Friday, November 30, 2018

Another upland hunter hooked

I met another upland hunter this summer who had just purchased a pup GSP and seemed pretty excited about her. Sage was about the same age as Grady and the two of them had a ball playing and searching out the area for new smells.

 Quinn Inwards sent me a short text the other day telling me how his season has progressed and it sounds like he must be doing the right things and Sage is on her way to becoming a great upland dog. She is holding point and had some great retrieves he says.

I think Quinn has been hooked by Sage. Obviously they are having a ball together because they already have 26 hunts recorded. We all know that time in the field is what makes good bird dogs and Quinn is spending a lot of quality time there.

I'm hoping to maybe get out a time or two with Quinn and watching Sage work.

Congratulations Quinn and thanks for the photo's.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Fire and chukars

This summer someone asked me what the effects of brush fires had on chukar populations. My answer was that probably most of the birds succumbed because of the speed of fires and the young birds would probably hold until it was too late. This fire was in early August and the winds picked up and ripped the fire across the hills wiping out every thing.
I was sure that most birds were gone because of the speed of the fire but Conner and I walked one of the failed dozer fire breaks in the middle of the burn and were very surprised at how many chukars were there with very sparse grass just stating to show. In the black ashes we could see large coveys running all over the place We were shed horn hunting but the dogs were still with us and the birds were having nothing to do with holding for them. We found evidence of animals that weren't as fortunate as the chukars.
I decided to come back in a few months after the rain knocked some of the soot down and see how the chukar hunting might be and yesterday was that day. I was pleased to find the birds had stuck around but as I thought they were wild. If chukar hunting isn't tough enough already, try hunting them in no cover. That adds a little more flavor to it. Most of the time there were long range points like Jake shows here across a canyon.
Those birds were a joke in trying to get close to. One of the biggest problems in hunting them in this open country was the dogs being able to see them. Several times the dogs would be locked up until I got close to them and the birds would start moving from me which was more than the boys could handle and a wild flush would follow.
Every once in a while a point would come at a ridge top where the breeze came up from the other side and I could swing over in front of the dogs and be in reasonable range for  a shot.
Sometimes I was even successful with a shot. Most of the time I was lucky to get just one shot off.
The biggest problem I had was with Grady. The country was so wide open he decided to spread his wings and once was 550 yards away which I don't like. Hopefully I corralled him in after that and we got relative distance figured out. He started figuring the game out and gave me some good productive points.
I had the camera on the wrong setting so the pictures are a little dark but at the time the points looked great to me.
Although most of the time when I got a picture of both dogs on point the birds got up a little wild it was exciting to watch them work together.
This picture has the dogs with a bird in between them. I looked hard but couldn't find a bird but as I approached two chukars flushed and I crippled one and dropped the other.
Grady was off chasing the cripple while Jake was taking the easy way out.
Okay, boring, let's get back to fire and chukars. After watching two different good chukar hunting spots burn this year I have decided I don't have any idea of what I am talking about. They obviously can outrun fires and even though the heavy vegetation is gone they will stay in the area. I don't know what they eat before some moisture comes and the grass sprouts show but they were there. They don't like fried grasshoppers because we found several diners where the food hadn't been touched.
Also, these birds had more fat reserves than most of the other birds I've shot this year. I figure maybe the fresh green sprouts with whatever the fire puts back into the soil is responsible for that. I don't know how these birds are going to fare if the birds of prey find them but they seem to be fine with the lack of cover. We found this same thing in the Owyhees a few years back. The sage grouse didn't do well but the chukars and huns did well, not needing the sage cover as much evidently.

I  know many times hunters get a little upset with how game is regulated but I believe chukars and huns pretty much do their own regulating. They have definitely had their good and bad years but for as long as I can remember (back to 1970) chukars and huns bounce back without any help from humans. Although they'll use water sources provided they need very little and will find a water source in the most arid area's and survive without a provided guzzler. And now it seems that they can find food even in what looks like a totally black environment.

Remember, this is coming from me, the guy that quite often get's his brains beat in by doing stupid things, but don't completely ignore those fire areas or areas seemed overgrazed. The birds might just be there. It's just up to you to keep positive about what might look like poor dog work until the right point comes along and than keep hustling for the next good point.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Not just one of those days

Yesterday's hunt started out to be a normal hunt, but by the time I got back to my truck it became one of those hunts I won't do again. I type this not to bore anyone but more for the future of my chukar hunting. I can look back at this blog as a memory of how not to hunt this specific area. Now is the time to click off the computer if reading about another hunters simple excursion bores you.

Greg Allen and I have a hunt we call "the hunt from hell". We use to make it every year but have failed to go there the last two years. Two years ago, because of the deep snow, and last year because our plans got rearranged. On this hunt we start about 2000 feet above the reservoir and hump a steep hill down while hunting chukars. There are always plenty of birds all the way down but we made a pact that you have to go all the way down and touch the water before returning to the truck. Even if you already have a limit of birds. It's very steep but a person could get around the steepness by following the reservoir for a couple of miles where the incline is less steep but it adds quite a distance to your walk. A limit of chukars becomes very heavy going uphill when you have a couple of thousand vertical feet to pack them and in the past even moderate shooting could get you a limit.

I named my hunt today "the hunt in hell" all because of a miscalculation I made. I've hunted this area many times in the past twenty years with reasonably good success but always figured it would be a easier hunt by coming in a different way. I thought I could cut off some of the distance by driving to the end of the canyon and follow a trail the rest of the way to where I wanted to head up. The problem was I didn't realize I had to walk the trail a mile and a half before I could start my ascent and it was a very steep climb. I had already committed so up I started with dogs leading the way. As I hoped there would be chukar poop everywhere. As I started up the slope I was having to use my hands to help get with the incline. I hoped that would soon end. I guess soon is different for everything.

It wasn't long and Grady was on point. He was only 125 yards away and it wasn't straight up the slope but at an angle I thought I could handle. I side-hilled to find him on point across another little canyon that was thick with that thorny type brush. I unloaded my shotgun and belly crawled through the brush and found Grady still on point. I stopped to take a quick picture and realized I had lost my camera somewhere during my crawl. I moved in on Grady's point and was discouraged when the single bird flushed and disappeared before I could even shoulder my gun. Back through the brush to find my camera which was located right where I had entered the thicket.  I decided this was not the hill for camera action and loaded it into my pack. I also decided that I was not going to try and go through the brush again. I now had a single ridge to incline with thick brushy draws on both sides.

I had no where to go but up and, on the way I once in a while saw chukars flying from slope to slope. There was no doubt in my mind that Jake and Grady were having a ball a couple hundred yards above me. Every once in a while they would come back and make eye contact with me on the slope just to head back to where all the birds were. Finally I had a point and honor (don't remember which was which) and a small covey of birds held under a bitter brush until I approached it. At the flush I got one shot off before they disappeared over the ridge line and felt the shot was good but wasn't sure until Jake showed up with a dead bird. Up we headed.

As we got higher the incline got less steep and the draws became less brushy. That's what I could always see when I use to hunt it the smart way. I knew there should be lots of birds because that was where they always fled to when I was in pursuit from above. There were fresh droppings everywhere so I was anticipating some good action. I was now into the hunt two and a half hours and for the first time in years my knee replacements were aching. I figure they were not meant to go straight up a hill.

Now that the brush was no longer a problem Jake and Grady decided to put a little more distance between us and my Alpha started reading points at 250 yards but still on a steep incline which would take me a while to get to. Most of the time the excitement ended with me seeing a covey of chukars swinging around the mountain far below me and wondering why the dogs didn't hold the birds?

We finally got to some reasonable slopes and once again we had a point and honor. The dog's were below the birds and let me creep to the front of them. The birds flushed above me and flew to my right, which is my shot of choice and I downed two birds with each dog retrieving one. I sat down, gave the dogs a peanut butter and honey sandwich, and gave the knees a break. I hardly ever take a break on the hill but today's hike called for a different strategy. The strategy was not a good one though. Ten minutes and my back joined my knees with some pain so I rolled to a position that had the slope helping me get up and resumed the hunt.

Although the slopes were a lot more negotiable the stiffness had already set in and getting to points was a little slower than usual and I saw a lot of chukars swinging down below us. I don't know if it was wind direction, accidental bumps or poor dog work because most of the time I couldn't see the dogs, just fleeting birds. Seeing loads of birds helped keep my spirits up along with being on slopes that were actually huntable. We found several covey's of cooperative birds and the dog work was great making me wonder what was going on with the boys on our ascent but I'll never know and it really didn't matter.

I could now carry my camera without fear of loosing it hanging over my shoulder and got a few shots of the boys.
Maybe it was because I was so whipped from coming up the steep slow that my mind said I need to take advantage of every shot that I shot as well as I did but I was as they say"in the zone". Good dog work created good shooting as we hunted the tops.
It wasn't long before we had 6 chukars and 4 huns in the vest and were trying to figure the best route back to the truck. We could take the more gentle slopes back or take the steeper ridge that would lead us directly to the truck. We decided to save about three miles of hiking and take the direct route.
Jake showed me one more covey of huns before we started the decent and we added one of them to the vest. As we started the steep decline down the mountain I was quickly reminded of a sore back and questioned my decision to head down this slope. My knees were feeling better but my back shot a short pain each time I took a jolting step and once again I was thinking this ain't as much fun as usual. Grady went on a point 187 yards away and although the picture doesn't show it the side hilling around to him was steep with wet slippery cheat grass making each step a chore. I snapped the picture and once again figured it best to put the camera away. The birds held for the long slippery walk in which I fell at least a dozen times and God blessed me once again. The Browning over and under somehow dropped a bird with each shot while I was falling to my back side. To top it off both dogs picked a bird and retrieved them back to me. I placed the birds in my vest and took out my gun sling. 13 birds is a damn good day and it was time to use my head and sling my gun over my shoulder for the return down the hill.

It was a good thing I did, Many of the places I needed both hands to hold onto brush or rocks to keep from going further down hill with one step than I intended. A couple of times the brush gave and luckily I have good padding on my back side to ease the slide down the hill. The dogs had several more points on the way down along with busting some birds and I tried to honor them by moving in on their points without a shotgun in hand but I was aching enough to wish they would just quit hunting. Even with good boots my ankles were now getting sore also. One of Jake's points was huns which could have gotten me closer to a limit of huns but at that point I could have cared less.

When I finally got sight of the truck the Alpha said it was 429 yards away. That was the hardest quarter of a mile hike I can ever remember. Each step seemed to produce a pain somewhere. I hadn't realized how much of a puss I was until then. Each step was small to avoid slipping and some sort of pain but got me closer to the truck where the pups were now comfortably waiting. I finally hit the trail and had a flat 50 yards to go.

That's when I realized how heavy my vest felt. Suddenly even my shoulders were sore. The Q5 centerfire is a hell of a vest but maybe it can carry too much. It was heavy enough I had to lower the tail gait instead of throwing it over the side boards. I was too tired to even take success pictures. Somehow, I was seeing the success of the hunt as just accomplishing what I did as I drove towards home. It wasn't the longest hunt I have ever taken or the most birds, but it was by far the steepest hunt I had ever been on and that was my accomplishment for the day.

What a learning experience for me. It doesn't matter if you have the best boots, packs, dogs, or all of the other things required to chase chukars, some mountains are meant to be left alone. Unless you like punishing yourself, they are meant to be a safe haven for the animals. For those hunters who think they would ever be able to have much of an impact on the numbers of birds they haven't been on these type mountains much. These mountain's humble everyone.

Today I am still feeling the effects of the hunt. No, I'm not hurting anymore but I have to admit to feeling pretty humble. My count for yesterday was 8.2 miles, 2117 feet of vertical climb, 6 1/2 hours on the hill, 28 1/2 miles for each dog, 8 chukars, 5 huns and amazingly only 15 shots. Sounds pretty impressive but for me the mountain one this one and I won't be back to this one for a rematch.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving

Barb, Jake, Grady and I would like to wish the chukar hunting community Happy Thanksgiving and an exciting finish to the chukar season this year. So far the weather has been cooperating and almost all the hunting areas around here are still accessible. There are lot's of birds out there but they are getting smarter, but a few miles and some good dog work a guy/gal can still fill the vest.

So far we're having another good year with the birds but even more important we've made some new friends. I hope to see them all again in the future and would love to share hunting camp with them. In all my dealings with chukar hunters and chukar dog lovers I have only met one guy I don't care for and that's a pretty good percentage of good guys considering that's over 40 years of chasing the bird.

Scott and his friends came over from the Badger country of Wisconsin to chase several species of Idaho upland birds and by the looks of things they did quite well. Proud to have met these guys and their dogs.

Another upland hunter from out of state brought his family over to do a little scouting this summer and then came back for some great success. I got to spend some time with Kirk Moore and his family and what a class family man he is. I understand he's a pretty good coach also. These pictures pretty much say it all.

I'd guess his son is hooked after getting a trophy like this.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you and I hope to meet more of you in the years to come. Maybe we can figure out how to keep this great past time of chukar hunting available for generations to come.

Good luck and send me stories and pictures of your accomplishments this season.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

A need to vent by Big Jake

I know this is supposed to be a positive chukar hunting site, but the events of the last few months have put me in a spot where I need to vent a little. I know there are many other dogs out there with the same problem so maybe you feel the same way. Just a few of them include Mays, Rowdy, Lucy and more. We all kind of ruled the roost for several years and suddenly along comes a new pup to supposedly help take the burden of the hunt off us.

Yesterday, was the last straw. I woke up and couldn't find the big guy or Grady anywhere. I snooped around and finally Barbara (I'd call her the big gal, but I'd be sleeping outside if I did) slipped and let me know they were hunting. They sneaked out on me knowing I would be very unhappy with the idea.

Think about it. You were probably told the same story. The pup is just for your company and you can teach him how this world works. Things are working out different than I figured it would. Yesterday is just one example. Grady and the big guy got home and the big guy almost fell over himself talking about Grady's points and retrieves. I wanted to go outside and throw up but I was afraid they'd leave me out.

Who taught Grady how to point? Of course, it was me. Have you ever seen how fast the big guy covers country?  If he was in charge he would probably still be looking for the first bird find. I took the pup out 7 months ago and showed him how to use his nose and which smells were important and which weren't. It was hard to slow down but I did for the sake of the team. I thought he came along quite well and was happy the big guy was pleased but the amount of praise they gave him was down right silly. I did the work and he followed my lead, how hard is that?

Then he became big enough to carry a bird. How many times did I drag him along while he held onto the bird so he could learn to bring the bird to the big guy. You guys probably remember the same thing. You did the work but the pup got the praise. It was still alright because you were doing it for the team.

How many times have I heard of how well Grady honors. I let him know he better or else, but do I get complimented for that? He freezes like a statue and watches as the big guy moves ahead of me for the shot with never a word from the big guy. But when I slowly creep up on Grady's point he gives me a stern whoa like I'm doing something wrong. All I'm doing is getting up close enough to make sure he doesn't screw up. Sure sometimes I move to the front, but it's my job to make sure he's pointing the right things and all I get is a stern whoa instead of an attaboy.

And the retrieves, It's almost sickening to hear the praise he gets for bringing the bird to the big guy. I make a 200 yard retrieve straight up the face of a cliff like mountain without a word and Grady brings a bird from 20 yards on flat land and the big guy acts like he made the best retrieve ever.

I can't tell you how many times I heard the big guy talking about how well Grady used the wind to his advantage. Well of course he did, I taught him that but was I once mentioned? Heck no. That's such an easy thing to do but you'd think the pup just climbed mount Everest. Don't get me wrong, I like Grady but if it weren't for me he wouldn't know a darn thing. Look at last month. I leave him for just a minute and he finds a skunk and gets sprayed. I had to put up with the smell too but Grady got off with the poor puppy treatment. What an acting job he did.

Around the house is another thing. I'm sure all you more refined dogs know what I mean. Grady sneaks off to the neighbors  house and won't come back when called and always gets away with "he's just a puppy". I can be outside for hours without leaving but I never get "he's such a good dog". I'm getting kind of sick of hearing how cute he is. I'm a magnificent specimen of a hunting dog and still should be front and center.

Last week we went hunting in Greg Allen's side by side. I rode in the front seat with Greg and the big guy while Grady rode in the crate as it should be. Grady started bawling and carrying on until he became so obnoxious the guys stuck me in the crate with him to quiet him down. That was really a bunch of bull. Once again, I get punished for poor puppy behavior.

This morning took the cake. After our hunt, the big guy put his vest and gun in the back seat with Grady and myself. That's how it's always done. About half way home I noticed the big guy sniffing the air. He was smelling the innards of a half eaten chukar. I watched Grady steal the bird and start eating it and decided to hide my head like I didn't know what was going on. The truck pulled over  and the big guy calmly took the half eaten bird and vest and put them in the back of the truck. He looked at me and said you can't let him do that and started home again. 6 years of hunting and I have never eaten a bird and when Grady eats one I'm told I'm not doing my job. That's a crock.

It probably sounds like I'm not enjoying myself but that's not all true. Hunting with the big guy and Grady is a blast but I want to start getting the credit I deserve for getting Grady where he is so fast. I very modestly say that those two would be birdless if not for me.

Let me give some advice to you older dogs out there with a new hunting companion to put up with. Don't let it get out of hand. If your hunter starts paying more attention to the pup than you don't hesitate to get his attention by peeing on his foot. If he doesn't get it at first, do it again and he'll soon notice you are there too. Don't be so kind to the little guy and give up the bird. Start making him/her earn their way. Don't jump up into the back seat anymore, make the big guy lift you. He'll soon realize you are there and appreciate you more when you start jumping in again. Give some false points when you're out of sight so the pup will honor and then sneak off before the hunter get's there. It will make the pup look like he's not getting the idea and the hunter will appreciate your solid points all the more. Also, get the pup to point a Meadow Lark, that almost always works in your favor.

There are lots of little tricks to do out there to regain your place in your master's heart but don't wait until it's too late. With only two months left of hunting it's time to start. Regain your position on the couch as the number one canine in the house. I'm starting today and won't settle for nothing but TOP DOG on the hill.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Great piece by Greg Munther especially cause my name is in it. Hunting…When the Dog is Too Pooped to Pose
Too pooped to pose.

Chukarland.  The steepest, most arid, often overgrazed and neglected lands of the West were adopted by these beautiful imported birds from the Middle East.   Cheatgrass, chukar’s staple food, is an undesirable range grass invader which thrives on overgrazed and burned over lands. But sometimes chukars’ favorite refuge slopes are simply too steep, too dry, and lacking soils to grow much of anything.   The lands chukars thrive in were those previously rejected by early homesteaders due to the steepness, shear rock walls, scarce water and nearly non-existent soils. Fortunately, these lands were retained as your public lands, and any hunter has ample opportunities for pursuing chukars in many Western states.  
Upper elevation of chukar habitat.  We found chukars at nearly 6000 feet, well above this site.
Devilbird is the moniker most birdhunters eventually mutter to describe chukars, as these same hunters sweat, pant and reach for their nearly empty water bottles they toted up a few thousand feet.  Chukars may smile as they normally run up slopes that we can only crawl up in pursuit. Then, without effort and just before we get close enough for a shot, they fly off down and around mountainsides disappearing  like Starwar’s jedis. Loaded with nearly a box of shells, water, minimal emergency gear, and dog electronics the hunting vest is nearly 20 pounds, plus the shotgun is scratched and dented from falls. Friend Larry has had four major repairs or replacements on his shotgun stock in the last six years.  Proper footgear is necessarily heavy on deep tread and strong ankle support to trek where chukars are hopefully found. Normally a day of chukar hunting involves a climb of thousands of feet up and down plus slips and slides on slopes where a toehold or the edge of your boot sole catching on something solid is what is between you and a steep, rock filled tumble.    While I often despise the damage caused from cattle on public land, a scant cattle path across a steep mountainside heading in the desired direction is appreciated and rarely bypassed
This is country that challenges any field dog.   A couch potato dog’s feet without toughened pads will likely come home footsore with cuts or pads worn to raw flesh.  Cheatgrass awns can penetrate eyes, ears, nose and in between toes that, if unremoved, can be fatal. Pointing dogs, including German shorthairs, English pointers, setters, wirehairs and Brittany spaniels are usually the breeds of choice in chukar country.   Long legged, slender dogs capable of 20 miles plus each day best fit the bill. Keeping weight on an oft-hunted chukar dog is a challenge. High fat and high protein content foods are the norm.
Oakley is typical of breeds fit for chukar hunting  . Shorthairs, pointers, setters and brittanys are among the favorite breeds of chukar hunters.

The perfect chukar hunting day is cool to cold to facilitate both hunter and their dogs climbing many hours of climbing in open sun.  Early season hunting can end by midmorning as temperatures often climb into the 80s. Shade is nearly non-existent. Late in the season frozen ground makes the ever present steep sidehills even more treacherous.  Its huge country so a steady breeze helps bring chukar scent to the dog for more than a hundred yards. A dog typically covers at least three or four times as much distance as it’s human partner. Scanning the slopes for the steepest slopes with outcrops or rock ledges is a good place to start.  Often hunted birds fly out of range, so more remote, unhunted coveys are preferred. While most seasoned chukar hunters have their favorite slopes, watching for fresh droppings can confirm their recent presence. Experienced chukar hunters mentally record the aspect, elevation and vegetation where chukars or their droppings are encountered, and seek more of the same. While chukars are often tied to water sources early in the season, a fall rain can bring grass greenup and supply moisture allowing chukars to spread out over several thousands of feet vertically and into habitats not used when dry.   This year we found birds scattered over four thousand vertical feet once there was some greenup.
Chukar nest under bunchgrass  on north slope
For most of us, the dogs are why we are there.   Lucy, nearly 10 years old, never fails to amaze how businesslike she hunts.   She and I have hundreds, if not thousands of bird encounters together over nearly ten years.  With nose high in the air, she can detect a bird covey’s faint scent up to a couple of hundred yards and then systematically narrows the scent cone as she gradually closes to a solid point. If the bird moves, her nose goes to the ground to track where they headed.   Once her tail no longer wags on point, you’d best get your gun into shooting position. And her retrieves are nearly flawless. During a recent short afternoon hunt for huns Lucy and I crossed a relatively gentle slope searching for a hun covey. The intent was to make her day complete after staying behind while Oakley and I hunted.   Her covey find and point was flawless as expected, and I was fortunate to shoot a double, both birds falling a good distance below us. Lucy pursued, but didn’t return as soon as I expected. When I went down the hill I found she had both huns lined up neatly next to each other, apparently trying to figure out how to carry both birds up to me at the same time.  
Lucy finishing a long retrieve

On another day Lucy and I had been on the return route of a warm brutal late afternoon hunt over very steep rocky terrain filled with ledges.  We were moving slowly due to both fatigue and numerous rocky outcrops. I managed a crippling but not fatal shot on a tucked, rocket-like bird barreling down a steep ravine.  The steepness and momentum carried the bird far down the ravine. The situation looked hopeless to me, but Lucy saw the bird falling and headed down after the bird. The scent trail of the wounded bird took Lucy at least 300 yards and at least 300 vertical feet down the rock filled ravine.  Minutes later I was amazed when I looked far down and spotted Lucy with the bird, slowly weaving through the rock outcrops toward me. Halfway up she was too exhausted to continue and layed down next to the bird. Knowing she would not stop unless absolutely exhausted, I started working my way through the outcrops and scree to meet her.   Then amazingly I saw her in motion as she again cut the distance in half before laying down again. When I finally reached her she layed next to me and drank our remaining water. I gave her a long appreciative hug reminiscing the nearly 10 years of amazing moments we have shared. May her hunting life never end.
This year I was somewhat desperate to get my year and half old German shorthair Oakley onto some wild birds.  I obtained Oakley from Bigfork trainer Doug Tweto. At 13 months with some basic training, Oakley had few bird encounters and no wild bird experiences.   I was able to provide some experiences pointing and retrieving a couple of captive pigeons and a few scarce local Hungarian partridge. In 2018 the bird opportunities in Montana were very limited. Tough winters, unusually dry summers, and cold wet springs left us with scanty wild birds across the state.  Fortunately, chukars and huns can be found a couple of hundred miles away and had good hatch this year. So this year meant three weeklong trips over a month’s time.
As we close out this year’s 15 days of chukar and hun hunting , Oakley is becoming what I had hoped she would become.  For training purposes I have tried to keep her in sight to better monitor her behavior. Beyond 150 yards and out of sight  she can become too independent for my training preferences, so I continue to work on range containment for now, knowing it costs me some covey finds.  Fortunately she has abandoned the summer meadowlark points she was reduced to when we couldn’t find gamebirds. She now responds strongly and decisively to the scent of huns, grouse, pheasants and chukars.   She has located many coveys at least 200 yards upwind and narrowed the scent cone into solid points. She can occasionally creep to relocate on her own, but almost always after I give her a release command. At the beginning of the season she was retrieving everything everything well, except birds.  I tried frozen huns, pheasant and hun wings, and even pheasant skins over dummies without success. Perhaps the nibbling of anything with feathers was a fascination with the scent or the texture of the feathers. Resorting to reward biscuit treats for a retrieve and a lot of patience seemed to finally help.  Now she normally performs some level of bird retrieves, and occasionally to hand. And often to my surprise some amazingly long retrieves on lightly wounded birds. Fittingly, her last chukar retrieve was perhaps the best. My shot had lightly wing clipped a chukar which fluttered downhill at least 150 yards into heavy grass, but Oakley hadn’t been in a position to see the bird go down.  Once I called her over upwind she picked up the scent and after a couple of relocations she had the bird pinned. However, before I could get to her, the bird took flight to fly low into some nearby extremely heavy brush that was inpenetrable to me. She disappeared into the thick brush in pursuit and disappeared for some time . I feared she may lose the bird or catch it but not retrieve it.  I used the GPS on her collar to determine where she was a couple of times, but could not see her. Finally I heard her steps and there she came with the still alive chukar and brought it to hand. What a fitting way to end the chukar season.
Oakley on point on a small covey in typical chukar terrain.
Of course, repeat, long term chukar hunters are a breed apart, and few and far between.  Masochists perhaps, but they have love for the big country with enough energy and drive to get off the couch and up the hill day after day.   My friendship with the Idaho chukar guru, Larry Szurgot, has fondly developed over several years. He has willingly mentored me on the ways of chukar and supported me positively when needed, including a recent shooting slump.  No matter how far or high I go, Larry is higher and further. When I hear his supercharged shells in his 12 gauge Citori I have little doubt he has been successful on another bird. His GSP dogs, seasoned Jake and youngster Grady make quite a team,  and a game vest full of chukars are the norm for those three. Also, Idahoan native Jeff Barney took time to share one of the most spectacularly scenic and productive chukar hangouts, and taught me that chukar listening and followup pursuit is an effective hunting strategy.   His gift of beautiful photos are already framed for long term memories. Fellow Montanan Brian Riggers and his lab Misty joined me to cover chukar hills with gusto, and Brian even managed to forgive Oakley for helping herself to a pile of dead birds in his truck for her amusement.  

Friday, November 16, 2018

Mid November hunt

Wow! What a month we are having. Moisture or the lack of has changed the places and how we hunt this time of the year. The birds are scattered since the weather has offered suitable living conditions all the way to 6000 feet. Usually by now some of the slopes are frozen or snow covered forcing the birds to the warmer slopes but not this year.

 The good news is that after putting your boots on you can walk all day without having to worry about hitting those slopes that won't be holding birds. The bad news is that you still have to pack a lot of water for the dogs.

I spent 8 of the last 10 days chasing chukars and I have to admit to being whipped for a few days. Both my dogs are feeling the pain also. They covered a little over 70 miles each in the last three days alone and are enjoying some couch time as I type.

There were a lot of steep hills to be hunted but that didn't sway the old man on the mountain. I'm not talking about me but the old man from Grizzly country. The last three days I hunted with Greg Munther from Montana and it seemed like where ever I went I could see him and Oakley traversing steep slopes in pursuit of birds.
You probably remember him from past posts, he's 75 years young. He definitely isn't old yet.
For those who are counting, there are still lot's of huntable birds and like I mentioned the conditions favor lot's of available slopes to cover. But the same conditions are favoring the chukar and getting birds to hold is tough right now. Jake and Grady have become quite a team and have been doing there best to hold the birds.
Sometimes I make the long trek to their points and the birds oblige while sometimes the walk just presents a fleeting glance of flushing birds. This time of the year wild birds is to be expected and if you stay on the mountain long enough there will be enough cooperative birds to keep you happy. 
We are putting plenty of birds in the bag which is what we are out there for but we are also having some wonderful times on the hill and I'm seeing some great dog work. Once in a while something comes along and reminds you of the beauty of wildlife. It may be a big bull elk walking the hill or a bear sunning himself outside hit's den. On this trip it was the perfect specimen of a chukar. I wish I had taken a picture of this stud right after Jake brought him to me. His markings were absolutely flawless.
I wonder if this could have been one of those rare 3 year old birds.
Finally, I'd like to say how great chukar hunters are. A couple from Mackay, Idaho  shared the campground with Greg and I along with there 3 brit's . I believe his name was Orin and they were a to pleasure trading secrets with. If anybody from that side of the state knows their names I'd appreciate you passing it on to me and complimenting them for being great outdoorsmen. (Larry Semmen just let me know their names were Terry and Orland Gaddis and has also enjoyed his visits with them.) Chukar hunters are great at swapping stories.

Seasons half gone now, so get out there and have some fun.