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.


Randy Shepard said...

Oouuch! It could have been worse, no birds or poor shooting. I've had a few of my last tough hunts and they make a guy hunt smarter. I'll be out your way in a few days, but I won't have to worry about getting that far back or high. Looks like you got some snow, maybe the birds will be lower for me.

Thanks for the story.

Randy S

Greg said...

Never a mountain too high or too steep for you Larry. Those chukars had likely never seen a person before. Thanks for not taking me there. Do Jake and Grady get to vote on where you go next?


Larry, I read your blog and think, I’ve checked that box, thought those thoughts, and said “nope, not going there”