Sunday, January 19, 2020

Conner's back.

My little buddy has become a duck and goose hunting fanatic. So when he called a couple of days ago and said he wanted to do some chukar chasing I was more than thrilled to hit the snowy slopes again. The bird numbers were great and I'd have to say we saw a couple hundred birds. Most of them were running straight up the ridge or flying from the predators high above but they kept us encouraged that sooner or later we would get some points.

Conner and the boys had a little more hustle than I did and were soon hunting way ahead of me. I was amazed at how the dogs abandoned me for Conner. I guess they knew who the shooter was and I was happy just to hang back and watch. The day started out with this point (Grady is in the brush and Jake was honoring) and shot.

I really felt bad when the bird fell on the other side of the draw and the three of them had to go find it while I caught my breath.

Not much later, the boys pointed another covey and Conner got a double with one dropping dead and number two crippled it's way down to the deep brush. Conner had to help the boys located the bird and Grady finally stuck his head in and brought it out.

We had gained as much elevation as we thought we needed and started to cut across the slopes. Of course the northern exposures had a foot or two of damp snow to trudge through but the southern faces were bearable and the boys had yet another find for Conner. I cut the video short trying to get into a better position to watch Conner but before I got there he had one more bird in his bag.

The final point on camera was too much for me to handle. I'm saving the flush of these birds for another time. I was thrilled to watch Jake honor Grady as soon as he saw him but suddenly his attention turned to scent. Somehow the three of them had walked into the middle of a large covey of chukar that were lucky Conner was carrying my alternate over and under. He fired his two shots and dropped a bird. He didn't even try and reload but yelled up at me "wow, I've never seen that many chukar at one time.

Conner now had five chukars in his vest and I hadn't fired a shot. It's no wonder the dogs wanted to stay with him. We had gone almost three miles and a lot of the birds flew back behind us. Conner tried to convince me that most birds flew ahead of us but I was sure they had gone back toward the truck. As we headed back towards the truck the dogs picked up lot's of stragglers and Conner had to walk with an open shotgun. He had his eight birds.

With the camera down I finally got to participate and added another five to the pot.

The duck season closes Friday so I think Conner will be hunting with me next week end which will be the final weekend of the season. With 12 days left in the season I'll be chasing as much as possible but Jake and Grady get pretty spent after a days hunt in the snow. Of course I could go every day because I float like a butterfly through the snow. NOT!

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Snowy hunt.

I had a good hunt over at the big pond today. Good because we got some birds, had some fine points, shot fair and didn't break anything or hurt anything.

We hunted in up to a foot of snow and a fierce wind. Luckily the temperature was somewhere in the mid 30's so it wasn't unbearable. There was no crust on the snow but the chukars ran on top of it as if it were a concrete highway. It's amazing to see the length of their stride.

Dog work wasn't the best because the birds running were so visible. Jake started a new habit this year of yipping at running birds and he did a lot of yipping today. We also saw birds flying high above us from all the birds of prey. The birds were also talking more than I have heard this year. I didn't see another rig on the way in and I'm pretty sure the only hunters on those slopes were the Eagles, Hawks and us.
Although we never saw the sun the temperature was warm enough to melt some of the snow. A few more days like this and it might get easier for me to get to the points. The steep ridges combined with the snow were sometimes taking me 10 minutes or so just on 200 yard points. Especially when they were on opposite of the draws. Only once today did Grady get outside of 250 yards and that was because he was on chase of about 30 birds that crow hopped around the hill
As usual the birds used the rocky area for shelter  and every time we approached one of those areas there was at least one chukar to be pointed.
I'll make it short by saying there is still some great hunting to be had over there and I assure you I will be over that way in the next two weeks as often as I can. Go get em and good luck.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

It's getting harder.

Admitting defeat is tough. Especially when it is between me and an inanimate object like a mountain. After this hunt I am giving in to the mountain and snow. The two of them together have beaten me. As much as I love watching the dogs work, these kind of days are no longer a challenge but almost torture. I came off the hill hurting so bad that I was ready to give it up. Of course after the long drive home with the hounds I once again can't wait to be on the mountain again but without the snow. Here's a summary of my day. Be prepared for a little whining.

The day began with around 4 inches of new snow and the temperature on my truck said 29 degrees. The roads were fairly clear to my destination until I got to the one lane dirt road which went up the mountain for about three miles. My truck made the only tracks for the day on the road. After getting stuck twice coming out I figured out why my tire tracks were the sole tracks for the day. I was the only one stupid enough to drive in there.

The snow was falling again but the temperature was very comfortable so Jake, Grady and I headed towards the mountain we intended to hunt.
You can see a 4 wheeler road in the draw but it can't be accessed this time of the year accept by snow mobiles which I actually saw one year but they were lion hunters. I knew once we got on the mountain we would be having bird dog fun. The problem became getting on the mountain. The walk in the draw wasn't too tough but eventually we had to head up. This is where we eventually started up because we could see chukars crow hopping through the rocks above.
Needless to say, my alpha said dog on point several times but before I could even get in sight birds were diving over the top of me heading for the other side. I never knew whether the dogs flushed the birds or what and after several falls I wasn't even caring very much. I just knew I had to get to where I could get some solid footing for a shot if it ever presented itself, and I was starting to doubt there was such a place. Here's a short video of Grady as he moved over the hill wondering why I never shot.
At one spot in the draw he had a hard time leaving it with all the tracks left after the birds got off their roost. I never saw those birds but could hear them taking off one by one, wondering how much fun it would have been if I were just 50 yards up the hill.

After 2 and a half hours I finally got above all the bad stuff (not for the chukars but for me) and followed the boys looking for birds.

We had climbed over 1800 feet and I could follow game trails around the hill to get to points without the worry of splitting my head open. By now my back was killing me but there was no way I was coming off that hill without seeing the dogs get a few points and me getting a few shots. We were in about 6 inches of snow now with soft dirt underneath. I wasn't up to taking pictures but did manage to get this long range shot of Jake on point but didn't get any follow up shots as I approached because I was more interested in putting a bird in the bag.
I also got the camera out to prove that I shot straight that time.
After about four hours on the hill I decided that I had had enough and started the trek back to the truck. Both dogs were hunting a lot closer now and I knew they felt the same. By now my back was gone and after we picked up one more bird I decide to break my gun down and put it in my pack. I shot a quick picture of my take with Jake and Grady, put everything back in my vest and slowly headed for the draw and the trail.

From that time on the boys seemed to know we were done with the hunt and pretty much broke trail for me to head down. By the time we got back to the truck I had gone 6.2 miles, Jake went 18.8 and Grady went 26.4. As I mentioned I got over 1800 feet in elevation gain and we had been on the hill for almost 6 hours.  That means I was covering a whopping mile per hour. To be honest, that surprised me. I thought I was even slower than that.

It was a very successful days in most ways. Bird numbers were great with some coveys looking to have close to 40 birds or more but those were the coveys we never got close to. We got more birds than I probably deserve but not as many as the dogs deserved. We saw deer, elk and a coyote. Pretty much what most would call a great day, including myself. 

But back at the truck I wasn't feeling so good about it. I wasn't sure about the hour and a half ride home with my back hurting like it was. I stopped every 15 minutes to do a lap around the truck and stretch the best I could. The dogs were fine just to sleep in the back seat of course. My back has been getting worse every year and last year my doctor said I should probably look into getting an operation. This year it has seemed to get worse by the month. But more than a bad back, I think it's the snow and frozen north exposures. From the moment I stepped out of the truck until I returned I felt tensed up on each step. Somehow I think the brain prepares you for these conditions and you use different muscles as you hike.

I know that's a lot of whining for such a wonderful day but it opened my eyes to my capabilities as I approach 69 years of age. It's time to let the young men take on the mountain on these snowy days. Hell, I'm retired and can pick and choose the days I hunt now. I've got 4 and a half months to choose from so all I have to do is convince Jake and Grady that is best. 

Just a thought for you guys reaching the middle ages. Stretch a lot and don't let your upper body get so out of shape and maybe you won't ever have to say I can't swing left to right or vice versa. Being sore is the pits.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Chukar populations.

Today after reading a post from Bob Mcmichaels  "Chukar Culture" blog I decided to try and dismiss some of the common myths about chukar seasons and numbers. Understand that I know Bob and respect his and Leslie's abilities to hunt chukars and keep us entertained with his blog. His hunting with Angus and Peat (Brittanies) is well known and his blogs are informative and fun. Rather than stealing his page with a long rebuttal I decided to use my own space to hopefully portray my feelings on a few of his rants.

First, is the mention of moving the daily limit back to 6. I remember back about 10 years ago when we fought to get the limit back up to 8 and the several meetings I had with other hunters and the F&G. The end result was that the reason the limit was moved down to 6 was because of the need to please some hunting groups. All records showed that lowering the limit did nothing to increase the next year's populations. I remember one member of a popular hunting group actually saying "he didn't care if the limit was lowered to two birds because that was his personal limit anyway". He obviously had a louder voice than me.

Most of what I say is just personal feelings, but there is a lot of literature out there to help me out. Every written study on chukar populations say that hunting pressure has very little impact on populations. In fact the average of birds taken by hunters is 8%. This isn't just a guess. Many studies have used radio footed devices to track the birds throughout the season. The main cause of death was from eagles and hawks during the migrating season. Obviously they are much more efficient hunters than humans. Plus they are adapt to getting to where we can't get. One study I read from Nevada said "the effects of seasonal limits has little impact on bird numbers but the problem is for biologist to educate hunters to accept this". Properly informed hunters are an integral part of good game management.

Second, Bob mentioned about moving the opening date of chukar season back a little. He's right. There are lot's of young birds and it would be nice to see them get a little bigger. Be careful in what you wish for. Once we lose it it will be harder to ever get it back. What about those who say January is a bad month for hunting because the birds are forced closer to the roads. I personally don't believe that, but I hear that at times and quickly try and dismiss those thoughts before they get a group together and go complain to the F&G. Those are the people that the game department hear from the most. Why would the happy hunters go in and complain until they feel they are going to lose a good thing. Remember "properly informed hunters are an integral part of good game management". You don't have to shoot the 3/4 sized birds on that early season. Be a little picky. It's easier than you think once you set your mind to it. There is also the complaint that the early season makes it too easy for hunters to slaughter the birds around a water source. This may be true but it wouldn't matter whether the opening day was September 20 or October 10, that opening week will still be the same slaughter until the birds have been educated. Opening season of everything is pretty much the same.

Every game department in the northwest pretty much have the same feelings about chukar and hun hunting. It is pretty much self regulatory in the fact that hunting pressure decreases as the chukar population decreases. In other words, there will be more chukar hunters on those peak seasons and hunters give up soon on the down years. Since I've been hunting chukars in the 70's I can vouch for this.

As far as the atv's and utv's, I wish many of the people that use them in the way that Bob mentions wouldn't do so. They give chukar hunting a black eye in my opinion. My way is boots on the ground and using the side by side just to get to an area. I don't believe the guys that are just riding on the atv while their dog is up hunting are killing as many birds as they are educating but as long as it is legal we have to accept it. I just know the places I hike to can only be accessed by foot unless you are an eagle.

One last thing I'd like to mention. Another hunting companion asked me why the F&G doesn't build guzzlers in Idaho like they did in Nevada. It's pretty simple, guzzlers do not improve chukar survival, productivity or availability to hunters. Think about it. How many times have you found hidden seeps or springs while chukar hunting. Utah State did a study on the effects of available water on chukar populations and their final conclusion was "installation of rain-catchment devices is not a feasible technique for improving chukar habitat."

I try and learn as much about the chukar seasons as I can because it is the dogs and my favorite time of the year. I always go with the intentions of getting 8 birds but that seldom happens. Yes, I do stop hunting  an area because I don't see many birds and am satisfied with fewer birds. I do try and do everything possible to keep the bird numbers up but am still conscious of what really matters. What really has an affect is what I have no control of.

Pretty much, each season becomes hit and miss as far as chukars go. This year was a prime example. I really thought with the spring we had it would be a banner year, but according to most it was just average. I had several good hunts and honestly saw a lot of birds and did see a lot of late young birds but chukars don't have a calendar. Range conditions determine chukar production but our hunting attitude is what makes for great chukar hunting.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

A new decade

Today is the beginning of a new decade for all of us. For the younger hunters just starting their journey in upland hunting or any other type hunting for that matter, I encourage you to keep a journal. I've kept notes for the past thirty years but only on a tablet my first ten years until my daughter, Kerri, made me my first upland journal. Since that time I have recorded each individual hunt no matter how meaningless it may have been.

I quit keeping a journal the last two years and after reading through the past twenty years of journals I will be back at recording my hunts.

I started out by looking through my journals to find the date Dakota, my second GSP, was chased by a cougar and I ended up shooting the cat at 7 yards. Once I found the date, Christmas eve 2004, I became curious about many of the other things that happened during my thrilling chukar hunts.

Of course the most memorable moment was Tucker's first point and retrieve on Oct.29, 1996. He pointed his first upland bird which ended up being a pheasant and he was so small he had to try and drag it back to me. Since that time he brought me many memories such as the time he went head over heals several time while chasing a cripple down a steep slope. I wrote how scared I was when I watched it but also how relieved I was to see him unscathed and the crippled bird in his mouth. I had many more of those moments over the years, but got more used to it realizing that is part of hunting chukar terrain.

Although I usually hunt alone, I  travel to the hunting areas with other hunters and then we go our own ways. I'd forgotten about many of those people and the great stories we shared to and from home. Greg Allen and I have spent so many hours riding together over the past thirty years I could write a book of all the crazy things that have happened to us. Like the time we got stuck in a snow drift with his son and his son's friend. It was before the cell phone craze and we had no way of communicating back home. We were pretty sure we were there for the night and this was the first hunt the friend had been on and his parents knew nothing about Greg or I. As we huddled in the truck Greg and I wondered what the parents were thinking about us. Then the lion hunters came and pulled us out. That was clear back in 2001.

Like I mentioned, except for Conner, I usually hunt alone but I offered to take a friend hunting one day. He mentioned he might bring a friend and I was a little miffed when he showed up with four guys. I was hunting with Tucker and Dakota at the time and they had never hunted with anyone but me. I bit my tongue and figured on giving it a try but left my shotgun in the truck worrying about watching hunters and my dogs to make sure everything was safe. By the end of the day I was one proud dog owner. Team Tuckota were champs and everybody got to shoot off points. None of the guys had ever shot a chukar before and by the end of the day we came home with 26 birds.

Oh , and my fall on November 28, 2004 that put the final crunch on my right knee. The next day we scheduled my knee replacement for the first available day in February, after the season ended.

On January 8, 2005, Jeff Dooms, my neighbor and best friend shot his first limit of chukars. He had hunted with me for several years without a dog but didn't like my pace so his wife, Teresa, got him his own GSP, Calvin, and the hook had been set. Four years later he died in a head on collision. A person who shared many hours talking about our dogs. He and I got pretty beat up dislodging a deer stuck in a barb wired fence that year.

That same year, another friend of mine,Claire Eberhardt, lost his twelve year old GSP on a hunt. It was 1/23/05 and the temperature in the Owyhees never got above freezing. She didn't have one of the new Astro's and with the fog and cold had no way to look for her. We started a fire and walked and drove around calling her name for five days with no luck. On the fifth day we had figured the worst. On the way out, a local rancher, 25 miles away stopped us and had found her walking the road by his house. Happy ending and a hunt to write about.

The season of 2005-2006 was my most successful season to that date. It was the first year of the Astro and maybe that could explain my success, but I'd rather believe it was my dogs. I wrote in my notes "all I have to do is let my dogs find the birds and they will hold them until I get a good shot". I got my first double/double that year. That's a limit of huns and chukars in Idaho.

One of my notes said "the dogs pointed a coot today". I remember it well. Miles from a reservoir and a coot takes off from the sage.

2006 and 2007 were probably my funnest years. I get to hunt behind three shorthairs. Tucker, Dakota and Riley. They complimented each other very well and I can't count how many points I walked up on with two honors.

11/21/2008 was the first day I ever can remember going chukar hunting and not seeing a single bird.

I compare all of my dogs by the notes of my journals and it is amazing how I had the same complaints about each one as well as the compliments. I've finally learned that bird dogging is a process that takes time. They have all chased, they have all dropped retrieves, they all seem to have no nose at times, and they are all great.

I don't know how we hunted before the Astro came about. Several of my earlier notes mention my dogs being out of hearing range of the beepers. Somehow we managed and although I had some panic moments I never lost a dog.

Evidently I've always been a whiner. I can't count the times that I complained about how hard it is getting up those mountains. Even clear back in the early 2000's. Complaining about having fun must be a chukar thing.

Other notables, Oregon shut down chukar season 15 days early in 2004 and Idaho closed season 1/10/09. The only early closures I have notes of. The Oregon closure was for Baker county and because of that I ended up finding some more great hunting places in Malheur county. Reading through my journals brings back many of those spots I don't hunt anymore and am wondering why.

My last hunt with the three Amigo's was 10/22/09 and Tuckers last hunt was 11/19/09. Great days. My last chukar hunt with my son was 12/23/11 and he limited out.

The season of 2010-2011 beat 2005-2006 in success. It was truly the good days. That year it was nothing to go to different places every day and see 100 birds or more.

January 2011. I finally beat the mountain. This steep hill is always filled with chukars but I could never get a limit. My best at this spot was 5 for 18 shots. It had my number.  On this particular day I went 8 for 8 and finnaly beat it.

January 2012. The duct tape eight. I had to duct tape my shotgun back together to finish a hunt. Chukar hunting has been rough on many  guns.

Summer of 2012 had Riley in getting knee's fixed and he was back at it for hunting season.

This is a big one. Conner's first chukar hunt. Although he wasn't carrying a gun yet he was right with me on each step. 11/23/12.

10/19/13. Blew out left knee bad enough that I couldn't wait until season end to replace it. I got one more month in before the operation but was on the hill hunting chukar the last week of January 2014.

1/13/15, Conner's best day on the hill. 4 chukars behind the dogs at 12 years old. On 11/25/17 he shot his first limit of chukars at the age of 14. He's done that several times since.

So, that is my account of why I keep a journal. Even typing this up gets me excited and brings a lump to my throat at times. There are so many memories besides the killing on hunts and the brain don't remember them all without some help. Unlike many of the gentlemen my age, looking back over the years, I can't say it's not like the good ol days because I don't believe chukar hunting has changed that much. At least for me it hasn't.