and lets him know it.

As he picks up his double barrel the two dogs take off up the hill hoping to be the first to find a bird. There's no way he's going to be able to slow them down so he starts his limp up the hill knowing they won't go more than 300 yards away from him and hopes they won't find a bird yet. The thought of limping his way straight up a hill before his body gets refreshed from the long drive wouldn't be pretty. For the last couple of years he begins every hunt with a left leg limp because of the stiff back he acquired from his job. The same job that gave him a bad shoulder, arthritis in the hands and other joints, and several other injuries, but also provided him with a good income.

There was no worry about an early point on this trip. Even though it seemed to be a perfect day weather wise and he was on one of his favorite mountains, the three of them gained almost 1300 feet of elevation before they had their first find. As he approached the honoring dogs with appreciation the hun busted behind him and to his dismay, he wasn't quick enough to turn and get a shot off. As the dogs made a short chase he though about how that would have been a gimme just five years ago.

The dogs went on search and he found a game trail that angled up the slope and realized the limp was gone as well as the arthritis in his hands. He thought to himself  "if I could only keep doing this all the time I'd feel great." He was into the hunt almost two hours when the next point came and the thought of going straight up the hill to the point was no problem at all now. He gave the boys a little praise as he walked past them and flushed the birds. It was his favorite shot and he emptied both barrels and two birds dropped. To add to the excitement, both dogs retrieved a bird and brought them back to him. One of his dogs was only 7 months old and he was excited about his progress.

He took a minute to hydrate the dogs and look over the valley floor below him. He thought "I've seen this view at least twice every year for the last thirty or so and it never gets old." The stop was short because he knew if he stopped and sat down for a few minutes the stiffness would try and creep in.So off they went looking for their next bird. Every once in a while he'd see the dogs looking far off and he knew they were hearing the sounds of chukars, a sound that isn't as clear to him as it used to be. He realized how dependent he had gotten on the dogs. Most of the time he probably wouldn't see other wild life if it wasn't for picking up on their keen senses.

They followed the ridge for another hour or so, dropping down and coming back up when the dogs caught scent. After climbing 1800 feet in elevation the aging man was suddenly feeling much younger. He was ready to travel to any place the dogs said there were birds. There was a perfect breeze and some times he would walk 50 or more yards in front of the points waiting for the birds to flush. His shooting wasn't perfect but he was now feeling limber enough to at least get into a good shooting position. He felt like a young man on the mountain again.

After four birds he turned and headed back towards the truck. He always told himself that if you get four birds getting to this place there should be four more chances on your way back for you to have that great day. Going down hill was much easier for him than it used to be. Ten years ago the pain in his knees almost brought tears to his eyes, but two knee replacements solved that problem and hunting down hill was no longer seeing how much pain he could endure. By the time they got back to the truck he could tell the dogs had had enough. He had also, but as he looked at his GPS he marveled at what they had done. One dog went over 23 miles, the other over 21 and he had gone almost 8 miles and gained over 2000 feet of elevation. He covered the same country he did ten years ago, hell make that twenty years ago. He felt great as he helped the dogs into the back seat, loaded the gear, and slid his vest off without any pain. This time he jumped into the truck and started the drive home to oldies music. God, he felt great being on that hill.

Once at home, he was greeted by his wife who helped him unload the gear from the truck. She called him an old fool as he rolled out of the truck. After over an hour of driving after a hunt it was hard for him to stand straight. His wife and him fed the dogs and got everything cleaned and birds into the refrigerator and then he went to his favorite chair and fell into it. The dogs had already curled up on the couch. He bent over to take off his boots and his wife could tell he was very uncomfortable and volunteered to take them off for him. As she did, she watched him rubbing his arthritic hands and asked "are you going hunting tomorrow?"

He replied, "hell yes".



Larry, there are legions of old hunters following your lead. I’m betting Havilah Babcock would have hunted chukars (but waited til November)

Greg said...

I feel your pain. Add 10 years and you know how I feel.......but the dogs are calling. With a good pheasant hunt behind me, headed your way.

Chukarchaser62 said...

Wearing out boots, dogs and sixty two year old legs but loving every minute of it. After several years off its good to be back. Last four days= 8,6,8 and 5 chukars....I am whipped and so are the dogs!

Anonymous said...

Great writing! I can relate totally. You captured my experience these days. I think I go for the dogs more than myself at times but I feel like I have done something after the hunt is complete and value the memories created each day I show up.
Alan,Mays and the Setter.

Anonymous said...

72...still at knee helped me immensely this year. Great report that any of us "serious chukar hunters" over the age of 60 can relate to instantly.

Larry said...

Great story Larry! Makes me want to get on the hill despite the physical challenges made more difficult with age. These challenges and the dogs make Chukar hunting special and memorable.

Tuckers Chukars said...

Amen to all of you. The mountains and the dogs make life that much better. Putting some birds in the vest while doing it is the icing on the cake.